Ultimate travel guide | Colca Canyon trek the best 14 tips you need to know!

The Colca Canyon trek is one of the highlights of Peru. The Colca Canyon Peru is the second deepest canyon in the world. This makes it even deeper than the Grand Canyon of America. The special thing about the Colca Canyon trek is that you don’t see anyone else during the hike (at least if you do the same trekking as us). The villages you pass are the same as a hundred years ago, it really is as if time stood still here. During the Colca Canyon trek, you can spot Andean condors, relax in a hot spring, and above all enjoy the breathtaking views. We tell you everything you need to know, which route we recommend, whether you should do it organized or independently, and much more. Read this article to be well prepared. The Colca Canyon trek isn’t normal trekking, it needs some good preparation.

Colca canyon landscape
Colca Canyon viewpoint

#1 How long does the Colca Canyon trek take?

Visiting the Colca Canyon in Peru can be done in different ways. The most popular are:

Tip: we did the unique route where you don’t see anyone during the whole route, really recommended!

#2 Which tour do we recommend?

We did the three day tour (unique route) with two different overnight stays in the valley and recommend it! During this Colca Canyon hike tour, you walk on the west side of the valley via LLAHUAR to Sangalle. The advantage of this trekking tour is that you don’t see other people during the Colca Canyon hike. We only met other hikers coming from the east at the end of the second day. The route (popular route) in the east of the valley is a lot easier, making it more popular and busier. Below you see the program that we did.

Day 1

  • 03:00 Bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde
  • 08:00 To Cruz del Condor viewpoint
  • 10:00 Arrival Cabanaconde (breakfast)
  • 11:00 Start trekking from Cabanaconde to Llahar
  • 15:00 Arrival at Llahar lodge
  • 15:30 Have lunch and enjoy the hot springs

Day 2

  • 06:00 Breakfast
  • 07:00 start hike from Llahar to Sangalle
  • 15:00 PM Arrival Sangalle
  • 15:30 Have lunch and enjoy the swimming pool

Day 3

  • 05:00 start hike Sangalle to Cabanaconde
  • 09:00 Arrival Cabanaconde
  • 09:30 Breakfast
  • 10:00 Travel from Cabanaconde to Puno
  • 10:30 Mirador Antahuilque
  • 11:30 Hot springs Chacapi
  • 14:00 Stop at Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve
  • 17:00 Arrival Puno
Colca canyon rest
Colca Canyon hike second day

#3 Colca Canyon hike independent or Colca Canyon tour?

You can visit the Colca Canyon Peru independently or with a tour. We did it with a private tour and are very happy with it. We were pleased that we didn’t have to invest much time in the preparation. All we knew is that we wanted to walk the west side of the valley in 3 days because we wanted to discover the undiscovered path where you don’t see other travelers. The advantage of this tour is that you will be picked up and go directly to the Cruz del Condor and continue your journey to Cabanaconde. If you do it independently, you have more travel time, because you have transferred. Besides, the price difference between a tour and doing it independently isn’t that huge, so a private tour was suitable for us. The tour that we recommend can be booked via the below link.

Unique Colca Canyon hike | $416 per person

You can certainly do this tour independently, but you have to arrange everything yourself. In this article, you can read what you need to do.

#4 How do you travel to Colca Canyon?

Cabanaconde is the starting point of the Colca Canyon trek. To get here you need to travel from Arequipa. In Arequipa, you need to prepare yourself for the Colca Canyon trek.

If you are doing a tour, you will depart from Arequipa at 3:00 am in morning. It is very early and not perfect but luckily you can sleep on the bus.

Step 1: If you go independently, the best option is to take the bus at 4:30 am or 5:00 am. We recommend a colectivo because it is faster. Take a taxi (have it booked by your hotel) from your accommodation to the colectivo station. The colectivo station is right next to the bus station.

Step 2: At the colectivo station you need to buy a ticket at Transportes Centella towards Chivay. The advantage is that the colectivo leave when they are full. The colectivo drives a lot faster than the bus, it only takes 3 hours and 20 minutes. This is the address where you need to go, the first colectivo leaves at 5 am:

Transportes Centella | Av. Andrés Avelino Cáceres 310 | departures: several per hour.

For buses, you can go to Express Señor de Los Milagros and Andalucia. We don’t recommend it because it takes a lot of hours to get to your destination.

Step 3: arriving in Chivay with a colectivo, walk to the entrance of the station where the colectivo’s that leave for Cabanonde are located. These leave approximately every hour. Travel time is 2 hours.

Step 4: is the same if you come by bus or colectivo. If you do the same Colca Canyon hike as we did, from Cabanonde to Llahuar, you need to get off in the center where the hike is indicated. If this isn’t the case, you can simply ask someone.

In total, the colectivo will cost you 31 soles ($8) & +/- 6 hours travel time. The bus will cost you 26 soles ($7) & 7 hours travel time.

Tip: pack your bags the day before so that you no longer have to worry about this in the morning.

Colca canyon village
Colca Canyon panorama

#5 Spotting Andean condors at Cruz del Condor

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 all birds. The wingspan can be 3.4 meters. Cruz del Condor is one of the best places to see condors. From Cabanonde you can easily arrange transport to Cruz del Condor. You must do this very early in the day at the start of your trekking tour because you don’t want to start the trekking too late given the temperature. You can also do it when you have completed the trek.

Tip: do not start too late with the trekking tour, because it will get very hot.

Colca Canyon Cruz del Condor

#6 How much does the Colca Canyon trek cost?

