The ultimate guide for hiking the Colca Canyon in Peru

por Postcards from IvI

 One of the most captivating places I visited in Peru was the Colca Valley. This area is located near the city of Arequipa and is the perfect place for those seeking adventure in Peru’s incredible landscapes by hiking the Colca Canyon, the protagonist of this region.  

  Although the Colca Valley is one of Peru’s main tourist attractions, you will notice the area is a lot less crowded than cities like Lima or Cusco. The Colca Valley is made upcomposed by several small towns that still preserve their essence, as if time stood still: they all have a main square, a church and a just a few blocks with houses. One of the reasons why I liked Colca so much is because I was able to experience the real Peru and not only touristic places.

How to get to Colca 

The Colca Valley is about 3 hours away from Arequipa by car. There are two ways in which you can get to Colca from the city: on your own or by tour. The different options are:

  • Tour from Arequipa to Colca

 Arequipa is the city that many use as a base to explore the Colca Canyon as many tours depart from this city. Taking a tour from Arequipa is the most comfortable way to get to Colca. You can take 1-day tour, 2-day tour or 3-day tours, depending on wether you’d like to hike the Colca Canyon or not. Some tours include a hotel night in Colca.

If you want to know more about Arequipa read: Things to do in Arequipa in one day

  • Getting to Colca by public transport

 If you prefer to get to Colca on your own, you can do it by public transport, but you have to know that it will take longer. There are several buses that depart from Terrapuerto de Arequipa bus station to Colca. The Terrapuerto station is located away from the center of Arequipa, so you will need to take a taki to get there. The local companies that go to Colca are: Milagros, Andalucía and Reyna, and they have several departure times a day.

 The negative aspect of this is that tickets can’t be purchased online, so you’ll have to get them directly at the station once you’re in Arequipa. Buses stop at the towns of Chivay, Yanque or Cabanaconde. This is something you should keep in mind because if you are staying at a hotel located elsewhere, you will have to walk or take a taxi from the town where the bus stopped.

  • Arequipa to Colca by car

 The option that my boyfriend and I chose to reach Colca was to rent a car in Arequipa. This allowed us to tour the Colca Valley at our own pace without depending on any tour or schedule. We made the reservation to Europcar through I usually use and recommend this company because it is a website that compares the prices of all rental companies and usually offers a lower price. 

If you decide to rent a car to go to Colca, keep in mind that it is a curvy mountain road. If you drive with caution you won’t have any problem. We drove without problems, and stopped several times to enjoy the amazing landscapes offered by this route. Throughout the road trip we only payed a toll of 3.90 soles.

Trekking through the Colca Canyon for free or on tour

The route to Colca, taken in March.

Where to stay in Colca

 Once in the Colca Valley you have to decide where to spend at least the first night, since you can’t start the trekking the same day you arrive, unless you leave Arequipa on one of the tours that start at 3 AM.

 There are several villages that offer lodging: Yanque, Chivay and Cabanaconde (this is the closest to the beginning of the trail). There are also some hotels that are located near the villages but rather isolated in the middle of nature, allowing you to completely immerse in the Colca landscape. If you are planning to stay several days in Colca, I definitely recommend choosing one of those hotels.

Here are some recommendations:

Hiking the Colca Canyon

 The Colca Canyon has a depth of 4160 meters, which makes it one of the deepest canyons in the world. Inside the Canyon there are some villages where you can stop to sleep or eat something. The final destination of the trekking is generally the Sangalle Oasis, a small green area within the canyon where you can find some hotels.

Trekking through the Colca Canyon for free or on tour

IMPORTANT: To access Colca it is necessary to buy a boleto turístico (tourist ticket). This ticket has a cost of 40 soles for Latin Americans and 70 soles for people from other nationalities. It is very important to buy this ticket since they usually ask for it at the beggining or end of the trekking. We bought it on the route just as we were entering the town of Yanque.

  • Hiking the Colca Canyon on tour

If you want to make your life easier and avoid all the transport logistics involved in reaching the Colca and moving around the different towns, it is best to book a tour from Arequipa. These tours usually start around 3 AM, when they pick you up at your hotel in the city and go straight to the Colca to start the hike. More information about tours to the Colca Canyon:

  • Hiking the Colca Canyon on your own

 If you prefer to avoid tours as me, it is perfectly possible to hike the Colca Canyon on your own. If you don’t have your own car you can take a local bus from Yanque or any other town to Cabanaconde.

 There are two options for the hike: go down directly from Cabanaconde to the Oasis of Sangalle (about 3/4 hours) or start at Mirador de San Miguel and take a circular route passing through other villages inside the Canyon until you reach the Oasis (5/6 hours). For lack of information, my boyfriend and I chose the first option, but if I had to do it again, I would definitely choose the second one.

My experience hiking the Colca Canyon:

My boyfriend and I took the hike directly from Cabanaconde, partly because we didn’t know about the other road and partly because we left car we’ve rented inside the police station in front of Cabanaconde’s main square so it was safe until we came back the following day. Right in the main plaza of Cabanaconde there is a small tourist office where we asked about the start of the trek to Colca Canyon and with complete lack of interest, they pointed us a street and told us to continue straight.

