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The red river
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The red river in Cusco

The red river is one of the new tourist attractions of Cusco. It is located to the south, in the famous Vilcanota mountain range (where there is also the mountain of the 7 colors). As its name suggests, the waters of this river turn red during the rainy season (mainly in January, February and March). The rest of the year it is not possible to appreciate this phenomenon. Although there are still few visitors who know this place, it is one of the most amazing landscapes of Cusco.



 Red river
Red river – Cusco

The Vilcanota mountain range

The Vilcanota mountain range is a chain of mountains full of glaciers where the highest snow-capped mountain in Cusco is, the famous Ausangate (at 6,372 meters above sea level). It is located in the southeast of Peru, in the Cusco region.

The set of mountains belonging to this mountain range offer some of the most beautiful passages in Cusco, such as the famous mountain of 7 colors (Vinicunca). In addition, during the months of intense rains (especially in January, February or March) the strange phenomenon called ‘red river’ is appreciated.


The red river

The Red River is one of the new tourist destinations in Cusco. There are still very few tourists who know this place located in the Vilcanota mountain range. As its name indicates, this natural stream of water has a color between red and ocher due to the proliferation of minerals in the mountains of the area. Local people also call it ‘Yawar mayu’, a Quechua word that means ‘red river’.


Location

The red river is approximately 100 kilometers from the city of Cusco. Geographically it is in the Vilcanota mountain range, close to the ‘mountain of the 7 colors’ and the ‘Red Valley of Pitumarca’. Precisely, from the town of Pitumarca you leave on foot for 2 or 3 hours until you reach the red river. This Andean town is 3,570 meters above sea level.


Map: how to get there?

Map to get to the red river
Map to get to the Red River

Landscape and nature

The Red River is located in a natural environment full of mountains and snow-capped mountains that exceed 4 thousand meters above sea level. It is worth highlighting the imposing presence of Ausangate, the highest mountain in Cusco and one of the largest in Peru.

The crystalline lagoons formed by the melting of glaciers also stand out. The Amayuni, Singrenacocha, Challpacocha, and the largest lagoons, the Silbinacocha, stand out. The Andean straw, the icchu, grows in these cold places. These immense mountains are home to a few species such as the Andean condor, the fox, the vizcacha, and even the Andean puma.


When should I go?

The ‘Yawar mayu’ is only noticeable in the months of ‘rainy season’, which runs from November to April. The intense rains cause the high mountains (covered by minerals) to wash out and impregnate their muddy material into the rivers. Thus, the river is stained red, causing an astonishing visual spectacle.


Are there tours?

Currently there are a few tours to the red river of Cusco. These last 1 day and include: full transportation, breakfast, lunch as well as an official tour guide. The cost of the tour varies from $ 20 to $ 60, depending on the tourism agency you hire. Tours can be booked online or in the city of Cusco itself.


Can I go on my own?

Yes. The Red River is a tourist destination that can easily be visited on its own. To do this, you must take public transport from the city of Cusco to the town of Pitumarca. The buses can be taken at the stop on Huayruropata Avenue. The cost of the trip is approximately $ 3.

Once in Pitumarca you must take a 2 or 3 hour walk, depending on your physical capacity. Any resident of the place can give you a reference on how to get to the red river. Additionally, you can hire a tour guide as well as a typical breakfast and lunch in the same town. For many, going on their own to the ‘Yawar mayu’ is the cheapest option.


Photo gallery: the red river


Some tips for your visit

The red river offers one of the best landscapes in Cusco. Don’t forget to bring a good camera.

January, February and March is the time of year where you can see the Red River. As it usually rains a lot in those months, bring a rain poncho and waterproof shoes with you.

The Vilcanota mountain range has natural geographies that are rarely visited by visitors. Take care of the environment and do not pollute this wonderful place. The Red River has waters that are of vital importance to local people.


Get to know other nearby attractions

The mountain of the 7 colors – The famous Vinicunca is the second most visited tourist attraction in Cusco, only after Machu Picchu. The slopes of this summit have a variety of colors that have made it internationally famous. These are: pink, whitish, red, green, lavender and yellow. To get there you must take a walk of approximately 2 hours.

The red valley of Pitumarca – Very close to the red river is the red valley of Pitumarca, whose beauty lies in the reddish slopes They offer incredible scenery. Like the river, the constitution of the soil of this attraction is due to the proliferation of minerals. In this case, the red is caused by clay and argillites, formed millions of years ago. The red valley can be visited with an all-inclusive tour or on your own.

The colorful mountain of Palcoyo – This summit bears some similarities with Vinicunca, although it is still not very visited by tourists. Perhaps the reason is that it does not have such a peculiar coloration. Still, Palcoyo offers incredible views. The advantage is that it requires an easier walk, of only 1 hour maximum. It is possible to visit this mountain both with a tour and on your own.

 

By Ticket Machu Picchu – Last updated, May 13, 2021