Hiking Colca Canyon: The World’s Second Deepest Canyon
Hiking Colca Canyon is the most popular tour from Arequipa, Peru, and the reason why many tourists come to this city. It’s the world’s second deepest canyon, reaching 11,400 ft deep at its greatest depth. (The deepest canyon is in Tibet, and the Grand Canyon ranks 4th). Daniel and I of course decided to check it out! Here is my review of the two day, one night trek hiking Colca Canyon.
Cost: $30 per person, plus another $21 pp for the tourist ticket for entrance into the canyon. These costs include transportation, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the first day, breakfast on the second day, a place to sleep, and a guide. Extra costs include buying water on the trek, a tip for the guide, and lunch on the last day. The tour is easy to book in any tour agency in the city center.
Time: We were picked up at 3 am in Arequipa on the first day, and returned to the city at 5pm on day two.
Distance: The first day hiking Colca Canyon we walked 13.5 miles, and the second we walked 9 miles. That meant about seven hours of walking on day one and four hours on day two.
Altitude: The trek started at 10,700 ft. From there, we descended into the canyon down to the oasis at 7,300 ft. Just remember, the next day you will have to climb right back out of it!
Day One: Descent Into the Oasis
Day one of hiking Colca Canyon started at 3am, just like most tours in Peru. The van picked us up and then made its rounds to the hostels slowly filling up with fellow travelers. Once we were done, we started the drive out to Chivay, the gateway into Colca Canyon. On the way, we passed the highest altitude we would reach on the trip at 15,700 ft. Three hours later, we stopped in Chivay for a quick breakfast, and then continued another hour to our first stop at 8:30am – the Cruz del Condor.
Cruz del Condor
The Cruz del Condor is a popular lookout in Colca Canyon. The high point offers stunning views of the depth of the gorge, and is a perfect place to spot the giant condors who live there. Condors are a species of vulture, and they’re HUGE. They’re the largest flying birds in the western hemisphere, and you’re all but guaranteed to spot a couple at the canyon lookout. Watching the giant birds glide over the depths of the canyon was a stunning experience, and definitely a must for any birders.
Start of the Trek
Next, we drove another hour to the starting point of the trek outside the town of Cabanaconde. Here, we were split into new groups of about ten each and were introduced to our tour guides. We walked to the edge of the Colca Canyon and began the 2.5 hour descent to the bottom.
The descent was hot and sunny, but the views were beautiful. Once we reached the bottom, we had a rest next to the rushing Colca river, and then it was another 30 minutes of up and down hiking until our lunch. Lunch was in a cute restaurant with plenty of green space, flowers, and beautiful views, and was a perfect midday rest. Afterwards, we walked another 2 hours up and down the side of the canyon until we finally descended into the oasis.
The Sangalle Oasis has to be seen to be believed. The small circle of greenery is like a lush Garden of Eden. Flowers bloomed in every color and multiple pools sparkled in the sun while waterfalls rushed into them. It was like another world, a true oasis tucked away between the high stone walls of Colca Canyon.
Unfortunately, we arrived around 5pm, so we couldn’t take advantage of the pools in the hot sun. We had a few hours to relax, and then it was dinner, a beer or two, and bed time by 8pm. Before we passed out in the basic (but comfortable) bed, Daniel and I took a minute to stargaze. The night sky was absolutely stunning. I’ve been to 25 countries in my life, but I’ve never, ever been somewhere with stars like this. Millions dotted the night sky, and the milky way glowed brightly through the middle of it, outshining them all. Just seeing the stars was actually my favorite part of the trip!
Day Two: The Climb and Return to Arequipa
Day two of our trek began at 4am. We met the rest of the group at 4:30 and started the uphill hike back out the Canyon. We returned by a different and shorter route than we came in, and it took about 3 hours to climb it. We began in the dark. The temperatures were cool, and the headlights of the groups ahead of us bobbed in the night like shining stars. Soon, the sun began to rise and the canyon lit up. The hike was timed perfectly, and we reached the top just as the heat of the sun began to reach us.
The climb itself wasn’t too strenuous, and despite being only uphill, the switchbacks were nice and wide, and the temps were nice. The hike was really pleasant. Hiking Colca Canyon was just difficult enough to feel like an achievement, but easy enough that we weren’t completely wiped out by the time we reached the top (unlike our harrowing experience on Misti Volcano!) Once we completed the climb, it was another 20 minutes back to Cabanaconde, where a hot breakfast of bread, eggs, and some much needed coffee awaited us. At 9am, we began the long drive home, with a few stops in between of course.
Stop 1: Pre-Incan Terraces
The first stop was to take photos at a part of Colca valley filled with pre-Incan terraces. The view was stunning, and there was even a small bar selling pisco sours for those really trying to relax after the climb!
Stop 2: Hot Springs
The next stop was at the optional hot springs. The springs run into pools along the Colca River, and for a $5 entrance fee you can use the changing rooms and take a dip in pools of all temperatures. We stopped at the springs for about an hour to soak after the long hike.
Stop 3: Chivay
The third stop on the way home from hiking Colca Canyon is again in the town of Chivay. Here there is the non-included lunch buffet for $10. However, there are other restaurants to eat at around the town, but Daniel and I can’t recommend any because we chose to pack a lunch instead. Chivay is also where a lot of travelers split from the group, and continue on to Puno to see Lake Titicaca rather than backtrack to Arequipa. Combining your Colca Canyon tour with Lake Titicaca is efficient and cost effective if you’re planning to visit them both.
Stop 4: Volcanos Views
Our final stops were just quick 10 minute stops to take photos. The first was at a volcano lookout. We could see different volcanoes in every direction, including the erupting Sabancaya Volcano. It looked like a martian landscape surrounded us, with gray ash and dust, the smoking volcano, and piles of stacked rocks in every direction. Spooky.
Stop 5: Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve
For our last stop, we pulled over when we passed through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. Pools of water and herds of alpacas and llamas dominated the landscape. We were even lucky enough to spot some flamingos and wild vincunya on the drive through as well. It was beautiful!
Finally, we completed the drive back to Arequipa. We got back to the city at 5pm, ready for dinner and a lazy night watching TV in our apartment. Hiking Colca Canyon is an easy weekend trip, and we had a great time. The unique oasis, condor spottings, and trek into the second deepest canyon in the world make it a must visit for any tourist in Arequipa, and one that I definitely recommend!
All my love,