On the second day of 2018, I decided to head over to Colca Canyon for what I heard was an amazing experience at one of the deepest canyons in South America (3,270 m deep). Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and home to the Andean condor. These birds have a wingspan of 9ft and is commonly referred to as the Eternity bird due to their long life (60~70 years).
Going into the trip, I heard Colca Canyon was supposed to be quite beautiful. It came highly recommended from a few friends I made and was associated with words like “magical” and “must see”. Staring off the new years from
Colca Canyon -> Puno/Lake Titicaca -> Bolivia/La Paz seemed like a perfect way to kick off the new years.
Briefly, the purpose of this article is a how-to for Colca Canyon. By the end you’ll know what you can expect and how to plan your own trip there!
Explicit trip details are at the bottom of this article. See them for prices and itinerary.
There are a few different flavors of tours of Colca Canyon. There’s a day tour, a 2 day tour, and a 3 day tour. I took the 2 day tour, which featured one night in “The Oasis” and two days of hiking (Note: I heard this was most physically challenging of tours).
3 AM Start
Waking up at 3:00 AM, I was not thrilled when the bus didn’t arrive until 4:30 AM. Thing was, I was so tired that by the time we started going I didn’t care. Everyone was so groggy from the lack of sleep that the van was full of slumbering travelers within 15 minutes of departing. After about a 3 hour bus ride, we arrived at our first stop for breakfast around ~7:00 AM at Chivay. By ~8:00 AM we were at Cruz Del Condor.
We were hoping for a breathtaking view and condors. Instead we got this:
No condors. No view. Looks like we struck out.
Like with Machu Picchu, I was hoping that the mist would clear off by the middle of the day. It did, and about an hour later as we descended to the base of Colca Canyon……
The hike down to Colca Canyon is around 7 hours total broken up in to two segments. Upon arrival to the actual top of the canyon, you get split into groups based upon your itinerary and proceed down to the base of the canyon. The total hike is 18km for Day 1. Between the two segments of the first day, I much preferred the second segment.
Note: The total hiking over the 2 days is roughly 24 km or ~15 miles.
Segment 1 ~3 hrs
Segment 1 consists of a series of switchbacks through rocky terrain. I moved through the course pretty quickly, but I will admit that by the end my quads were starting to buckle under the weight of my bag. This is not a hike you do if you have bad knees or ankles.
I did see one condor during the hike, but for the most part the segment was relatively devoid of animals. There are some stunning viewpoints along the way which does make it worth it. Eventually you get to a bridge, where we hiked another 45min to get lunch. Lunch was pretty mediocre, but hey, we aren’t at Colca Canyon for a 5 Star meal.
Segment 2 ~3 hours
Segment 2 was by far more enjoyable than segment 1. Not only because it had a much more varied terrian, the the landscape was littered with interesting elements of nature. Personally, my favorite part was the amount of wild fruit that was accessible and edible.
There were pears, figs, pacay (a podded plant I had never seen before that you can pull the beans out and is relatively sweet), avocado, sweet cactus plants, mola, and more! For me, this hike became not just a beautiful walk through wilderness, but a chance to forage the natural garden. I ate as many of the fruits as I could and even stored some in my bag for the next day.
At the end of the hike, there is a pleasant and enjoyable waterfall which is nice sight to view after hiking for 7 hours. We arrived at the end of the hike ~4 PM.
Travel Hack: If you bring a water filter there are plenty of streams along the way to refill your water bottle.
When you finish your hike, you end up at the “Oasis”. I was half expecting some crappy bungalows just to rest for the night before hiking it up in the morning. Instead, it ended up feeling like a small resort. The view from the Oasis is quite impressive, so much so I had to indulge in a few cocktails. Right next to the waterfall, you can hear the water whisking through the canyons in the background.
Note: Colca Canyon is really not accessible to modern transport so try to bring as much necessities (food, water, etc ) as required prior to coming. Prices will increase drastically if you want something like a water.
After a few drinks and dinner, we headed to bed for a 4:30 AM start this time in the exact reciprocal direction we came. Up.
Waking up at 4:00 AM for the 4:30 trek, the group was pretty exhausted from the previous days excursion. I had some giant blisters on the sole of my foot from trying to go downhill, and I was not looking forward to breaking them in over the hike. I ended up swapping to my Vibram 5 finger shoes for the hike, which probably helped.
A couple things if you go on this trip: They did NOT offer any food before the hike, and due to some misinformation I also didn’t have water.
No food + No water + 45lbs bag + 2.5 hour hike up = Exhausted Andor by the end of it.
This hike was almost purely uphill, and while the grade was actually pretty reasonable, both in ability to cover distance and difficulty, the tedious switchbacks made the scenery repetitive and by the end of it I was ready to be done with it. Unless you have a reason to bring your bag (I did), my recommendation is to leave it behind. You also have an option to hire a mule if you want to either carry you or your stuff.
Here’s some throughout the hike:
Finally, 24 km later we have scaled and descended the Colca Canyon trail!
I’m packing the rest of the trip in following section because most of it isn’t packed enough to stand out on its own.
After the hike you have a small 30 min trek to a lunch spot with the basics. Because we had missed out on the view of Cruz del Condor earlier, we stopped by it again and the mist had cleared. Over the ride back you have about 4 stops in total to different viewpoints. There is one viewpoint you go to which offers a stunning display of terraces seen below. There’s also a small stand selling cactus drink which is absolutely delicious. For 3 soles I recommend trying it.
Closing out the trip, you stop at some hot springs for about an hour, then food, and then a few short stops on the way back.
Return of the trip is around 6:00 pm back in Arequipa.
Should you do Colca Canyon?
Well, it depends on your timeline and interests but I don’t think the trek is a
must see experience to enjoy Peru. That being said, you won’t regret taking the trip either. I had a lot of fun during the trek, though it did take up the full two days. What you can probably do is a day viewing of the canyon which is probably more worth your time.
Again, everyone travels different and it wasn’t a “bad” hike, but compared to Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain landscapes I had seen just a few weeks before, I rate the experience as obviously below the two.
Hope that helps you decide whether you want to do it for yourself next time you end up in Arequipa. Good luck staring your 2018 and see you in my next post.
Total Cost : 220/S (~73$)
I’m off to bed. It’s been a long two days,