The Colca Canyon is one of the most popular places in Peru. If you’re really looking for adventure, the Colca Canyon Trek will provide just that. Not only is it one of the most epic hikes in Peru, it offers something more different and ‘off-the-beaten’ than the infamous Machu Picchu.
Hiking the Colca Canyon was the second trek (Salkantay Trek being the first), that Joe and I embarked on during the two months that we traveled around Peru. We did the Colca Canyon 3 day trek without a guide but we did have a map and reservations! So I’m here to let you in on all the things you’ll need to know before you go.
There are a lot of factors to consider when planning your Colca Canyon trek, especially if you are planning on hiking the Colca Canyon independently. Which route to take? How many days you should go? How to get to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa? How difficult is it? What to pack? The list could go on but you get the point.
After completing the Colca Canyon 3 day trek successfully, in this post I want to go over the pros and cons of hiring a guide or going at it on your own, what to expect, where to stay, the Colca Canyon trek cost and any practical tips that will help you on this adventure.
There’s not a lot of detailed information online on how to go about the Colca Canyon hike independently so I want this to be the only post you’ll have to read.
For full transparency, I have sprinkled some affiliate links in this post. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases that gives me a small commission at no extra cost to you if you decided to make a purchase. All proceeds go to keep Jess traveling and coffee ☕️. I thank you in advance.
About the Colca Canyon Trek
The Colca Canyon is the world’s second deepest canyon located in Southern Peru about 3 hours Northwest of Arequipa. The Colca Canyon is deep – so deep that it’s twice the size of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Known for its flying condors and terraced hillsides, in order to truly experience this area of Peru is to go on a Colca Canyon trek.
The Colca Canon or Cañon de Colca in Spanish, offers visitors a chance to spot soaring condors (the largest flying bird), stay in an oasis on the canyon floor, witness some of Peru’s most beautiful landscapes, bathe in thermal hot springs and hike through dreamy desert scenery.
There are a handful of different routes you can take that traverse you through the Colca Canyon, past small rural towns located deep within the canyon. It’s hard to imagine that these tiny, arid towns have been preserved for centuries and still live out traditional lifestyles to this day.
How Long is the Colca Canyon Trek?
You can visit the Colca Canyon a few different ways.
- On a full day tour from Arequipa
- On a two day, one night guided trek
- Unguided on a 2 day, 1 night trek
- On a three day, two night guided trek
- Unguided 3 day, 2 night trek
- Unguided 4 day, 3 night trek
I’ll go over the Colca Canyon routes a little bit later.
Where Does the Colca Canyon Trek Start?
No matter what route you take, the Colca Canyon Trek will start in the town of Cabanaconde. Cabanaconde is a small village situated on the left bank of the Colca River.
Cabanaconde is one of the last villages of the Colca Valley and one of the least visited places in Peru by tourists. There are 3 different ways to reach Colca Canyon from Arequipa – public bus, rent a car or tourist bus.
Public buses from Arequipa to Cabanaconde depart from Terminal Terrestre. Any of these bus companies go – Andalucia, Reyna and Milagros. There is no difference in company as they all provide the same quality and service.
The trip takes 5 and a half hours and tickets should be bought in advance. Unfortunately like most bus companies in Peru, tickets can not be purchased in online, only in person at the terminal. Most buses will stop at Chivay for 10 minutes and it will keep on by stopping to pick up passengers along the way.
The tourist bus departs everyday from Arequipa at 3 am and picks you up at your hotel. This is the option we chose when planning our unguided Colca Canyon trek. It cost $20 per person and that included a stop in Chivay to purchase the Autocolca Tourist Tickets, breakfast and a stop at Cruz del Condor for a chance to spot the soaring birds.
The final option to get to Cabanaconde is to rent a car. This option is the most expensive costing between $90-120. I wouldn’t recommend this choice as driving is a bit different in Peru than back somewhere such as the United States. If chaotic driving doesn’t bother you, money isn’t a concern and you want more freedom to stop when you want, then rent a car in Arequipa.
When is the Best Time to Trek?
It is possible to trek the Colca Canyon year round but your approach will differ slightly depending on what season you are trekking in. There are two seasons in Peru – rainy season and dry season.
