The Ultimate Trekking Guide to the Colca Canyon, Peru

Colca Valley|©Descubriendoelmundo/Flickr
Colca Valley|©Descubriendoelmundo/Flickr
As one of the deepest canyons in the world, the expansive terraced ravines of Colca Canyon are a highlight of Peru and a must for outdoor enthusiasts and casual hikers alike. Awe inspiring vistas greet the trekker at every turn, while majestic condors glide overhead and indigenous villagers go about their everyday lives. Here’s everything you need to know about trekking through this magical region.

To tour or not to tour

Most travelers opt for a tour as an easy, hassle-free option. We know what you’re thinking, must be expensive, right? Not necessarily, because the Colca Canyon receives enough visitors (the third most popular place in Peru!) for group tours to depart every day, which brings costs right down. In fact, going it alone only works out a few dollars cheaper per day than the organized tour.

Colca Canyon © Pedro Szekely / Flickr

The two or the three day tour

Both tours leave Arequipa at the unholy hour of 3 am and cover the exact same route. The only difference is the two-day tour covers twice the distance on the first day which entails around eight hours hiking rather than four.

In short, those in a rush or who love active hiking should opt for the two-day option, while those with plenty of time who enjoy relaxing among beautiful surrounds are better off with the three-day trip. Comprende?

Colca Canyon © Fabien M/Flickr

Where to buy the tour

Book locally to save huge sums of cash. Essentially, all the travel agents in Arequipa pool their clients together to provide tourists with a cheaper rate, meaning they all offer the exact same tour so just book with the cheapest or friendliest agent. At the time of research, the three-day tour cost 140 PEN (US$42) while the two-day option went for 100 PEN (US$30). These prices include guide, accommodation, transport and meals, but remember to factor in the 70 PEN (US$21) national park fee plus any incidentals such as bottled water, snacks, or beer.

El Misty above Arequipa © Petr Meissner / Flickr

But I want to go alone, dammit

We get it, not everyone wants to trek with a tour group. Thankfully, this extremely well trodden path is entirely possible to travel alone. First, grab a bus from the Arequipa terminal to the town of Cabanaconde (5 hours, 16 PEN / US$5). From here, trekkers can descend into the canyon and stay overnight at the settlements of Sangalle, Malata, Cosñinhua or Llahuar, most of which sell food and lodging. Once you’ve had enough, just head back to Arequipa the same way you came.

Cañón del Colca, Peru © Latin Discoveries / Flickr

Will I see condors?

Yes, almost certainly. All tours stop at the Mirador de los Condores at around 9 am when these majestic beasts are most active in seeking out warm updrafts which propel them high into the air. It’s an amazing experience as the huge birds fly just meters away from the lookout, almost within touching distance. Those not on a tour can get here by taking the first bus from Cabanaconde.

Condor in Colca Canyon © Murray Foubister/Flickr

Is it hard?

Yes and no, entirely depending on the route chosen and your own level of fitness. Those in good physical shape will have no trouble doing either tour, while those who are less sure of themselves should stick to the easier three-day tour. Note that it’s possible to hire horses to carry you out of the canyon on the last day, which is the steepest and most difficult part.

Colca, Peru © Pedro Szekely / Flickr

What to bring?

Basic accommodation and hot meals are available en route, so it’s not necessary to carry heavy camping equipment. Weather wise, expect warm sunny days and cold nights. Water, snacks, alcohol, and even souvenirs can be purchased at many points along the way. There is no ATM in the region so bring plenty of cash.

Colca Valley in Arequipa © Pedro Szekely/Flickr

I don’t like trekking

Not a problem, because there are a number of tours that visit towns and viewpoints overlooking the canyon and don’t require long periods of walking. It’s even possible to visit the region on a (very long) day tour from Arequipa.

An Andean Condor soars over the Colca Canyon © eduardoalarcon / Pixabay