The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyon’s (3,270m deep) in the whole world and is located in Southern Peru, about 160km northwest of the city of Arequipa. The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon in the USA and it is the third most visited tourist attraction in Peru. There are many options for visiting the Colca Canyon and this essential guide will aim to outline your options.
How to Visit the Colca Canyon
There are many different options you have for visiting the Colca Canyon from the city of Arequipa. It is possible to just do a day tour of the canyon, do an overnight stay in one of the villages to the canyon or do some trekking in and around the canyon.
Day Tour to the Colca Canyon
This day tour trip to Colca Canyon is ideal if you are limited by time and it includes all the highlights of the Colca Canyon. Just be prepared to be tired! You will be picked up by your hotel between 3 and 3.30 AM!
You will spend 4 hours on the bus driving to Condor’s Cross (one of the highlights of the Colca Canyon), other than stopping in the town of Chivay for breakfast. If you are lucky you will get the chance to spot some Andean Condors from Condor Cross!
On the way back the bus stops in the town’s Pinchollo, Maca and Yanque, to see some local villages and pre-Incan terraces along the way. You get the chance to use the hot springs in Chivay before lunch also (15 soles extra). On the way back to Arequipa the bus stops at the Volcano viewpoint at Patapampa for a picture opportunity.
You arrive back in Arequipa at around 6pm, making this a good day trip option. Things will be quite rushed though and due to the early start we decided not to go for this option.
Overnight Tour to the Colca Canyon
The overnight tour is also known as the 2 day/1 night Colca Canyon tour. This tour is similiar to the 1 day tour – it is all based in a bus and no trekking is involved.
You get collected by the bus at the more respectable hours of 7.30 – 8.30AM and although it follows a similiar route to the 1 day tour outlined above, you have much more time to enjoy everything. This is the option that we chose and as such it is outlined in more detail below.
Trekking the Colca Canyon
Trekking the Colca Canyon is a really popular option and, as you will know if you have been following the blog, we love a good hike. However, when we were sandboarding in Huacachina Aoife got a bit scared going down the big sand dune and planted her foot into the ground to slow herself down. She ended up hurting her foot and by the time we had arrived in Arequipa it still hadn’t healed. So hiking in the Colca Canyon was out of the question!
When hiking through the Colca Canyon it is important to remember that you can do this either independently or with a tour. The benefits of hiking it independently are obvious and there are loads and loads of blogs out there that describe in detail how you can manage this. So for convenience sake we will discuss the tour option below.
Similar to the 1 day tour above you have an early start for this tour; expect to be collected at 3am from your hostel. Most, but not all, trekking tours start in the town of Cabanaconde, which is 6 hours away by bus. On the way you stop for breakfast and at the famous Condor’s Cross.
After this the trek down into the canyon begins, trekking downhill for about 3 and a half hours and you get to explore some of the towns in the canyon, stopping in the town of Sangalle to enjoy the “oasis” town.
On Day 2 of the trip you go back up the canyon to the town of Cabanaconde. It’s a 5am start so don’t forget to bring your flash light! After breakfast in Cabanaconde the bus will take you to the town of Chivay (after passing pre-Incan ruins, local towns, etc.). You have the option of visiting the hot springs in Chivay if you like (15 soles extra). You then head back to Arequipa, passing a viewpoint and a habitat for South American camelids, before arriving at 6pm.
Despite Aoife’s mild injury we still looked into doing the Colca Canyon trek in case it got better. To be honest the tour option did not appeal to us. The early start, hiking up and down in one day, and hiking in the dark on the second day were the main reasons we were against it. If we were to go back to hike it we would definitely do it the DIY way!
What we did: Overnight Tour to the Colca Canyon
We booked the overnight tour to the Colca Canyon through our hostel, Park Hostel and it cost 150 soles (around 40e). It’s really not overly important what company you book with as they tend to throw people from all companies into one place. What is important is that you make sure you know what you have included in your tour. For example our tour included all meals, whereas other people in our group (especially people who booked through Peru Hop, which cost 100 soles (around 27e) had no meals included and had to pay for everything extra.
