The 16 best tips for the Colca Canyon trek

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The Colca Canyon trek is one of the most beautiful hikes you can do in Peru. This is because you will be hiking through the second deepest canyon in the world. The Colca Canyon is even deeper than the Grand Canyon in America. The great thing about the Colca Canyon trekking is that you will not see anyone else during the hike if you do the same hike as we did. If you go hiking in this area you get the chance to see impressive nature.

In addition to walking through nature, you can also visit villages during the Colca Canyon trek where time has stood still for years, spot Andean condors, relax in a hot spring, and above all enjoy breathtaking views.

In this article, you can read everything about the Colca Canyon hike, which route we recommend, how to prepare yourself, what to expect, which Colca Canyon tour we recommend, and many more tips. Be aware that the Colca Canyon trekking is not a normal hike, good preparation is important.

Colca canyon landscape
Colca Canyon viewpoint

#1 General Information Colca Canyon, Peru

Before we get into details of what you need to know about the Colca Canyon trek, here are some quick facts about the trail.

  • Location | Peru
  • Duration of the hike | 2 or 3 days
  • Start | Arequipa
  • End | Cabanaconde (hike) / return to Arequipa or Puno
  • Distance | 2 days 14km/8.6mile or 3 days 23km/14.2mile
  • Colca Canyon trek lowest point you reach | 2100 meters
  • Colca Canyon trek highest point you reach | 3300 meters

#2 Which Colca Canyon trek can you do

You can visit the Colca Canyon in Peru in different ways, namely as a day trip from Arequipa, or a multi-day trip of two or three days. In short, the different options are structured as follows:

During 1 day Colca Canyon you visit Mirador de la Cruz del Condor, this is an observation point of the Canyon where you can see condors flying. You will visit villages such as Pinchollo, Maca, and Yanque where the colonial churches are the center of the community. You will also visit viewpoints Choquetico and Antahuilque, from here you can see the Andenería valley. If you like, you can enjoy thermal baths at La Calera. Finally, you will make a stop on your return at Patapampa, this is the highest point between Colca Canyon and Arequipa at 4800 meters from where you have impressive views over the landscape.

During 2 days Colca Canyon trekking you visit Mirador de la Cruz del Condor to see the condors and hike on the eastern side of the valley. Close to the Mirador of the condors, you start the hike to Sangalle, where you stay the night in a green oasis along the river. The next morning you will walk to Cabanaconde. It is also possible to do the 2-day route in 3 days. The difference is that you see more of the east side of the valley and the intensity of the hike is better spread over the days. More information about the Colca Canyon trek 3 days for the east side can be read here.

During the 3 days Colca Canyon trekking you will also visit Mirador de la Cruz del Condor and walk on the west side of the valley. On the first day, you walk from Cabanaconde to Llahuar. In this village of 4 houses you are completely isolated, the next day you walk to Sangalle. You will stay here and walk the last day to Cabanaconde.

Tip: many tours are offered where you only visit the sights outside the park and do not go hiking in the park itself. The 2-day and 3-day tours we recommend actually do go inside the gorge.

#3 Which route do we recommend

As you have read, you have to choose between a walk in the west or east of the valley. Both routes offer impressive views and you can walk above and into the gorge. You can also walk to Sangalle on both routes. The big difference is that the walk on the east side is easier, making it very popular. The disadvantage of this is that it is busier compared to the route in the west.

We did this 3 day Colca Canyon tour on the west side. This trail is great because you get a unique opportunity to get back into nature and walk for hours without seeing anyone else. In addition, staying at the Llahuar is unique because you stay with the locals and get to know the countryside.

If you have less time, the 2-day route on the west side is more suitable. If you have 3 days it is always better in our opinion to do the one on the west side. The disadvantage is that this tour is more expensive than the 3-day trip in the east. So if you don’t want to spend too much money, it’s better to do the 3-day trek in the east.

The program for us was as follows:

Colca Canyon hike day 1: with all the tours the day starts very early, you will be picked up at 03:00 am and arrive at the Cruz del Condor viewpoint at 10:00 am. Here you have enough time to see the condors in the valley.

