The impressive Red River in Cusco is just one more example of the amazing landscape that Peru has to offer. From the impressive Laguna Humantay to the extraordinary natural lakes of Millpu, this country has some of the most incredible and unique landscapes in the world. Start planning your trip today and see some of these unique places for yourself.
The Red River in Cusco is known locally as Palquella Pucamayu, from the Quechua palquella (“small branch”) and pucamayu (“red river”). This peculiar waterway runs red for about 5 kilometers before combining with some other local streams and small rivers, at which point the color becomes more diluted and loses its unique shade.
These numerous small tributaries end up flowing into the Vilcamayo River, which crosses the Sacred Valley of Cusco and passes through the famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Further down, this river is known as the Urubamba River before passing through the middle of the notorious Pongo de Mainique canyon as it enters the jungle and finally feeds into the mighty Amazon River.
How is the Red River formed?
Cusco’s Red River is formed by rainwater runoff from nearby Rainbow Mountain Palcoyo. The range of colors of this vibrant valley is the result of the different mineral contents of the different soil layers, which have become visible by erosion.
The coloring of the Red River is the result of the red sandstone filled with iron oxide. This mineral-rich sedimentary rock is washed down the slopes when it rains and makes the water take on a distinctive red or pink tone (the exact tone depends on the volume of precipitation). Because it is the result of rain runoff, this red or pink river in Cusco is typically visible only during the months of the rainy season in Peru.
During the rest of the year, the river water level is much lower and its color is a more typical muddy brown tone. If you plan to travel to the Peruvian highlands during the rainy season, visiting the red river of Palcoyo is an excellent option for a unique day trip in Cusco.
As it crosses the green hills and serene farmland, the Palcoyo Red River offers a marked contrast to the surrounding pastoral landscape. Its cherry red waters give off a surreal feeling, as if the river belongs to another world that has crossed into ours. You will feel as if you have stepped on a work of art as you explore this dream place.
Where is the Red River in Cusco?
The Red River is located in the province of Canchis in the region of Cusco, about three hours southeast of the city of Cusco. This entire province lies in the shadow of the great Mount Ausangate, one of the highest peaks in the country and an important regional apu (traditional deity of the Andean mountains).
The source of the Red River is located in the nearby valley of Arco Iris Palcoyo Mountain, which together with the other mountains in the region form the Vilcanota Mountain Range. This chain is in turn part of the wider Andean mountain range that extends along the entire spine of South America, forming the longest continental mountain range in the world.
How to see the Red River
The best way to see the Red River is as a stop on a tour to nearby Rainbow Mountain Palcoyo, a less crowded alternative to the popular Rainbow Mountain Vinicunca. This is still an undiscovered area for tourists, and only a few companies bring tours to the area. Most people who visit the area tend to come on day trips from the city of Cusco.
For those who want to extend their adventure into this beautiful part of the Cusco countryside, there are several other interesting things to see in this area, including the classic Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain, the fascinating Q’eswachaka Inca rope bridge, and the majestic Waqrapukara ruins. A visit to this area is easily incorporated into any Cusco itinerary.
If you would like to see the Palcoyo Red River or explore any of the other options mentioned here, do not hesitate to talk to our travel experts. We will build a dream itinerary that fits you perfectly, including all the most important places to see in Peru!
The best time to visit
The dry season, which lasts from May to November, is generally considered the best time to visit Peru in order to avoid any logistical problems due to the climate. However, the Red River of Cusco is only visible during the months of Peru’s rainy season, which lasts approximately from December to April. If you want to see this impressive pastel colored river for yourself, one of the best times to visit is in April, when the rains have started to dissipate but the river water level is still high.
What to bring
Palcoyo’s high altitude means that you should come prepared with clothing suitable for the cold, including warm layers, a coat, a hat, a scarf and gloves. Although the road through Palcoyo is not as difficult as the one to Vinicunca, it can still be muddy, so it is a good idea to bring some decent hiking boots as well. Finally, it is important to be familiar with the treatment of altitude sickness and to carry some coca leaves or pills to help treat the symptoms.
For those who want to experience something unique and see some of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes of Peru, a visit to Rainbow Mountain Palcoyo, along with the nearby Red River in Cusco, is a must. Start planning your own once-in-a-lifetime trip to Peru and be sure to include this amazing destination out of the ordinary in your itinerary.
Get ready for the altitude
As Palcoyo is located at a high altitude, you should bring warm clothes for the cold. Although the path through Palcoyo is not as difficult as the one to Vinicunca, it can get muddy (during the monsoon season); so it is better to bring a pair of hiking boots as well. Last but not least, if you are susceptible to altitude sickness, be sure to take some coca leaves or pills to help you deal with the symptoms.