Self Guided Colca Canyon Trek

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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.

Attractions

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.

Getting There

 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:

 Local Bus

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.

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.

Preparation

Boleto Turistico

 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.

Gear

 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
  • Sweater
  • Zip Off Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Swim Shorts/ Bathing Suit
  • T-Shirts X2
  • Underwear X3
  • Socks X3
  • Wide Brim Hat
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • 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
Dinner 20 PEN/Person 2 40
Breakfast 15 PEN/Person 2 30
Beer 15 PEN/Person 4 60
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)

 


Travel Apps – Tech That Makes Travelling Easier

As we all know, there are apps for everything these days, but what about for making life easier while travelling abroad? As you might have guessed, there are many apps for this and within this article I will mention several that I have found very useful while travelling.

We will be continuously adding to this article as we go, so please feel free to leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels.

Disclaimer: We received no compensation for recommending these apps. These recommendations are made based strictly on our own personal experience.

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We are now part way through our eight month trip through South America and South-East Asia and I would like to say that I came prepared for this trip, but unfortunately this would not be the case. The minute I stepped off the plane in Lima, Peru, I knew I was in trouble. As we walked out of the terminal, we were almost immediately bombarded with taxi drivers shouting at us in Spanish. I felt helpless as I tried to converse with the drivers in English, but thankfully I had my girlfriend to bail me out with her Spanish. That evening, I went right to the App Store to see what I could do about my situation, which brings me to my first two app recommendations.

Google Translate (Free)

Google TranslateThere are numerous apps that provide translational services, but I found Google Translate to serve my purposes perfectly. A couple useful features apart from basic text translations include voice and picture translations. I have yet to use the voice translation feature but I have used the picture translation feature on restaurant menus as well as grocery items. The picture translation feature is not perfect, but it gives you the general idea. Another feature that I have found useful is the ability to download select languages to your device so that you can use the app offline (which is key since wifi is not always available).

Babbel (Free Trial, Subscription for Full Access)

BabbelBabbel is an app that attempts to teach you a language through lessons using various interactive techniques. These lessons typically involve repeating words, and completing sentences and conversations. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but I was surprised how easily I was drawn into this app. These lessons can also be downloaded offline, so that you can learn on the go, for instance, on those long bus rides we all love. Obviously, it would be ideal to learn the language of where you are travelling before you leave. But since that is easier said than done, it is better to start late than never with Babbel.

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Okay, so moving onto logistics. I am sure the value of these apps will vary depending on where you are travelling, but here are few that we have found useful in South America.

Uber (Free)

UberI am sure most of us are familiar with Uber. The app is very user friendly and makes getting from one point to another so very simple. It is just a matter of jumping in the car and everything else is taken care of. You simply type in your destination, your Uber comes and picks you up, the driver follows directions provided by the app on their phone, and payment is collected by the app upon arrival using your registered credit card.

We have found that Uber has been less expensive than taking local taxis. Perhaps it is because we are not the greatest with bartering, but in general our Ubers have been less expensive. The only downside to Uber is that it is not available everywhere, so be sure to check on your map in the app; also, sometimes you have to wait a few minutes before your Uber arrives, which is not the case for taxis (in Peru at least), where a taxi drives past you every 30 seconds.

Hopper (Free)

HopperHopper is an app that essentially monitors the flights you are looking to take in the future and notifies you when the flight is expected to be at its cheapest. Similarly, you can also look at the calendar provided in the app to plan your trip around when your flights are expected to be their cheapest. In addition, you can use Hopper to book your flights directly. But how does it work? Well, Hopper relies on a large amount of data to make its predictions and claims to have 95% accuracy within six months. All we know is that this app has saved us some big money in the past, and every dollar counts when you are backpacking!

Busbud (Free)

BusBudBooking bus tickets through the BusBud App could not be easier. Buses are often a huge part of any backpackers travels and are often required to reach more remote locations, especially if you are operating on a tight budget. The beauty of BusBud is that it provides prices and schedules of hundreds of bus companies registered with them. That way you don’t need to waste time comparing prices between different bus companies, rather, everything is right in front of you. We have used BusBud for booking all of our buses and have had no issues. After booking your tickets, BusBud will send you an email with your itinerary, electronic tickets, and payment information.

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Alright, now let’s talk about apps for accomodations.

