The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest places on the planet, reaching a depth of 3,400 meters, more than twice as deeper as the Great canyon. It is a land of condors, thermal baths, and stunning nature. A lot of people choose the Colca canyon trek as a less crowded and cheaper alternative to the famous Inca trail. If you want to know how to hike Colca canyon on your own, you should continue reading.
You can do it by an organized tour, you can buy it everywhere, on every step in Arequipa (which is also the starting point) they will be offering to you. You have different options, 1 night/2 day and 2 nights/3 days are the most common ones.
If you are more like us, and you don’t like organized things so much then this blog post is perfect for you. We will write more about how to hike Colca canyon on your own, where to sleep, how to get there, we did 2nights / 3 days trek.
How to hike Colca canyon on your own DAY 1
You will start your hike in Arequipa, I recommend you to wake up early and that you reach the terminal before 7 am. We read some misleading information on the internet and we missed our ride for 5 minutes, the next one was in one hour. Take the collectivo (shared minivan) at Javier Perez de Cuellar Hunter 107 (if you enter the terminal at the main gate, just walk straight and exit on the other side, turn left when you reach the street. If you are not sure just ask somebody (“collectivos a Chivay?”).
We recommend you take the taxi to the terminal, it will cost you S7 (2,1$;1,8€).
Cause we knew that there are not many shops in the canyon, we made ourself a supply, we bought sandwiches at the food stalls (they are all around the place, one is just in front where you buy the tickets). They have egg, avocado, cheese and they cost S1 (0,3$;0,27€). You should also buy water to save money, in the canyon is more expensive.
The road to Chivay is impressive, after one hour ride, we saw an active volcano in the distance with smoke coming out, wow! Don’t get me wrong, we have seen a lot of vulcanos on our trip, but we never saw such a smokey one. We reached Chivay at 11:30 and asked for collectivos to Cabanaconde (this is where the trek starts). We found out that the next one is at 2 pm but we got an option to take a shared taxi. Shared taxi cost S10 (3$;2,7€) each if it would full (7 people), cause we weren’t full and we didn’t want to wait, we paid S20 (6$;5,4€) each.
Tell them to drop you off at the mirador San Miguel, this is where the trek starts. Just walk towards the mirador, past the football field and you will see a sigh Tapay, showing you the start of the trek. It is not hard to navigate, it’s quite easy, I just remember two times that we weren’t sure where to go and we just followed the marks on the rocks.
The first half of the trek is quite easy, the walk is not too steep but the canyon is huge, I didn’t imagine it will be so deep. The second half of the trek the path gets steeper and much scarier and I realized that probably I’m scared of heights. But don’t worry, you have this! Just walk inside the path, don’t get too close to the edge but of course, you know that already.
After 3 to 4 hours you will finally reach the bridge, cross it and you will soon see signs on the rocks, showing you places to stay in San Juan de Chucho, just follow them. After 25 minutes or so you will finally reach the village, now you need to find a place to stay (you cant make a reservation in advance, no internet or electricity here). Just show up and ask for a room. We stayed in a lovely place called La casa del Roy, paid S20 (6$;5,4€) each for a private room with a bathroom and hot water.
The accommodation is very basic but very comfortable. They serve dinner, for S10 (3$;2,7€) we got a bowl of soup, a simple vegetarian plate, a simple dessert with banana and honey and a tea. You can also pay S15 (4,5$;4€) and get a „special“ dinner, which is with meat. For breakfast we got pancakes, marmalade, butter, scrambled egg, old bread, and coffee or tea, it cost us S8 (2,4$;2,1€) which was a good deal.
How to hike Colca canyon on your own DAY 2
For the second day you have 2 options:
- You can head to the oasis, the place is called Sangalle, all the tours will take you there. It is touristic but beautiful. The walk will take you around 3 to 4 hours, you have a lot of accommodation there, you can also book by Booking.com. You have thermal baths, entrance fee is S15 (4,5$;4€) there where you can relax and spend your day. Next day you will need to climb the canyon back up, it will take you 3 to 4 hours.
- You can head towards Llahuar, which is what we did. Llahuar is a beautiful small village on the bottom of the Colca canyon. It is much less touristic than the oasis but getting there is harder. If you start from San Juan, just walk straight until you see the sign showing you the way to Llahuar, turn right and start the ascend.
You will have around 45 minutes of steep uphill, it’s also very sunny so bring sun protection, I got sunburned. Later you will reach village Malaba and from there you just continue walking on the road (i didn’t like the walk at all, it was all the time on the main dirt road, on the sun). The idea is to get up pretty high and then go back down to the river (annoying), you will walk around 5 hours altogether.
You will pass two villages and then you will see the third one on your right (there is also a sigh, showing you the way), just walk through the village (you are almost done!). You will see the path going down to the bridge, which leads you to Llahuar.
We stayed at La casa de Virginia, very pretty place! Didn’t have a reservation, just showed up and got the room. Booking on the internet is also an option, click HERE to get 10 % of your booking back. We paid S25 (7,6$;6,7€) each, including a delicious breakfast. For lunch, we paid S7 (2,1$;1,9€) and for dinner S10 (3$;2,7€). You have thermal baths 5 minutes walk away, they have 39 degrees with beautiful river view, the baths are included in the room price.
How to hike Colca canyon on your own DAY 3
When we woke up the 3rd day I felt the pain in my legs. We walked a lot on our travel but my legs never hurt as they did that morning. When we finished our breakfast (delicious pancakes with homemade marmalade) and we started to get ready to leave this beautiful place.
Again you have 2 options:
- You should start the hike back to Cabanaconde at approx 5 am (it gets very hot when the sun comes out). It takes 6 to 7 hours and I can tell you, it looks hard. Just be aware that if you want to return to Arequipa the same day, you have to be in Cabanaconde until 2 pm, after that there is no more bus service.
- You can take the bus to Cabanaconde at 11 am, like we did. I don’t want to scare you but the bus ride is really scary. It goes on steep edges through the canyon, on an old bus, on a road that is made just for one car. When I looked at other passengers they didn’t look so scared but I was literary crying.
All the way I was just hoping that we don’t meet any other vehicle and thankfully we didn’t. The ride takes approx 1,5 hour and it cost S10 (3$;2,7€). When we reached Cabanaconde we went to buy the bus tickets to Arequipa, it cost S18 (5,4$;4,8€). Cause we bought the tickets at 2 pm (departure of the last bus, don’t forget!) we had enough time to eat lunch and to stroll around a bit before the long 6-hour ride back.
It’s on you to decide which option suits you more and what you want to do in Colca canyon. It is gorgeous in any way, we had a beautiful 3 days there and I would do it again for sure!
Don’t forget that all visitors to Colca canyon must pay an S70 (21,2$;18,9€) entrance fee. Park officials will approach you and you will buy the ticket from them. Don’t forget to save the ticket, cause they have more checkpoints on the way!
What to pack
We left the big backpack in Arequipa in our hostel. We packed only the small bags, this is what we took with us:
- toilet paper (it helped us a lot in a lot of ways)
- headlamp (in some places you don’t have any electricity or they have only solar power)
- fresh clothes and underwear for each day (you sweat a lot)
- clothes for sleeping
- something warm for cold nights
- a towel
- swimming suit for the thermal baths
- bag to carry your trash out of the canyon
- at least one big bottle (3l) of water per person, it will save you some money, the water in the canyon is more expensive
- snacks (there is no shop of any kind)
- money (no ATMs anywhere)
- sun protection (sunscreen, hat, something for dry lips, mine got very dry)