Self Guided Colca Canyon Trek
Colca Canyon, approximately 160 km north-west of Arequipa, Peru. At a depth of 3270 m it is well known for being one of the deepest canyons in the world – almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! It is also known for being third most visited tourist destination in Peru, with approximately 120000 visitors per year. In our opinion, the best part of this attraction is the fact that it is one of the very few treks in Peru that can be done without a guide, which is a wonderful way to take a break from the sometimes-gruelling schedule of a guided trek.
When To Go
|Rainy Season (December – March)||It is possible to trek the canyon any time of year. Crowds during this season are fewer, vegetation is green and lush, and prices for accommodation can be lower.|
|Dry Season (April – August)||Good trail conditions, but pack warm, temperatures during this time can drop down to below freezing at night. Condors are said to also be the most active during this time.|
|High Season (July – October)||Sunny days, cool nights. Night time temperatures tend to be less frigid after the month of August, and day-time temperatures can be scorching.|
Throughout the Colca Canyon, layers upon layers of stepped terraces can be seen. These terraces are still maintained and cultivated by locals today. The canyon is also home to some unique bird species, perhaps the most notable being the Giant Andean Condor (vulture) which can sometimes be seen in the masses near the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint. As the name suggests, these condors are massive, with wing spans ranging roughly from 2.0 to 2.5 m. Other notable species include the giant hummingbird, the Andean goose, and the Chilean flamingo.
How about another bus ride? To get to Cabanconde, a small town near the canyon, and the main hub for accessing most trailheads leading into the canyon, you have the following options:
This will cost approximately 17 PEN/person. Note that tickets cannot be purchased online, but are available for purchase from the Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa. The bus schedule tends to change, so it wouldn’t hurt to double check the bus schedule found online here on the Pachamama Hostel website.
The bus takes a short stop in Chivay (commonly known for La Calera hot springs), which is a couple hours from Cabanconde. The trip will take roughly 5-6 hours from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. Being a local bus, it can/does tend to make frequent stops along the way to pick up additional passengers, this may affect your travel time. Despite this, many tourists still opt to take the local bus for the sake of price, and to avoid the early morning wake-up call of the tourist bus.
We paid about 45 PEN/person for this bus, but this price may vary depending on the tour agency and your bargaining skills. We purchased our tickets from Kusi Travel Agency located in the Arequipa Plaza de Armas. If your accommodations are in central Arequipa, the bus will pick you up directly from your hotel, hostel or Airbnb. Arriving bright and early at 3 am, the goal for this ungodly early departure is to arrive at the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint in the early morning, when the condors are most active.
Prior to stopping at Cruz Del Condor, most tourist buses will stop in Yanque (another small town on the way to Cabanaconde) for breakfast which may or may not be included in the price of your tour. It wasn’t included in ours and cost 6 PEN/person. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re a glass half full type person), I was too sick from the bus ride to stomach anything that morning except for some tea.
It was another 30 minutes or so of driving after Yanque to reach Cruz Del Condor, where, unfortunately for us, we only got to see three or four condors flying in the distance in our 30-minute time allowance. After Cruz Del Condor we drove another 30 minutes or so to Cabanaconde.
I had never been happier to get off a bus, the road had many sharp turns and climbs above 5000 masl in some sections. This, in combination with a serious lack of sleep, made the drive a real struggle for me, although my girlfriend fended just fine. The entire duration of the trip took roughly 4-5 hours including time for breakfast in Yanque and the stop at Cruz Del Condor.
My recommendation? If you can spare the extra few dollars, take the tourist bus. It was nice to stop for breakfast to re-fuel, and although Cruz Del Condor was disappointing for us, there might be a better turnout for you.
Where To Stay
If you are feeling up to it, you might be able to begin your trek as soon as you get off the bus in Cabanaconde (depending on when you arrive, and the length of your trek that day). However, in my case, after waking up a 3 am and struggling through the bus ride, I needed the extra day in Cabanconde before starting our trek.
Note: It is highly recommended to start early in the morning at around 5 or 6 am to avoid the scorching heat of the sun directly overhead in the afternoon.
There are quite a few budget options in Cabanaconde, but we chose to stay at the Pachamama Hostel. The cost was around $24 USD/night when we stayed there in October. Pachamama offered a free trekking map of the canyon packed with information including plenty of sample itineraries to plan your self-guided tour, and staff were friendly and knowledgeable about the canyon. Breakfast was included, and the restaurant on site was well priced and not bad for a convenient dinner destination. If visiting during the high season, or if you simply want a little more piece of mind, Pachamama may also help arrange your accommodations in the canyon.
Note: It is not entirely necessary to book your accommodation in the canyon in advance. We did our trek near the end of October and found it to be surprisingly quiet. We had no problems finding accommodation without a reservation. It is also important to note that not all locations in the canyon provide accommodation, but there are locations with homestays that are not indicated on the trekking maps. Make sure you check with the staff at the Pachamama Hostel or with locals ahead of time if you’re not sure.
You will need to pick one of these up before beginning your Colca Canyon trek. It is your official park pass, costs around 70 PEN/person, and is valid for five days. These passes are checked at the trailheads coming in and out of the canyon, so be sure to pick one up to avoid conflict, and don’t lose it till you’re out of the canyon. We picked ours up on our way to Cruz Del Condor, but they can also be purchased in Cabanaconde.
