The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, beaten only by its neighbour the Cotahuasi Canyon.
Although I would’ve loved to have said I’d been into the deepest canyon in the world, the Cotahuasi Canyon is much harder to get to so I had to settle for a visit to the Colca Canyon.
Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. It’s twice as deep at the Grand Canyon in Arizona and a spectacular hiking spot.
Located about six hours from Arequipa, a beautiful city in the south of Peru, the Colca Canyon is a must-see site when visiting this diverse South American country.
Not all tours go to the Protected Reserve of Pampa Canahuas
On the way to the Colca Canyon is a beautiful national park called Pampa Canahuas that is situated in a rocky valley housed between three volcanoes called Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. You can also see Mismi Mountain from here which is where the source of the Amazon River flows from.
Unfortunately, very few tours stop for a visit here but we were lucky enough to go with Colca Trek Tours which does explore the area.
We went for a short hike in the national park as our guide explained to us how the rocks were formed (erosion over millions of years) and pointed out plants that are unique to the Andes, like the Yareta plant which can live for 3,000 years!
Most of the tours don’t stop at the Pampa Canahuas because they pick up their tour groups at 3am and then you drive through the night to the Colca Canyon, arriving early in the morning.
The danger with this is that during the icy winter months at high altitude the road can freeze over and there have been many accidents during these night journeys, with some tourists dying in bus crashes.
We’d advise taking a day bus if possible because it’s just not worth the risk.
You don’t need to take a tour
You certainly don’t need to take a tour to visit the Colca Canyon and if we hadn’t of wanted to visit the Pampa Canahuas we would have gone it alone.
To visit the Colca Canyon with friends instead of a guided tour, you can simply buy a bus ticket to Cabanaconde at the bus station in Arequipa, departing early in the morning.
Cabanaconde is the furthest easily accessible town along the Colca Canyon and a great starting point for your canyon hike.
If you get the bus at around 7am you’ll arrive at lunchtime and will have the chance to grab a meal in this quaint town before trekking into the Colca Canyon.
You can also get a bus from Puno to Cabanaconde although the journey is longer by about 2-3 hours.
Be prepared to hike hard
The Colca Canyon wasn’t an easy hike. Even going down took awhile as you’re continuously taking big steps and it can be hard on the knees.
Coming back up is of course a lot more difficult and we were a sweaty mess when we reached the summit on the return.
It takes around three and a half hours each way to hike in and out of the canyon.
You can also go up the otherside of the canyon once you get to the bottom, and visit neighbouring towns if you’d like to extend your trip for more than two days. We didn’t have enough time so we opted not to do this.
The ‘oasis’ at the bottom is hardly an oasis
Unfortunately, the supposed ‘oasis’ at the bottom of the Colca Canyon is hardly an oasis at all. Yes, there’s some grass and yes, there’s a swimming pool, but that’s where the luxury ends.
The bungalows are run by a bunch of men and you can certainly tell there’s no woman’s touch. When we arrived the owners were extremely drunk (it was 3pm in the afternoon) and rowdy, with music blaring from the bar.
The place was pretty much in shambles with old bed frames and broken foozeball tables littering the garden. The accommodation is very basic; there aren’t any locks on the doors and no toilet paper in the bathrooms.
The food is atrocious and if I was going to do the hike again I would probably just pack some sandwiches for dinner rather than eat the onion-flavoured spaghetti they dished up.
It’s a shame really, because the location of the oasis – in a beautiful valley at the heart of the world’s second deepest canyon – could have a lot of potential to house luxurious digs.
The only good thing about the whole experience was that it’s very cheap. You’re looking at paying around $15 at the most for both food and a bed for the night.
Return journey back to Arequipa
If you decide not to do a tour then you might think you’re going to miss out on seeing the sites that line the Colca Canyon but this simply isn’t the case.
All you need to do is get to Cabanaconde and then buy a return ticket in a ‘collectivo’ (mini-bus) that takes you to all the sites including Cruz del Condor where you can see the world’s biggest flying birds, the Andean Condors. It also stops at view points alongside the canyon so you can take some photos and the bus also stops for an hour in the hot springs near Yanque.