Between 11:00 am and 12:00 pm you will arrive in the village of Cabanaconde for lunch. After lunch, the hike to the remote village of Llahuar begins.

During the walk you cross the river, you pass the viewpoint Achachihua where you can overlook the entire valley and you have the best views you can imagine.

During the 4.5 hour walk, you descend from an altitude of 3200 meters to 2100 meters to eventually arrive at your sleeping place. Llahuar is a nice place to stay because here you can enjoy the landscape in all peace, relax in a hot spring and enjoy delicious food in the evening.

Tip: Normally people go to bed in the evening after dinner, if you have the energy it is worth sitting in the hot spring and looking at the stars. Because there is almost no light, you can see the stars very clearly. This makes the hot spring a special place to relax after a day of hiking.

Colca Canyon hike day 2: after a good night’s sleep in a bungalow and breakfast, you start the hike towards Sangalle around 07:00 am.

The walk today is tough because you have to climb and descend a lot. In total, you will be walking +/- 6 hours this day. During the walk, you walk on paths that were made centuries ago by the ancient Andean inhabitants. You pass an Andean community and eventually arrive in Sangalle.

Also during this day, you can enjoy magnificent views. In Sangalle you will have time after lunch to relax in the oasis. The rest of the day is free to spend.

Colca Canyon hike day 3: on the last day you start hiking to Cabanaconde around 05:00 am. The walk is steep uphill. If you don’t like this, you can reserve a mule the night before.

Once arrived in Cabanaconde, the hike is finished. After breakfast you will visit the viewpoints of Choquetico and Antahuilque, from here you can see the Andenería valley. If you like it, you can enjoy thermal baths at La Calera.

Finally, you will travel back to Arequipa or Puno. You can often arrange with the tour operator to bring you to Arequipa or Puno.

The program may differ from our program. For example, you visit the condors during the last day, and you do not stay at Sangalle but in Cabanaconde during the second day.

Colca canyon rest
Colca Canyon hike second day

#4 Colca Canyon trekking independently or with a tour

You can do the Colca Canyon trek independently or with a tour. We are travelers who like to do things independently because for us this means freedom. For the Colca Canyon, however, we recommend doing it with a tour. Read here why.

Colca Canyon tour

Taking a tour of a few days with others is not something that makes our heart beat faster for some, but we can assure you walking through this wild landscape with others is great.

The big advantage of a tour is that you walk with a guide. The guide knows the area, arranges everything, can offer help where needed, and knows the symptoms when a hiker gets into trouble. For us, these were the reasons to choose a tour. You should also bear in mind that the area is very rugged and the walks are not easy because of the many altimeters that you have to ascend and descend. A guide in these situations is perfect to help you when needed.

Another advantage is that everything is arranged, which saves you a lot of time. If you travel independently, you need 4 or 5 days and with a tour 3 days. This is because independently you can travel not that early from Arequipa to Colca Canyon later and this is also with the return journey.

It is also good to know that if you are going to do it independently you walk all the way around, sometimes people recommend walking to the first accommodation you visit during the tours and then travel back. The downside of this is that you don’t hike deep into the area and you don’t get into the canyon.

Because we did the route in the west and it is not done much, we were with the two of us and the guide, in other words, a private tour. If you walk the route in the east, the groups are never larger than 10 travelers. Many travelers only visit the edge of the park and do not enter the gorge.

The pros:

  • Everything is taken care of. The only preparation you need to make is to bring the right personal necessities (more information can you read at chapter ‘what to bring’);
  • Walking with a guide. The guide can offer help if needed;
  • It saves you a lot of travel time to get to the Colca Canyon;
  • You learn about the environment through the stories of the guide;
  • You meet new people.

The cons:

  • It is more expensive;
  • If you are used to doing everything at your own pace and schedule, it can take some time for you to adapt.

The pros and cons of doing the Colca Canyon independently are the exact opposite of the pros and cons of a Colca Canyon trekking tour.