Note: Be sure to purchase these from authorized personnel (at an official control point or from an authorized official in uniform). We met a few Americans that were sold fake passes and had to purchase a second set of passes before entering the canyon. Also, make sure that the date stamped on the passes is the current date, not a previous date, as this could also cause you troubles.
The temperature in the Colca Canyon can vary greatly, with scorching heat during the day to cold nights and cool, crisp mornings. It also wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for rain from December to March. Be prepared for the conditions, but avoid lugging around your 60 – 70 L backpacks in the canyon, keep most of your gear at your hostel (this is what we did) and pack light, you’ll thank yourself later. Here are a few things we took on our three day, two-night trek through the canyon (quantities will depend on the duration of your trek):
- Backpacks (25 – 30 L) with Rain Cover
- Water Bottles (2 – 4 L/Day) – (Water is available in the small villages throughout the canyon.)
- Snacks (Chocolate Covered Peanuts, Puffed Wheat, Dried Fruit, Granola Bars)
- Electrolyte Powders (Gatorade)
- Cash (See Cost section.)
- Water Purification Device or Tablets (Optional – instead of purchasing water bottles along the way which are 2-3 times the cost compared to anywhere else.)
- Trekking Map (Available from Pachamama Hostel in Cabanaconde.)
- Basic First Aid Kit
- Basic Toiletries (There are showers available in most accommodations.)
- Headlamp or Flashlight
- Hiking Boots
- Hiking Poles (Optional – but nice to have for going downhill.)
- Rain Jacket
- Zip Off Hiking Pants/Shorts
- Swim Shorts/ Bathing Suit
- T-Shirts X2
- Underwear X3
- Socks X3
- Wide Brim Hat
- Bug Spray
- Camera/Camcorder (Both Llahuar and Sangalle had places to charge devices. But not in the dorms.)
- Toilet Paper (Always)
Plan Your Route
The beauty of a self-guided tour is the freedom to choose your own route, and in the Colca Canyon there are plenty of options. We choose to do a three day, two-night trek, which in our opinion, was enough time to get a decent feel for the canyon. But if you don’t have the time there are also two day, one night trek options. For more details on the following route options, pick up a map from the Pachamama Hostel in Cabanaconde.
Three Day, Two Night Options:
Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 4 hr-> San Juan de Chuccho (1st Night) -> 6 km, 3.5 hr -> Sangalle (2nd Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanconde
Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 4 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho (1st Night) -> 12.7 km, 6 hr -> Llahuar (2nd Night) -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Llahuar (1st Night) -> 9.5 km, 5 hr -> Sangalle (2nd Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde (Our Route)
Less Popular Three Day, Two Night Option:
Cabanaconde -> 16 km, 8 hr -> Fure -> 1.7 km, 1 hr (1st Night) -> Huaruro’s Waterfall -> 1.7 km, 1 hr -> Fure -> 5.5 km, 3.5 hr -> Llahuar (2nd Night) -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr – > Cabanaconde
Note: Some maps may indicate that there are no accommodations in Fure, but when we visited (October, 2018) there were homestays in Fure.
Two Day, One Night Options:
Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 3.5 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho -> 6 km, 3.5 hr -> Sangelle (1st Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 3.5 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho -> 2.2 km, 2 hr -> Tapay (1st Night) -> (Via Malata) 11 km, 6.5 hr -> Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Llahuar (1st Night) -> 9.5 km, 5 hr -> Sangalle -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde
Route Highlights: (Cabanaconde -> Llahuar -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde)
On the way to/from Llahuar from/to Cabanaconde there is an amazing geyser near Paclla Bridge, conveniently named Paclla Geyser. But be careful, the ground and water near the Geyser is very hot, so wear appropriate footwear and keep your distance.
In Llahuar there are natural hot springs. The pools are just off the Colca River below the Llahuar Lodge. There is an upper pool that is cooler and refreshing and two lower pools that are hot and relaxing. We spend a good two hours relaxing in the lower pool, while sipping a few cold ones. It was a great way to end the day. Note: If you also decide to spend a significant amount of time in the pool, I would suggest tossing on some more sunscreen; I didn’t, and paid for it.
The hidden waterfall of Huaruro is amazing. It is a bit of trek to get there, but it is well worth the extra effort. Plus, the route to Huaruro is much quieter than the other options, so if you are looking for some seclusion, this is the way to go.
In Sangalle there a many man-made pools filled with cool, fresh water. These pools are an excellent way to cool off after a long day hiking in the sun. Sangalle is the busiest region in the Colca Canyon so be prepared to make some friends.
Cost Breakdown for Three Days/Two Nights (High End)
|Item||Unit Cost||Quantity||Total (PEN)|
|Bus Tickets||45 PEN/Person||2||90|
|Boleto Turistico||70 PEN/Person||2||140|
|Accommodations||50 PEN (Private Room)||2||100|
|Soft Drinks||10 PEN/Person||2||20|
|Water||15 PEN/ 2 L||4||60|
|Grand Total (PEN) X2 People||540|
(Rough Costs: Hostels – 40 to 50 PEN/Night (Private Room), 15 to 20 PEN/Night (Dorm Bed), Dinner – 15 to 20 PEN, Breakfast – 10 to 15 PEN, Water (2 L) – 10 to 15 PEN, Soft Drinks – 5 to 10 PEN, Beer – 15 PEN)