You can buy this return bus ticket in the main square of Cabanaconde when you get dropped off on your way to your Colca Canyon hike. Simply walk to the middle of the square and turn so your back is facing the church. Slightly to your right you will see a small ‘tienda’ (shop) that will have a bus ticket-selling banner outside. Go in here and you can purchase your return tourist ticket back to Arequipa for around US$10.
The bus leaves at around 9am so make sure you begin your hike out of the Colca Canyon the next day at about 5am to ensure you make it to the bus on time. Also buy your ticket before your hike because they can sell out in advance.
On this return journey you’ll also stop at a restaurant that serves a delicious buffet for around US$9. It’s all-you-can eat and the food is some of the best Peruvan food we had on our visit to the country.
Cost of visiting the Colca Canyon
We paid about US$150 each for our two day tour around the Colca Canyon with Colca Trek Tours. This included all of our meals and our accommodation in a very swanky lodge for the night.
However, the tour just took us to Pampa Canahuas Reserve and to the sites alongside of the canyon – it didn’t include the hike down into the Colca Canyon. We did have fun hiking and mountain biking along the edge of the canyon though, which was something the other tours don’t seem to do much of.
The tour company dropped us off in Cabanaconde where we went it alone, hiking into the canyon and then staying at the ‘oasis’ for around US$15 each, including dinner.
We then came back on the tourist bus, stopping at the sites and resting our weary limbs in the Yanque hot springs. This cost US$10 each for the bus and US$5 each for the entry to the hot springs.
You have to pay an entrance fee of US$26 per person to visit the Colca Canyon. Unfortunately this money just goes to a local politician’s back pocket, according to our tour guide. The cost of the ticket was included in the price of our trip with Colca Trek tours.
I’d recommend Colca Trek because the guide was extremely knowledgable, the accommodation luxurious and the transportation very safe. If you want to book with them just be careful as there are a lot of immitation companies out there.
I wouldn’t recommend going with a tour company if you just want to hike into the canyon as it’s very easy to do on your own and without a tour you can go at your own pace. However, if you do decide to do this, a two day tour will set you back around US$90.
Have you been to the Colca Canyon? What did you think?
Let me know if you have any questions about a visit to the Colca Canyon and I’ll be happy to help!
We started our Colca Canyon tour with Colca Trek tour company, going out to the majestic Vicugna National Reservation with its stunning landscapes. Our guide taught us about the different rock formations in the area and the flora that grows in this harsh climate.
This plant is called Yareta and looks like algae on a rock but it’s actually it’s own individual plant and can live for up to 3,000 years!
The country lies in the middle of a number of Peru’s volcanoes and so is prone to earthquake activity. Just check out this massive crack which formed during the last major earthquake in 2001!
Next it was off to see the llamas and alpacas hanging out in their natural habitats. They’re pretty comfortable around humans – just check this one out, strutting like she’s on a catwalk!
We drove to the traditional terraced fields and saw this stone – which is hundreds of years old – that has a terraced map carved into it.
The next day we had our first chance to see into the Colca Canyon. Unfortunately it was a little too cloudy to see much but it was breathtakingly peaceful all the same.
The Colca Canyon is the second biggest canyon in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, which is quite a figure to get your head around when you visit.
The best part about visiting Colca Canyon – for me anyway – was the chance to see condors in the wild. Andean Condors are the biggest birds in the world that have the ability to fly and their wingspan can measure more than three metres in length!
Colca Trek tours dropped us off in the tiny town of Cabanaconde so we could hike into the canyon on our own. The scenery was picture perfect and the clouds began to clear as we made our way down into the canyon. We had to watch out for the donkeys though – their poop was all over the path.
PTC – So we’re hiking down into the Colca Canyon and we’re about half way now it’s about a three hour hike altogether. At the bottom is a beautiful oasis. The temperature is a lot warmer at the bottom because it’s about 2,000 metres lower in altitude. Let’s go.
And with the condors soaring above us, we made our way down the twisty path to the bottom of the canyon where we could relax in the oasis for the night.