Colca Canyon panorama

#5 Which Colca Canyon tour do we recommend

As you may have read, we did the 3-day Colca Canyon hike in the west. We do not recommend this in all cases. Depending on the type of traveler and personal schedule, some tours are more suitable than others. The overview below provides more clarity.

 PriceReturnRouteDifficulty
2 days eastRelatively cheapArequipa / PunoPopular routeAdvanced
3 days east Relatively cheapArequipa / PunoExtended routeMedium
3 days west Relatively expensiveArequipaUnique routeAdvanced

We did the 3-day route in the west, when we did this it was still possible to travel after the hike to Puno. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to go back to Arequipa first. If you want to travel straight to Puno, it is best to book one of these tours. If a return to Arequipa is fine, the 3-day route in the west is a good option. If you travel on a budget and you want to walk a hike which is not too difficult the hike of 3 days in the east is recommended.

As you can read, there are several options. There is no best option because it can differ per traveler.

#6 How do you travel to Colca Canyon

-This tip only applies if you travel independently, if you use a tour you can skip this part-

Cabanaconde is the starting point of the Colca Canyon trek. You can reach this from Arequipa.

Step 1: at 05:00 am the first colectivos leave for Cabanaconde. We recommend a colectivo as it is faster. You can get on at the colectivo station which is next to the bus station of Arequipa. The easiest way is to take a taxi from the accommodation where you are staying to the colectivo station. You can have a taxi reserved for your accommodation.

Address: Transportes Centella | Av. Andres Avelino Caceres 310 | departs a couple of times per hour

Step 2: At the colectivo station, buy a ticket at Transportes Centella towards Chivay. The colectivo leaves as soon as they are full. The colectivo takes about 3.5 hours.

For buses you can use Express Señor de Los Milagros and Andalucia. We don’t recommend it because it takes a very long time to get to your destination.

Step 3: Arrival in Chivay by colectivo. Go to the entrance of the station, this is where other colectivos leave for Cabanonde. A colectivo departs every hour, travel time is 2 hours.

Step 4: You arrive in Cabanonde, here you can start the hike after dinner. This is indicated in the center. If you do not travel back to Arequipa but want to continue your journey to Puno or Cusco, you can leave your large luggage in a hotel in Cabanonde. There are plenty of hotels that offer this, you can ask on the spot.

In total the colectivo will cost you 31 soles ($6) & 6 hours of travel time. The bus will cost you 26 soles ($5) & 8 hours travel time.

Tip: pack your bags the day before so you don’t have to worry about this in the morning.

Colca canyon village

#7 Spotting Andean condors at Cruz del Condor

If you take a Colca Canyon tour you always visit Cruz del Condor, of course, there is a reason because it is amazing!

A 20-minute drive from Cabononde is a viewpoint called Cruz del Condor where you can spot giant Andean condors. The Andean condor has the third-largest wingspan of any bird. The wingspan can be 3.4 meters. Cruz del Condor is one of the best places to see condors.

Tip if you are traveling independently: from Cabanonde you can easily arrange transport to Cruz del Condor, such as a taxi or minivan. You must do this early in the day because the later you do this, the hotter it gets, making the hike very tough. You can also do it once you have completed the draw.

Colca Canyon Cruz del Condor

Preparation is key!

#8 How tough is the Colca Canyon trekking

We are not going to lie to you that you don’r need to be fit to do the Colca Canyon trekking. There are easy routes, but these are fake routes, these routes don’t take you deep into the park. on all routes we recommend you walk around the area and you come deep into the gorge of the canyon, this part is beautiful but also tough.

The Colca Canyon trek can be tough for some as you have to descend and ascend 1200 meters in 2 or 3 days. For example, it had become very difficult for Cynthia at one point because of the heat and her fear of heights. We had to cut a lot of paths which can be challenging for people with a fear of heights. This had never happened and has never happened since. Not even during the Salkantay trek where you hike to Machu Picchu in 5 days. On the third day, to relieve the load, Cynthia used a mule to get up, this was a good solution. Alexander found the Colca Canyon trekking challenging but physically fine to do.