 We followed the directions and around 10 AM we were starting what we thought was the right road to the Oasis of Sangalle. After following the road that starts at the main square, the road becomes more rural and passes through houses in the middle of some fields. We continued straight on this road as we had been told in the tourist office but the road became more narrow and with a lot of vegetation that made the walk more and more complicated.

 Finally we reached a point where the road no longer existed and we decided to return. On the way back we stumbled upon a local family and decided to ask them how to get to Sangalle, and thanks to them we could find the right way. It turns out that we had walked straight as we had been told in the office but, at a certain point, there was a sign on a wall that indicated that we had to turn right.

This is the sign we missed:Trekking through the Colca Canyon for free or on tour

This error costed us at least 1 hour and we started the real road to Sangalle Oasis tired, in a bad mood and almost with the midday sun over our heads.

Once on the right path, it is very easy to follow and recognize. First you start descending a very wide road and then it becomes narrower and the zigzag begins. The trekking that doesn’t has a great level of difficulty but it does represent a great challenge for your mind, as you can visualize the Oasis since the beggining of the trail and you think you’re almost there, when in reality it is hours away.

 The hike is monotonous and without big surprises. There are practically no trees or shadows on the entire trek: only dirt, gadflies and the view of the canyon, which you can’t really appreciate because you have to be looking at the floor at all times to avoid tripping over the thousands of stones. If we add this to having started the trekking on the wrong path and walking 1 extra hour, you can already imagine how tired we felt in the middle of the walk, wondering why we haven’t stayed at the paradise of Colca Lodge. While the hike didn’t present a great physical challenge for us, it was a great challenge for our mind.

Trekking through the Colca Canyon for free or on tourTrekking through the Colca Canyon for free or on tour  

Around 2:30 p.m. we finally arrived at the Sangalle Oasis and went directly to the first hotel we saw: Oasis Paraíso Ecolodge. All the accommodation in the Oasis is quite basic, so don’t expect great luxuries. Something to keep in mind is that none of the hotels is suitable for people with fear of bugs since the walls and doors of these rustic hotels are not hermetic at all, in fact our room was made with bamboo walls.

We spent the rest of the day enjoying the pool and chatting with other travelers until it got dark. The hotel had a common area where you could relax and eat or drink something. Everything is cooked and served by the owners, who live at the canyon. Unfortunately they abuse with water prices, since they know that we all need to buy one for hiking the next day. We paid 10 soles for a bottle of water! We went to bed at 9 PM to rest and start the hike back to Cabanaconde on the next morning.

Hiking back up to Cabanaconde

It is highly recommended to start the hike back to Cabanaconde before dawn to avoid the midday sun. At 5 AM we were starting the hike. It was still dark, so something that helped us a lot was that I carried my led head lamp.

The climb is intense but for us it was easier than the hike down. Before 9 AM we were already outside the Canyon. We bought something for breakfast in the Plaza of Cabanaconde and went straight to the Mirador de los Cóndores to enjoy having finished the adventure of sleeping in the Colca Canyon.

Where to sleep in the Sangalle Oasis

 As I said the accommodation available in the Oasis is quite rustic and basic. I recommend making the reservation through Booking as we were charged more for booking the hotel directly at the Oasis. Unfortunately, some hotel owners abuse by the small number of places available for sleeping. The hotels you can find in Sangalle Oasis are:

Tips for hiking the Colca Canyon:

  • I recommend going down the longest road that passes through San Juan de Chuccho. Although it takes longer, you can walk relaxed and enjoy the scenery since the descent is not as steep as the one that goes directly from Cabanaconde to Sangalle.
  • Bring water and food. It is important to bring water to keep hydrated during the trekking and snacks such as fruits or cereal bars. Bring at least 2 litres per person.
  • Pack light. Don’t pack unnecessary things. Bring water, food, a flashlight, sunscreen and a change of clothes. Bring just a small backpack
  • Protect yourself from the sun. The landscape of the Canyon is arid and desert, so it is essential to protect yourself from the sun. Wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Physical conditions. The trekking does not have great level of difficulty but it is necessary to have good physical condition so you can complete the hike. To avoid altitude sickness, don’t plan this hike on your first days of your Peru itinerary.
  • Be a responsible traveler. On the climb back to Cabanaconde, several locals offer their donkeys or horses. Please DO NOT SUPPORT ANIMAL ABUSE. If you don’t have the physical condition to hike, then you better not do it. It is very cruel to make animals suffer because you are tired, you didn’t wear the right shoes or you just don’t feel like walking. In addition to this, always remember to return with your waste.
  • Hiking shoes. It is very important to wear comfortable clothes such as sports pants and good hiking shoes. I have these hiking boots from Columbia and I recommend them because they are very comfortable. I wore them almost every day of my trip to Peru. 

Hiking the Colca Canyon

I hope this article about hiking Colca Canyon has been useful to you when organizing your trip. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to leave a comment!

Other posts from Peru:

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