Rainy season is from December to March which means that most rain comes in the afternoon. Therefore it is pertinent to start your treks early to avoid the rain and you must bring proper rain gear. The Colca Canyon turns green and lush during the rainy season. It gets chilly at night so be sure to pack warm layers.
Dry season runs from May to November. It is pretty hot during the dry season 75-95°. We trekked Colca Canyon during the dry season and it was extremely hot, especially on our final day ascending out of the canyon.
Dry season is also the busy season so pre-booking your accommodations ahead of time is encouraged. At night, it can get cold. I’m talking like 25° without cloud coverage.
What is There to See?
The main draw to visit the Colca Canyon is for a chance to spot the soaring Andean condors in their natural habitat. There are lots of other things to see and do once in the Colca Canyon. These include thermal hot springs, white water rafting on the Colca river, mountain biking, hanging out in an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, horse back rides and a chance to see how traditional villages have lived for centuries.
How Much Does it Cost?
The cost of trekking the Colca Canyon will vary in price depending if you choose to go with a guide or go at it independently. Colca Canyon tours range anywhere from $65 to 200+ USD depending on how many nights you trek and where you start. Plus $20 USD for the entry ticket as the Colca Canyon tourist ticket is not included in most tours.
This is how much we spent trekking the Colca Canyon without a guide 3 days and 2 nights from Cabanaconde → Llahuar → Sangalle → Cabanaconde. The total cost we spent as a couple was $194 or $97 per person. This included all of our food, water, lots of snacks, transportation, entry tickets and accommodations.
Breakdown of Colca Canyon Trek Cost per Couple
- Tourist Bus to Cabanaconde – 78 soles
- Colca Canyon Entry Ticket – 70 soles
- Accommodation at Llahuar Lodge – 86 soles
- Dinner, beer & Water – 47 soles
- Total = $110 USD or 431 soles
- Accommodation at Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge – 90 soles
- Dinner, snacks, water & beer – 43 soles
- Total = $34 USD or 133 soles
- Accommodation at Homestay Pachamama – 129 soles
- Dinner, water & snacks – 43 soles
- Total = $44 USD or 172 soles
Do You Need a Guide? Guided Trek vs. Independently
If there is an option, I always choose to trek independently. Most of the people who embark on this trek do it on guided Colca Canyon tours. Now there’s nothing wrong with a guided tour. It supports the locals, you get to learn more about the history, landscapes and its less rugged. Below I’ll list the pro’s and con’s of going with a guided tour.
Pro’s for a Guided Tour:
- Guaranteed place to stay every night.
- Learn about history and your surroundings.
- Not want to have to think or plan logistics.
- Like having everything planned out for you.
- Won’t get lost.
- Best if you’re short on time.
Cons of a Guided Tour:
- More expensive.
- On a strict time schedule.
- Not able to go at your own pace.
- Hiking with a bigger group of people.
If you have a thirst for adventure, thrive off shocked looks when passing the other trekking groups, are on a budget and prefer to be on your own time with only the company of your group then I would absolutely embark on this adventure independently. If not below are some great tours with good reviews.
If going independently. Plan Ahead or Wing It
The Colca Canyon Treks pass through several villages so trekking independently allows you to create your own itinerary, decide how many days to do the trek and choose which villages to stay in.
You can wing it? Meaning hike to the village you plan on staying the night, walk up and ask about lodging on the spot. Or you can pre-plan it as much as possible and have accommodations booked in advance. I recommend a bit of pre-planning. The sense of knowing you have a warm bed and dinner after a long day of trekking is such a relief.
Where to Stay in the Colca Canyon
There are a handful of places to stay at each village within the Colca Canyon. The best place to stay in Cabanaconde is Homestay Pachamama. If you can not get a room there stay at La Casa de Santiago, Las Palmeras Eco Hostel or Hotel Kuntur Wassi instead.
Where to stay in Sangalle is the Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge and Paraiso Las Palmeras Lodge as they both have pools to enjoy after a hot, sweaty hike. If you are planning to stay the night in Tapay, opt for the Colibri Lodge or the Posada Gloria.
If planning a night in San Juan de Chuccho, Casa de Rivelino is a great spot but unavailable to book online. Lastly, there are no accommodations available at Fure. The only way to stay here is in a tent.
Colca Canyon Routes
Unlike the Salkantay Trek or Inca Trail , the Colca Canyon offers hikers several different options to explore its vast landscape. Your route will depend on your fitness level, how much time you have and how long you can last without taking a shower.