So it is very personal, what is difficult for one person can be completely different for another. Choose a route that suits you. If in doubt, it is best to follow the 3-day tour to the east, this is the easiest route in terms of intensity. It is important to know that you do not need top condition. Be honest with yourself when choosing the route. In the overview at #5 you can see our estimate in terms of difficulty.

For people with a fear of heights, it is recommended to take the route in the east because you walk on wide paths here. It was difficult for Cynthia with her fear of heights to take many shortcuts. Hence, this experience was a personal victory for her. So advice from Cynthia is if you are afraid of heights to do the route in the east.

Colca canyon trail

#9 Colca Canyon altitude sickness

During the Colca Canyon hiking, you can suffer from altitude sickness. Some villages are located at 3600 meters above sea level. You often get a bit of a headache that you can often overcome by drinking plenty of water, drinking coca tea, paracetamol, or a good night’s sleep.

The most important tip we can give is that you acclimatize in Arequipa so that you let your body get used to the altitude. Arequipa is located at 2300 meters, so your body can get used to the altitude. When you stay 3 nights in Arequipa, like us, you are reasonably acclimatized so that you will not suffer from altitude sickness while hiking in the Colca Canyon.

Colca canyon view panorama

#10 Where do you stay during the Colca Canyon hike

If you go hiking in the Colca Canyon you will pass one of the places below where you can stay. If you do a tour, you don’t have to arrange accommodation. If you travel independently, it is important to book on time because accommodations don’t have many rooms so they can be fully booked quickly.

Llahuar: Llahuar lodge is located in a unique place next to the river that flows through the valley. The rooms are basic but very neat. The food is good. A very nice lodge to stay in if you have been hiking for a few hours. They have hot springs where you can let your muscles relax. In the evening it is great to relax in the water and watch the bright stars. One of the most beautiful experiences of our Peru trip.

Sangalle: Sangalle is located in an oasis where you have two good lodges. We stayed at Paraiso Las Palmeras Lodge and recommend it because it has a beautiful pool here. Great if you’ve been walking in the heat all day. The rooms are basic so don’t expect luxury. If it is full you can go to Oasis Paraiso EcoLodge.

Cabanaconde: the start and endpoint of your trekking tour. If you are traveling from Arequipa and you don’t want to leave too early, you can also leave later from Arequipa and spend the night in Cabanaconde and start trekking the next day. A good place to sleep is La Casa de Santiago.

San Juan de Chuccho: If you discover the other side of the valley, you will stay in San Juan de Chuccho where Colibri Lodge is the best option.

Colca canyon lunch

#11 What about food and facilities

During the Colca Canyon trek, you can eat at the lodges where you stay or pass. The villages in the valley are Llahuar, Sangalle, Malata, Cosñinhua or San Juan de Chuccho. It is very basic so don’t expect luxury. If you stay overnight at the accommodations you will receive a vegetable soup, a bowl of rice, and tea. This is included in the price.

You can of course also order meals. For lunch, it is best to bring your food from Arequipa. It depends on your walking speed what time you arrive in the next village. Becausee of this, it is always better to bring your lunch, a good lunch option is making a sandwich yourself and bringing some energy bars. You can buy this in a supermarket in Arequipa. You can also ask the lodge to prepare lunch for you.

Water and snacks can be bought at the lodge that you pass by or at several small shops along the way. The route in the east has more facilities due to its popularity. During the route in the west, you don’t pass many small shops, so you have to stock more water and snacks.

Some accommodations have no electricity in the evening. So have a headlamp with you!

Colca Canyon donkey
Colca Canyon plant

#12 What to bring to the Colca canyon trek

During your 2-day or 3-day hike in the Colca Canyon, you have to carry everything yourself. It is important not to take too much with you. You don’t have to wear sleeping gear because you stay in lodges.

The following items are necessary to bring for the Colca Canyon trekking:

  • Day backpack, hiking shoes, water (2 liters pp), swimsuit, headlamp, power bank, cash, toilet paper, snacks, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, mobile, toilet accessory, 2 pairs of socks, 1 shirt, 1 pants , 2 underwear, 1 sweater for the evening (it can get cold).
  • Optional: camera, drone and personal items.

