Everyone knows the Grand Canyon in the United States. However, did you know that the Colca Canyon near Arequipa is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon? That results in a beautiful landscape, with a few, very nice traditional Peruvian villages. Moreover, you have the chance to spot the Andes condor, with a wingspan of no less than 3.20 metres, one of the largest bird species in the world.
Early in the morning, you will depart by minibus from Arequipa. The first stop is at “Cruz del Condor”. This is a busy viewpoint where you have a good chance to see condors flying between 8 and 10 in the morning. The view is incredibly beautiful, with splendid rock formations and a small river that flows into the bottom of the canyon. Nonetheless, it is of course all about the condors. You will often have to be patient and then they suddenly appear. It is a majestic sight, when the condors float by and land on a rock.
When you arrive by bus at the starting point, the actual tour starts. The first day you constantly descend to the last point in the Canyon. The path is reasonably good but dotted with large boulders. Walking sticks are very practical because that makes descending a lot easier as they give relief to your knees. After a few hours, you will reach a wooden bridge over the river and you will have reached the lowest point. After that it’s a little tough climbing to get to your first place to spend the night. The place is basic but there is a chance to have a hot shower. Dinner is also simple but nutritious.
The second day, you mainly walk through the valley, sometimes slightly uphill and downhill, you pass through a few traditional villages too. In one of the villages, there is a small “museum” where the proud owner wants to tell you all about the local customs in this region. Very interesting to hear and see. You end that day in a small bungalow park with a swimming pool and nice hammocks. Lovely to relax and recharge your batteries for the third day!
The last day, you leave early, still dark. That day is a tough climb to get to Cabanaconde, the end of the trip. You have to walk up here at your own pace (there is only one path, so getting lost is impossible and there are more groups walking the same path). It took us almost 3 hours of continuous climbing but it was definitely worth it, thanks to the beautiful landscapes you see along the way. Moreover, when you get up, you’re welcomed as a hero and can buy delicious sandwiches from a saleswoman. Then you walk to the village for a real breakfast.
By bus, you then go to a hot spring to relax in the warm water. You can cool down in the river that flows by, whose water is really fresh. On the way back to Arequipa, you drive through a beautiful landscape with many volcanoes on the horizon. You see llamas and alpacas everywhere, grazing. We enjoyed the trip, even though it was rather tough at times. However, thanks to the beautiful nature, we quickly forgot our fatigue.
A few tips for the trip through Colca Canyon
- There are many providers for trips through the Colca Canyon. We booked via Peru Hop with tour operator Peru Andes. In any case, check if your guide really speaks English and not just “yes and no”.
- You can go on a day trip, or a two- or three-day trek. On a day trip, you will only see a limited part of the Colca Canyon. It is better to book a trek. The two- and three-day tours are identical but with the 2-day programme the days are really intensive. Preferably book a three-day tour.
- Make sure you are in good shape when you go on the trip. You must also be used to the altitude to avoid altitude sickness. Do not do this after you have just arrived in Peru.
- Wear good walking shoes and rent or buy walking sticks. Especially when descending, the use of walking sticks can relieve your knees and thus prevent fatigue and pain. Be sure to bring a headlamp for the last morning, if you leave in the dark.
- Be prepared for reasonably primitive sleeping places. They are neat but very basic. The beds can sometimes be hard. There are private and shared showers.
- For the last day, take enough bananas or other food (available at your hostel) because you only have breakfast after the climb to Cabanaconde. We always take some energy gels with us, to prevent us from getting “hunger pangs” when the climb takes some more time.