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The fashinating natural penomenon of Red River of Cusco

3 min read

Every year, visitors of Peru’s Vilcanota mountain range are treated to a unique natural phenomenon, a river running…red through the pristine rocky valleys.

Located approximately 100 kilometers from the city of Cusco, near the well-known Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain, the unusual river is known by the locals as Palquella Pucamayu from the Quechua palquella (“small branch”) and pucamayu (“red river”).
Actually It only runs red for about 5 kilometers before mixing with other streams and little rivers in the area, when the color becomes diluted, losing its unique hue.
These numerous small tributaries eventually empty into the Vilcamayo River which runs through Cusco’s Sacred Valley and past the famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Further downstream, this river becomes known as the Urubamba River before passing through the middle of the notorious Pongo de Mainique canyon as it enters the jungle and eventually feeds into the mighty Amazon River.

The best time to see the red river in person is during the rainy season (December – April), because the color of the water is directly influenced by the level of precipitation.
For most of the year, in fact, it is a muddy-brown color, but during the rainy season, large quantities of soil rich in iron oxide are carried down from mountains and color the water bright red.
The phenomenon is due to the soil erosion from different mineral deposits present in the vibrant layers of the Mountains and valleys. The red sandstone full of iron oxide, a mineral-rich sedimentary rock gets washed off the mountainsides when it rains and turns the water into a red or pink hue (the exact tone is based on the volume of precipitations), thus generating a unique and colorful spectacle throughout the valley.

The red river is located in a natural environment full of mountains and snow-capped peaks that exceed 4,000 meters above sea level, and It is worth noting the imposing presence of Ausangate, the highest snow-capped peak in Cusco and one of the largest in Peru.
Also noteworthy are the crystalline lagoons that are formed by the melting of glaciers, including the Amayuni, Singrenacocha, Challpacocha lagoons stand out, and the largest, the Silbinacocha.
Of course the rainy season is not the best moment to trek through the Vilcanota mountain range, but if you want to witness the phenomenon in person, there is no better time!

Images from web – Google Research

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