I’ll quickly list the route options below.
Colca Trek 2 Days 1 Night Options:
Cabanaconde → Sangalle Oasis (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 5 Miles
Cabanaconde → Tapay (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 12.6 Miles
Cabanaconde → Llahuar (Stay) → Cabanaconde via Sangalle
- Distance: 15.2 Miles
Colca Trek 3 Days 2 Night Options:
Cabanaconde → San Juan de Chuccho (Stay) → Sangalle Oasis (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 12 Miles
Cabanaconde → Llahuar (Stay) → San Juan de Chuccho (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 19 Miles
Cabanaconde → Llahuar (Stay) → Sangalle (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 15 Miles
Colca Trek 4 Days 3 Night Options:
Cabanaconde → Llahuar (Stay) → Fure (Stay by tent only) → Sangalle Oasis (Stay) → Cabanaconde
- Distance: 19.5 Miles
Food & Water on the Trail
Meals can be bought in most homestays along the Colca Canyon Trek. They will usually be set menus that costs 10-15 soles (2.50-4 USD). If you are a vegetarian, no worries, most places have vegetarian options. At every accommodation and various little ‘shops’ along the trail you can buy water, snacks and beer.
You can easily find water resources in the Colca Canyon. We travel and trek with Life Straw Water Bottles which filter out bacteria, parasites, microplastics, chlorine, organic chemical matter, dirt, sand, and cloudiness. This way we always have water to drink, whether we are filling up our bottles in the river or out of a facet. Water purification tablets are another option for purifying water along the trail.
Water can also be purchased at most homestays, but expect the price to be 2 or 3 times more expensive. If you are going this option, just remember to pack out the empty plastic water bottles and bring them back to Cabanaconde.
Is it Difficult?
Overall the Colca Canyon Trek is pretty challenging no matter which route you choose. Your fitness level, pace and route will contribute to the difficulty of the trek.
All treks begin with a grueling descent into the canyon floor. Climbing out of the canyon is steep, completely unshaded and the high elevation makes it extremely difficult,
Be sure to acclimatize a few days before the trek, drink plenty of water, start your trek early to beat the heat and snacks are always welcomed.
What if I can’t Finish
Luckily there are a few options if for some unforeseen reason you can’t finish the trek. If you are in the town of Llahuar and are unable to proceed you can arrange transportation from Llahuar lodge to Cabanaconde. The lodge will be able to help arrange this for you.
From Sangalle to Cabanaconde a mule can be arranged to hike you out of the canyon. Again any of the homestays inside the oasis will be able to help you arrange this service.
What if you get lost? Chances of getting lost are slim but definitely possible as there are so many trails and shortcuts throughout the canyon. First and foremost don’t panic! Stop, think, observe and plan. Some villages throughout the canyon have cell service. If it is an emergency call High Mountain Rescue Unit in Chivay at this number (054) 531-165.
Do I Need a Map?
If you book a stay at Homestay Pachamama, they provide you with an informative map for free! We also used Maps.Me and it worked just fine throughout the canyon.
How to Prepare for the Colca Canyon Trek
It takes a bit of planning and preparation to trek the Colca Canyon. Training aside, you’ll want to pack light and efficient, book your accommodations in advance and figure out how to get to Cabanaconde to begin your trek.
I’ve already discussed the difficulty of the trek, how to get to Cabanaconde and where to stay within the canyon. Now let’s go over what to bring with you on the trek as you’ll be carrying all your stuff with or without a guide.
What to Pack for the Colca Canyon Trek
In order to have a successful trek you must pack smart and pack light. I unfortunately learned this lesson the hard way on the Salkantay Trek as I carried a very overpacked pack the entire trek. This is something I did not want to do again.
Packing properly is such an important and crucial step in preparing for the Colca Canyon Trek that I dedicated an entire post to it . Check out The Colca Canyon Trek Packing List for exactly what to bring, what not to bring and why.
Here are a few key items you shouldn’t hike without.
Lastly, if there’s anything I missed that you think would be beneficial to future hikers, let me know in the comments below. I try to keep my guides as up-to-date as possible, so share your experiences and any useful information that could help out your fellow travelers.
If you are planning your trip to Peru, I spent 2 months traveling around this beautiful country so check out my Peru travel page for inspiration.