Airbnb (Free)

AirbnbWe have used the Airbnb App for booking almost all of our accommodations. Why? Because it is the best app for booking accomodations? Maybe. Actually, we have noticed that when travelling as a couple, it has been less expensive for us to stay in bnbs rather than hostels. As an added bonus, you are usually in a private room with a private bathroom for what you would normally pay for a dorm bed in a hostel (if you’re travelling as a couple, bnbs are definitely the way to go).

Anyways, the Airbnb App like many of the other aforementioned apps is very user friendly. When booking a bnb the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. The transaction is simply made with your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. Depending on how soon your reservation is, there might be the option to pay only a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. In addition, if you or the host changes the reservation, a notification is sent to the host or yourself in which you or the host can either accept or decline the change. The app also provides a messaging feature between you and the host as well as less painful reviewing process for you to review the host and vice versa.

Hostelworld (Free)

HostelworldHostelworld is another very common app essential in any backpackers app artillery. Although we have not used the Hostelworld app as frequently as Airbnb, it is just as user friendly. Simply search where you want to stay and the number of guests you are travelling with and just like that you have numerous hostels at your disposal and their corresponding prices. In addition, we particularly like that the hostel rating is one of the first things you see when browsing through your options, this makes it quick and easy to filter out the duds. Again, once selecting a hostel, the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. Oftentimes there is a selection of accommodations (ie: a dorm or a private room) and a corresponding change in price. Again, the transaction is simply made using your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. And depending on how soon your reservation is you may have the option of only paying a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. The app also features a less painful reviewing process for you to review the host.

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Okay, onto a few more apps that I have found useful for more general tasks.

Google Drive (Free for 15 GB of Storage, Subscription for >15 GB of Storage)

Google DriveTo be honest, I am a big supporter of all Google Apps. I find them all to be very useful, user friendly, and it is also nice how many of the apps sync together. Your Google Drive can be accessed on you computer by logging into your Google Account or on your other devices by using the app of course.

There are many perks to using Google Drive. Firstly, if by some horrible stroke of luck all your devices are suddenly destroyed or stolen, you simply have to log into your Google Account or your Google Drive App on another device and voila! You still have all your documents. Secondly, all of your documents are available on all of your devices (as long as you have downloaded the Google Drive App). Thirdly, you can even make your documents available offline (without wifi) for editing, which essentially means that Google Drive downloads a temporary copy of the document to your device while you are offline and automatically uploads the altered document when you are back online! Lastly, Google Drive is wonderful for sharing documents, which allows others to edit or contribute to your documents.

We have kept all of our travel documents in our Google Drive, that way we never have to worry about losing them and we know where to find them if needed. We have a budget tracking spreadsheet that we update everyday and by keeping it on our Google Drive I have the option of updating the spreadsheet from my computer, tablet, or phone, online or offline!

Google Photos (Free)

Google PhotosThe Google Photos App is similar to the Google Drive App, except that it is specifically designed for – you guessed it, photos! Again, you can access Google Photos online through your Google Account or directly through the app of course. And, again you can access your photos on all your devices, and share your photos and albums with your friends and family through a link that is generated by the app. The app also includes an activity log for each album, which records which photos were added to the album and when, as well as any comments made by friends and family on the photos that you’ve shared.

One of the biggest advantages of the Google Photos App is that you get unlimited storage for photos. You read that right, unlimited storage, and it’s free! There is one catch, in order to have access to unlimited storage your photos will be limited to 16 MP resolution and your videos to 1080P. You can store higher resolution photos and videos, but unfortunately this will count towards your Google Drive storage quota. On the bright side, the majority of phone cameras are less than 16 MP, but of course, photos taken on DSLR cameras will likely be greater than 16 MP, in which case, your photos may lose some quality, depending on the size and detail of the photos.

Another advantage of the Google Photos App is that you can free up storage on your phone by only making your photos available online (with wifi). This might not be ideal for everyone, but it has been a huge space saver for me, that way I can download more tunes for those long bus rides.

xCurrency (Free)

xCurrencyxCurrency is just one of many apps that provides real time prices for other currencies (if you have wifi). The app also works without wifi but the exchange rates might not be up to date. There is nothing particularly magical about this app and like I mentioned previously there many other apps that are similar, but we have found having an app to quickly see the prices of items in other currencies is a key tool for travellers.

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The end! Thanks for tagging along this far, I hope you enjoyed the read. Just a friendly reminder to please leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels. Safe travels friends!