Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon is an amazing variation of climates and terrain making it one of the must do hikes in Peru. Even better, you can do it by yourself.

The contrasts in the Colca Canyon are amazing, making it one of the highlights of our journey. Hot clear days are replaced with freezing night temperatures. Snow peaked caps rise into the sky before dropping down into the dry canyon below. Apart from the condors and the odd scorpion, you’re not likely to see a lot of wildlife. Thats ok though because the landscape it breath taking, resembling that of a postcard picture at every corner.

In our opinion, the Canyon is best explored without a guide. For starters the guided trips all take the same path which means busy tracks. This isn’t a huge issue but something we prefer to avoid. Secondly, the track we want to explain passes some geothermal areas and natural hot springs. Finally if you’re like us, walking to your own pace couldn’t be more enjoyable.

We’re going to cover everything: hiking the Colca Canyon – day by day without a guide, maps, public and tourist transport options, accommodation, what to pack and how much it costs.

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Hiking the Colca Canyon – day by day without a guide:

Day One: Total walking time – 5 hours. This Colca Canyon Map will help you out.

An early start (3am) will see you picked up from your hostel in Arequipa and transported to Cabanaconde, arriving at around 9.40am. Along the way you’ll stop for breakfast and at the Condor lookout (Mirador Cruz del Condor). Make sure you bring warm things for the bus!

You’ll notice a lot of people get off the bus before Cabanaconde at Mirador San Miguel. This is where all the guided walks start from but there is an alternative and less crowded walk which we feel is better so stay on the bus until Cabanaconde.

Depart the bus at Cabanaconde. Today you’ll be walking to Llahuar – the first campsite. We recommend leaving Cabanaconde by 11-11.30AM to reach camp by nightfall. From Cabanaconde  head through the square toward the canyon and take the final right (as if your back is facing to the church). Take the next left, you’ll see a blue tourist sign here guiding you. Continue down the road until you reach another blue sign reading “muralla” and “la trinchera”. Head left, circling the bull ring (which isn’t as obvious as you’d think). From here you will start to see white spray painted rocks labelled “Llahuar”. Keep following these or foot prints in the dirt, you’re on the right path from here.

You’ll soon come across a beautiful lookout with a small shack. From here you should be able to make out a small brown sign in the distance to your left. This is your next point. You’ll also see very small villages across the river, this is your vague direction. The path is slightly ambiguous at times but keep going and you should be fine.

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At the brown sign which reads, “Fure” and “Llahuar” you will start to head down hill. Keep zig zagging down and down into the canyon. If you have bad knees, hiring hiking poles is a good option. Soon you will approach a bridge that crosses the river. To the right of the bridge there is a small path which leads to a geyser. It’s relatively small by New Zealand standards but worth checking out!

If you continue on the road past the bridge you’ll approach a town within 30-40 minutes. The first town is uninviting, don’t stop here. Continue down the other side of the hill, across the bridge and to Llahuar. Here you’ll find a nice hostel (S40 matrimonial) with inviting, natural thermal pools situated right next to the river! There is the option to camp and cheaper rooms are available if you get there earlier. The hostel has a surprisingly well stocked bar and provides dinner for 10 soles and breakfast for 8 soles per person.

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Day Two: Total walking time – 6 hours. This Colca Canyon Map will help you out.

The next day is a total of 6 hours. Given that you really want to avoid the heat of the day and that the sun sets quite early in the morning, we would recommend starting at 7AM. This also gives you the opportunity to enjoy the pools at the next campsite.

Return back up the hill to the weird, uninviting village you saw the day before and continue up the road (in the opposite direction to the bridge obviously!). You’ll pass a number of towns as you continue along the road for the majority of the day. There is short cuts along the way but we missed every one!

After about 4 hours you’ll reach Malta. Before here you will have seen a resort looking hostel deep down in the canyon – this is your destination (Sengalle el Oasis). After Malta follow the track back, round and down to Sengalle el Oasis. Its all down hill or flat from here.

At Sengalle el Oasis there are a couple of accommodation options although one is only apparent to begin with. 30 soles for a matrimonial room or 15 soles for a dorm bed. The Oasis ground are a lot nicer and there is even a pool, dinner 15 soles per person. This is the part of the track where you meet up with the guided tours who started at Mirador San Miguel. The hostels are busier than Llahuar and there is less of a welcoming vibe. Otherwise its fine.

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Day Three: Total walking time – 4 hours. This Colca Canyon Map will help you out.

This is the final day, and a challenging one. NB: You could choose to not go this way and do the Tapas way instead if you wish. You may need more time for this.