If you are going to do a tour, you have the choices to book it in Arequipa with one of the many agencies. It is wise to check with different providers because this will help you find the best deal. You can also book it with a trusted provider. The advantage is that you no longer have to look at this during your trip, which saves you a lot of time (believe us, it saves you a lot of time).

We recommend the following tours (at each tour you stay overnight in the valley), depending on the amount of days you have:

3 day Colca Canyon hike | Private tour | unique experience | more information | $416

3-day Colca Canyon hike | Popular route | relax hiking | more information | $194

2-day Colca Canyon hike | Popular route | long first day | more information | $64

1 day Colca Canyon hike | popular if you have less time | more information | $35

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

  • Transport | S/92 ($30)
  • Colca Canyon ticket | S/70 ($23)
  • Accommodations | S/65 ($21)
  • Food | S/100 ($32)
  • Drink | S/46 ($16)

Preparation is key!

Colca canyon view panorama

#7 How fit do you need to be for the Colca Canyon trek?

We are not going to lie to you that you have to be fit for hiking in Colca Canyon. There are easy routes, but these are actually fake routes, these routes don’t bring you in the wilderness like the one we did. The routes that we recommend to you, in particular the one we did (link), are really beautiful but also tough. This is the 2nd toughest route of Colca Canyon. It was hard for Cynthia at the end of the second day because after hours of walking in the heat it became too much for her (she has fear of heights). This has never happened before and has not happened ever since. Not even during the 5 day Salkantay trek. We solved it very easily, the third day she took a mule. Alexander found the Colca Canyon trek great and challenging.

So it is really personal, be honest with yourself. Choose the route that suits you. You don’t have to be in top condition at all. For example, if you exercise 5 days a week and have a top condition, just like Alexander, you will not experience any problems. If you exercise for 2 days like Cynthia, it can be a challenge. Again, be honest with yourself and choose the right route. If you believe you can do the same trekking tour as us, do it! Because this one is unbelievably beautiful.

Colca canyon trail

#8 What about altitude sickness?

During the Colca Canyon hike, 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, an aspirin, 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. During the trek, we didn’t experience any altitude sickness because we stayed 3 nights in Arequipa.

#9 What do you need to bring for the Colca canyon trek?

During your 2-day or 3-day trip, you have to carry everything yourself. It is important not to bring too much. Fortunately, you don’t have to take a lot with you during your Colca Canyon trek, because you spend the night in lodges.

If you do the 3-day trek, you need to bring the following items:

  • Day backpack, hiking shoes, water (2 liters p.p.), swimming clothes, headlamp, power bank, cash, toilet paper, snacks, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, toilet accessory, mobile, clothes during warm and cold periods
  • Optional: camera, drone.

During the trek, you will pass some shops. Here you can buy water and snacks. You can only pay with cash.

Tip: When you travel back to Arequipa you can leave your other belongings (large backpack) at your hotel. Don’t leave your valuables. If you travel to Puno after the trek, you need to bring your large backpack with you. You can leave these in a hotel for a fee in Cabanaconde. After the trek, you can pick it up and travel directly to Puno without having to return to Arequipa first. When booking your tour, indicate that you want to travel to Puno, they can take this into account.

Colca canyon view

#10 What about food and facilities?

You can have breakfast and dinner in the lodges where you stay during the Colca Canyon hike. The villages in the valley are Llahuar, Sangalle, Malata, Cosñinhua or San Juan de Chuccho. It is very basic, so don’t expect luxury. When you arrive you will receive vegetable soup, a bowl of rice and tea. This is included in the price. You can of course also order different meals. For lunch, it is best to bring your own food from Arequipa. You don’t know when you will encounter the next village and/if they still serve food. This means you always have to carry food. Snacks and water can be bought at your accommodations or at various small shops along the way. Some accommodations have no electricity in the evening. This makes a headlamp a must.

Tip: make your own sandwich and bring your own energy bars. These can be bought in Arequipa.

Colca Canyon donkey
Colca Canyon plant

#11 Where to stay + book your overnight stay on time

If you are going to do the 3-day trekking tour that we did, you spend the night in Llahar and Sangalle. It is very important to book your stay in advance because the lodge hasn’t a lot of room which means there are so fully booked. If you book the tour, as we did, you don’t have to book an accommodation of course.

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 Lodge.

Cabaconde: your 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 Cabaconde and start the 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 spend the night in San Juan de Chuccho where Pasada Gloria is the best option.

Colca canyon lunch

#12 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 below form.

#13 What does your next trip look like

After the trek, you can go back to Arequipa or travel directly from Cabanaconde to Cusco or Puno. The buses target both places you need to take in Chivay. Buses leave for both places every hour. A good company is 4M Express.

When booking a tour, you must indicate at the time of booking that you don’t want to return to Arequipa but wish to continue to Cusco or Puno.

#14 Enjoy the Colca Canyon trek

Hopefully, our guide has helped you to inspire and prepare you for this beautiful Colca Canyon hike. It is really special to walk in this area. For us it has been one of the most special hikes we have ever done, hopefully, you will experience the same. Send us a personal message about what you thought of it. We are curious about your experience! Enjoy!

Colca Canyon hike

Next destination

Hopefully, you enjoyed our article. If you follow our Peru itinerary your next destination will be Puno. Tip #13 explained how you have to travel to Puno or Cusco. If you skip Puno because you haven’t that many days to spend in Peru you will probably travel to Cusco. Open the article about Cusco: things to do in Cusco via this link. The article about Puno xx can be opened via the link.

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Colca Canyon trek pin III
Colca Canyon trek pin I
Colca Canyon trek pin II

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