During the Colca Canyon trekking, you will pass a couple of shops. Here you can buy water and snacks. You can only pay in cash.

Tip: When you travel back to Arequipa you can leave your other stuff (large backpack) at your hotel. Do not leave your valuables behind, it is better to always have them with you, such as your passport. If you travel to Puno, Cusco, or another destination after the Colca Canyon hike, you should take your large backpack with you. You can leave this at a hotel in Cabanaconde for a fee. After the hike, you can pick up the large backpack and travel directly to Puno, Cusco, or another destination without having to go back to Arequipa first. When booking the tour, indicate to which destination you want to travel to, the tour will ensure that you are dropped off here.

Colca canyon view

#13 Do you need special travel insurance

Yes! We never travel without proper travel insurance and recommend that you do the same. Trekking trips at this height are not always covered by standard insurance. What you don’t want is that something happens and you aren’t insured. We always buy our travel insurance from World Nomads and are very satisfied with this. You can easily book your travel insurance for the Colca Canyon via this link at World Nomads. Or fill in the below form.

#14 What is the best time to do the Colca Canyon trekking

Colca Canyon is located near Arequipa, this area has two seasons, a dry and a rainy season. The dry season is from April to October. The rainy season is from November to March. You can do the Colca Canyon trekking all year round. The rainy season is not perfect but still fine.

The best months to do the Colca Canyon trekking are during the dry season between April and October with July and August being the best. During this period there is little rain and the temperatures are the most pleasant.

During the period July and August it is busier due to the summer holidays in Europe and the US. The advantage is that many travelers visit the Colca Canyon without doing a hike. As a result, the tours are never crowded because many travelers skip this.

#15 What does your next trip look like

After the Colca Canyon trek, you have two options. You can travel back to Arequipa or travel directly from Cabanaconde to Cusco or Puno. From Chivay, you can take buses to Cusco or Puno. Buses leave every hour to both places. A good bus company to use is 4M Express.

If you book a tour, you must indicate at the time of booking which destination you want to travel to.

#16 How much does the Colca Canyon trek cost

If you are going to do a tour, you can book it in Arequipa or book it in advance. We recommend the tours of GetYourGuide. When we book a tour we always use their tours as they are very easy to use and book. In addition, it is a certified organization, which guarantees quality. Locally a tour costs less money, but the question is always what you get in return. We prefer to pay a little more to have a pleasant experience.

Depending on which tour you book and how many days you lie down, the costs start at $70 for a day tour, $90 for a 2-day tour, and $110 to $300 for a 3-day tour.

If you do it independently, the costs for two persons for a 3-day tour (+/- $120) are as follows:

  • Transport | S/92 ($25)
  • Colca Canyon ticket | S/70 ($19)
  • Accommodations | S/70 ($19)
  • Food | S/100 ($27)
  • Drink | S/50 ($13.50)
Colca Canyon hike

Hike Colca Canyon FAQ

1. If you want to travel directly after the Colca Canyon trek to an other destination, how do you do this with your large suitcase/backpack?

When you travel from Arequipa to Cabanaconde with all your luggage, you can leave the large backpack or suitcase in a hotel. For a small payment in one of the hotels in Cabanaconde, you can safely store it here. It is important to always take all your important items such as a passport with you and not leave them behind. When you finished the hike, you can pick up your stuff and continue your journey to, for example, Cusco, Puno, or Arequipa.

Conclusion

We hope our article and tips helped you inspire and prepare for an awesome Colca Canyon hike. For us, it was one of the most beautiful moments during our trip through Peru.

If you are still planning a trip through Peru, you can visit our itinerary through Peru use it as inspiration to create your itinerary.

After the Colca Canyon trek, you will probably travel to Puno, Cusco, or back to Arequipa. Puno is located next to Lake Titicaca, which is the highest navigable lake in the world. In Cusco, you see the old Inca influences in the city. From Cusco, you can visit Machu Picchu and start the Salkantay trek. If you travel back to Arequipa you can enjoy a colonial city.

We’re curious about your stories, what does the Colca Canyon look like to you?
Share it in the comments below.

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