It is really advised to start your walk at 5AM if heading from the Oasis to Cabanaconde. There is a very, very steep hill between the two villages. The canyon is cold at night but hot during the day which would make this walk very unpleasant if you started earlier. Also, you need to time your transport back to Arequipa if not staying the night. Keep reading for that. The walk back up takes about 4 hours and requires little explanation, you’ll easily spot the winding goat track. At the top of the hill, you will be checked for entrance tickets so make sure you have kept yours in a safe place.

As per our transport tips, we caught the shuttle back with Pachamama Hostel for 30 soles, leaving Cabanaconde at 9.30-9.50AM. Alternatively there is a public bus that leaves at 11.30AM from the square (17 soles). The trip back is long – taking about 7 hours as they stop at hot springs etc. for other tourists. On the plus side, they also stop at the highest lookout of the journey giving you a good photo opportunity.

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Getting there and back: 2 options – tourist bus or public bus. Despite Charlie’s love of saving money, heres our argument for the tourist transport. Whichever transport you take, pack warm clothes as the trip (especially at 3am) its bloody freezing! I’m talking – “6 hours of erect nipples and shrunken penis?” kind of freezing!

Tourist bus: We took a large shuttle van provided by Pachamama Hostel. We paid 35 soles per person for one way transport but click on the link above for up to date prices.

Pros – The pick up is from your hostel door bright and early (3am!) which is necessary as it takes about 6.5 hours to get there. The trip to the Colca canyon includes a breakfast stop and stops at Cruz del Condor Viewpoint early enough to see the Condors flying. They then continue down to the starting points of the guided hikes – stopping at both Mirador San Miguel (the start of the guided hikes. This can be done without a guide too) and Cabanaconde (the start of an alternative hike without a guide and also a nice town).

The tourist bus is obviously more expensive but is quicker and therefore better if you’re wanting to start your hike on the same day.

Cons: We caught the same transport back again with the impression that it was direct transport back to Arequipa. Unfortunately it wasn’t and a few people got a bit grumpy as the van stopped at hot springs and numerous other places for a few other tourists. Since then I have seen Pachamama have updated their transport information website which clearly displays the return trip itinerary. This is great to see and makes it clear for everyone.

Public Bus: Because we didn’t take this we are unsure where they leave from in Arequipa however we have heard that they only go as far as Chivay (17 soles). Upon returning to Arequipa there are public buses that depart the main square of Cabanaconde at around 9-9.30AM.  The trip to the Colca Canyon is long and the public bus takes longer than the tourist bus. This is fine if you plan on staying a night in Cobanaconde before beginning your hike. However, if you’re wanting to start your hike the same day as you leave Arequipa you will not arrive early enough. We’re not even sure its that much cheaper so maybe, just this once, we’d say its better to take a tourist bus.

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Accommodation:

• If staying a night in Cabanaconde before your hike there are plenty of accommodation options.

• During the hike there are hostels at most stops. You have the option of pitching a tent or staying in a cabana. Camping is the only option at places off the beaten track but if you stick to our above hike and stay in cabanas you will not need a tent or bedding.

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What to pack: Before we left Arequipa every man and his dog would advise us not to pack heavily for the Colca Canyon hikes. If we did we’d surely regret it. There’s two camps to this argument.

1: The people who hike the guided walks and have everything organised for them. Yes they carry 25L packs and quite rightly so.

2: The other half are hiking alone and therefore carry a 40-50L pack. Because we were hiking without a guide, we carried our own water and a lot of our food and managed just fine!  Here’s what we packed:

• 3x 2.5L each. We did buy 1x 2L each at campsite at a whopping 15 soles. Everyone laughed at us for bringing so much water however we had the last laugh when everyone else was coughing up 15 soles per 2.5L of water!

• Lunches and snacks for three days each. We bought breakfast (S8) and dinner (S10-15) at camp.

• T-shirts and shorts to hike in during the day. Bring a hat too!

• Pants, thermals and beanies for at night.

• Torch or headlamp.

• All your other normal stuff – sunblock, socks, money, camera etc. There are no river crossings on the hike so dry bags are not essential unless you are hiking in forecasted rain.

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Costs: 

• Entry tickets to Colca Canyon – 70 soles per person. They will check you have it so keep it until you leave.

• Extra top up water – 15 soles per 2.5L (amount required dependent on how much you carry. Tip – there is often an old man selling water before you descend down to the Oasis. His is better priced at 6 soles but bring at least 7L each to save $).

• Accommodation: 40 soles

• Average breakfast cost at hostels: 12 soles per person, two days

• Average dinner cost at hostels: 8 soles per person, two days

• Return transport: 70 soles per person

Total Cost: 275 soles per person

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