Once thought to be the deepest canyon in the world, only to discover that the deepest is actually a canyon parallel to it, the Colca Canyon never seizes to amaze its visitors. Yes, it is incredibly deep, but that’s only a tiny part of the draw to this incredible place. Terraced fields form the walls of the canyon like green lego blocks, traditionally dressed women line the roads selling clothing and ornaments, and the great condor sails along the canyon walls in search of food. The Colca Canyon is so deep that it parts they grow only potatoes the top but directly below at the bottom tropical fruits can be grown. The Colca is one of those places that holds a power to it beyond its obvious strength. It is more than just a sight, it is a spiritual destination, and whether you come here on a day trip or spend days hikig through it, you’re sure to feel that power.
Ways to visit the Colca Canyon
Overnight Tour from Arequipa
From Arequipa there are countless numbers of tours that leave every day. The price depends, usually, not on the tour service but the quality of the hotel you stay at in the Canyon. Most tours stay in the town of Chivay which is about an hour from the actual canyon. A tour starts on day one by driving from Arequipa to Chivay via the Salinas National Reserve which is filled with Vicunas and offers great views of the Volcanoes. From there you will spend the night in Chivay, and perhaps visit the hot springs in town. On the following morning you will venture along the edge of the canyon to a place called Condor Cross where you will have a chance to experience the canyon and spot some of the amazing condors.
Scratching the Surface on your Own
You can do the Colca Canyon on your own, however, if you’re just hoping to spend a day scratching the surface I recommend you just do the tour, you’ll get more out of it.
If you decide to scratch the surface on your own, you can catch the bus from Arequipa to either Chivay or Cabanaconde on day 1. Cabanaconde is actually on the canyon, so it might be more appealing to you, it’s also closer to Condor Cross which is the best viewing area for the birds. However, if you’d rather big in a bigger town where there are hot springs it’s also possible to spend the night in Chivay. On day 2, from Cabanaconde you can hike the canyon wall early in the morning to Condor Cross and hopefully spot some Condors along the way (**note: the condors start soaring through the canyon around 8am when the sun begins to hit the bottom of the canyon creating thermals). If you’re coming from Chivay you’ll need to catch private transport to the Cross, and you’ll likely arrive a little bit late.
Hiking the Colca Canyon
Other than trails in Huaraz and around Machu Picchu, this is probably Peru’s greatest hiking destination. I spent 3 days exploring the canyon and this is what I came up with hiking solo (which is easily possible). You can also book a guide in Arequipa, Chivay or Cabanaconde for as little as 20US$ a day, but doing it on your our is fairly basic.
You’ll want to start out in the town of Cabanaconde which is about a 5-6 hour bus ride from Arequipa. There are a lot of cheap places in town but there isn’t really too much of a need to stay there until you want to see the condors (it’s much easier to spot them from here than in the canyon). You then have a number of destinations you can hike to:
- The Oasis: This is actually a reseve called Sangalle, and an incredible sight from above and nice place to crash. There are huts for rent for about 4US$ a night or you can camp for even cheaper. They also make meals for very cheap (2-3US$) and have drinks for sale. The hike is about an hour or two straight down the canyon wall from Cabanaconde and will rattle the knees (you’ll go from 3300m down to 2200m) but is worth it. If you just want in and out of the canyon in one day, this is the place to go.
- Yawar: The spelling on this town isn’t for sure, in fact I’ve seen it spelled Llauar, Llawar, and a couple other ways. To get here you can come via Cabanaconde or from the Oasis. It’s a full day (5-6 hours) from the Oasis on a trail that will take you across the river up the other side of the canyon, along the wall, through some villages and back down into the village (which is really just a hotel). Yawar is one of my favourite places in Peru as it is so hidden away. It’s spot in the canyon is amazing and the hotel restaurant is a spectacular sight in its own. Oh, and did I mention they have natural hot spring pools? A hut here is about 3US$ a night and you can get food for a couple dollars as well. From here to Cabanaconde it’s about a 3
- Villages: If you’re looking to mingle with the locals there are a number of villages you can stay at in the canyon as well. Some of the villages in the vicinity of the Oasis are Tapay, San Juan, Cosnirua and Malata.
Where to Stay
- I’ve stayed a couple places in Chivay and all are fairly good value. The Kollawas Hotel is about 13US$ for a private and is very comfortable. The Hostel Estrella de David is also a good choice and costs between 8-12US$ for a private room.
- The place to stay in Capanaconde is Pachamama which is about 8US$ for a private room and offers great info for hikes into the Colca.
Other Activities in the Colca
- Hot Springs: On the edge of Chivay there is a really nice set of hot springs. Although they are commercialized they are a nice way to spend the evening before the heading into the Colca or after returning from it. There are also the hot springs in Yawar but you’ll have to work to get to them.
- Rafting: Every now and then rafting companies offer excursions down part of the Colca. They are not regular, nor are they regulated, and the trips are said to be an adventure, a disaster, or some strange combination of both. If you’re interested in these trips (most of which are about 5 days in length) ask around well in advance and be sure you’re prepared.