Visitng the Colca Canyon | Day 1
We had a nice lie in and started the tour between 8 and 8.30am. The bus was quite big, with more than 20 people on it. This is the second most popular attraction in Peru (no prizes for guessing what is number one), so the amount of fellow tourists was no surprise.
We started by driving across the Aguada Blanca National Park, which is famous for its high-altitude terrain and abundance of Peruvian wildlife, especially llamas, alpacas and vicuña.
We were disappointed that the bus didn’t properly stop here so we could take our time to discover the area. We did stop at a touristy restaurant for coca tea/trinkets and then again after coming across a herd of vicuñas however.
The next stop is the Mirador de los Andes which is located at a whopping 4,850m above sea level. This is the highest paved road in the entire continent and has a great view of all the surrounding volcanoes. The weather was unseasonably unpredictable during our time in Arequipa however, and so when we arrived here, we had no view. Just lots, and lots of snow – which was fun in it’s own right!
Then you arrive in the town of Chivay at around 3pm. This is a lovely Peruvian town which, although touristy, manages to retain some charm. It is just before Chivay that you will pay for the tourist ticket to enter the Colca Canyon area. This ticket costs 70 soles (~19e) for people not from Latin America. You have the option of spending 15 soles extra to go to the hot springs. Aoife and I didn’t bother with this and instead walked around the town. There are some quirky statues lining the main pedestrian street, and a small market to browse around. We got a slightly strange drink, which seemed to be made from medicinal herbs, called Emoliente. We just had such a great time sitting outside (in the cold) watching the daily life of the local residents.
Afterwards we headed back to the basic hotel that we was included in the price of the tour. The room was cold, but we couldn’t complain about having a private room and ensuite bathroom for the price. Later that night we all headed out for dinner, with a free traditional folk show included. Like this entire tour it was touristy, but still entertaining.
Visiting the Colca Canyon | Day 2
We had an early start today, breakfast is at 6am with departure at 6.30am. Breakfast was poor – just bread, which is, unfortunately, so common for Peru. So with still empty bellies we headed off for the second day of the tour in the direction of the famous Condor Cross.
You stop off along the way at the towns of Yanque, Maca and Pinchollo. These towns are really touristy, we arrived in Yanque just before 7am to the main square being packed with gringos and women in traditional dress dancing to music. There are lots of women posing with alpacas and or llamas for a tip in these towns also. It is as touristy as we experienced in all of South America but it’s also nice to be able to contribute to the local community and also get some great pictures as souvenirs. This is where we saw Mateo – a little baby Alpaca that Aoife fell in love with! Just don’t take pictures with any of the birds. Llamas and Alpacas have been bred to be domestic animals, owls, eagles and any kind of bird have not, so don’t encourage the behaviour!
After visiting all these towns we finally arrived at Cruz del Condor and the place was absolutely jammed! We did a small walk before arriving at the cross, and then tried to edge our way into a space with a good viewpoint. We waited and waited to see some condor’s but they all seemed to be located at the other end of the canyon, ironically where we had started our walk from.
We gave up and went to the bathroom in preparation for getting back on the bus. Just as we finished we heard a commotion from the crowd and then saw some massive bird’s flying in the air – the unmistakable Andean Condor. We ran to the viewpoint and managed to see these enormous bird’s swooping over us. It was amazing, something I will remember for a long time!
With that the trip was pretty much over. There was some short stops to see some pre-Incan terraces and some views over the canyon before arriving back in Chivay for lunch. Afterwards we headed back to Arequipa, arriving around 5pm.
Our Colca Canyon Top Tips
- Shop around before booking a tour, we were quoted some crazy amounts in Arequipa – one place even quoted us 250 soles (70 euro)!
- Leave your backpack in your hostel in Arequipa and try and book in to the same hostel for the following day. You will be really tired after the tour!
- Bring some spare change for getting souvenir pictures with llamas or alpacas.
- Skip the hot springs and explore the town of Chivay – you can visit hot springs in many places in South America so why not explore the main city of the Colca Canyon instead?!?
- Stock up on coca sweets before the tour. The altitude is higher than Arequipa and it can cause some issues, we found coca sweets really helpful.