Thrilling 2 Day Colca Canyon Trek | What to Expect
Take a trip through Peru’s Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, and find yourself in an oasis over 3,000 meters down. This adventure takes you through challenging terrains, offering breathtaking views, traditional villages, and the chance to witness majestic Andean condors in their natural surroundings.
IMHO – the guided trek was worth it despite some things falling behind expectations.
In this article, I’m giving you a rundown of why you should do the Colca Canyon tour, the logistical questions you may have, and my personal experience doing the tour.
Let’s get started!
Why do the Colca Canyon Tour?
If trying out new experiences is not enough to budge you to do this tour, here are some reasons why you should at least consider it.
1. Witness the Flight of Condors
Imagine standing at the canyon’s rim, captivated by the awe-inspiring dance of Andean condors. These magnificent birds, with wingspans reaching up to 3 meters, are a living testament to the grandeur of nature. It was a dramatic scene to witness, that I can spend over an hour just watching them soar through the skies. We were fortunate to spot at least 15 condors when we were there.
2. See and Stay at a Natural Oasis IRL
Descending into the canyon, we encountered Sangalle, an oasis at the canyon’s base. The oasis reminded me of the hanging gardens of Babylon. earthly Eden, boasts vibrant plant life, crystal-clear pools, and an otherworldly tranquility. It offers a serene contrast to the arid landscapes we had hiked earlier. The oasis, also known as the “Green Valley,” is a welcome surprise, providing a peaceful retreat. Unfortunately, the accommodations we had that night did not live up to expectations.
3. Geological wonder deeper than the Grand Canyon
Colca Canyon’s claim to fame goes beyond its sheer depth—it surpasses the renowned Grand Canyon in the United States. The canyon reaches a depth of over 3,270 meters, dwarfing the Grand Canyon’s lowest point at approximately 1,857 meters. This staggering depth provides not only a geological marvel but it is also the homeland of the Colca people, with traditions dating back centuries.
4. Be physically and mentally challenged
The Colca Canyon trek takes you to a variety of altitudes that is both a physical and mental challenge to even the fittest hikers. Starting at an elevation of around 3,350–3,400 meters, the trek meanders through diverse landscapes, from rocky terrains to verdant valleys, before descending to the oasis at 2,250 meters. The altitude fluctuations, ranging from 1,000 to 4,000 meters above sea level, shows the canyon’s geological diversity over its extensive 70-kilometer stretch. If you’re looking to get your steps in and want to also test your willpower, the Colca Canyon trek is a tour you should consider doing.
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Is the Colca Canyon Tour worth it?
Trekking through the Colca Canyon became a standout experience during my trip to Peru, and here’s why. First and foremost, witnessing the flight of the condors was nothing short of dramatic. Spending over an hour watching these majestic birds gracefully soar through the skies was a spectacle to remember. Counting ourselves fortunate, we spotted at least 15 condors during our time there.
Adding to the allure was the oasis nestled at the bottom of the Colca Canyon. It exceeded my expectations, resembling what I’d envision the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to be. The photos I took, however, fall short of capturing the profound contrast between the dry, barren path and the vibrant, bountiful oasis that lies beyond.
Now, let’s talk about the hike itself. The descent into the canyon may lull you into a false sense of ease, but be prepared for the unexpected challenge as you ascend to the top on the final day. Keep in mind that Colca Canyon is among the world’s deepest canyons, so it’s no casual stroll. Having a set of hiking poles would have been beneficial on this journey.
So my honest opinion? The 2-day hike is unquestionably worth it—despite the exhausting hike, the sight of condors and the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the top on Day 2 justifies the early starts and hard effort. This part of Peru is not frequented by everyone, adding an extra layer of specialness.
When is the best time to do the trek?
The best time to do the Colca Canyon trek is during the dry season, which spans from May to October. Within this timeframe, June to September are often considered optimal.
The temperatures will be milder in these months, especially during the day, making it conducive for both the ascent and descent. Additionally, the dry season coincides with the Andean summer, offering better visibility for enjoying the stunning landscapes and, of course, the flight of the condors.
It’s worth noting that while the dry season is popular, the Colca Canyon can be visited year-round. However, the wet season, from November to April, brings heavier rainfall, making trails slippery and potentially more challenging. Regardless of the chosen time, it’s advisable to check local weather forecasts and trail conditions for a smoother and more enjoyable trekking experience.
Colca Canyon Hike Options
Full Day Tour of Colca Canyon
This full-day adventure begins at the early hour of 3 am and concludes by 6 pm. It’s the favored choice for those looking to experience the canyon without committing multiple days and taking the long hike.
Ideal for a day trip from Arequipa, it condenses the highlights of the 2 and 3-day tours, incorporating additional attractions without the need for extensive hiking.
The sightseeing tour includes Chivay Town, viewpoints of the valley terrace, Mirador and Cross of the Condor, Cactaceae Forest (Pinchollo), Viewpoint and Lagoons of Antahuilque, Volcanoes Viewpoint (Patapamapa), a visit to hot springs, and the observation of Andean camelids (llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas).
2-Day, 1-Night Trek
Undoubtedly the most popular option, this condenses the highlights of Colca Canyon into a manageable timeframe. It’s for those that want to hike and stay at the oasis. You’ll get majority of the highlights you get on the full day tour plus a stay at the oasis and the the challenging ascent from Oasis de Sangalle up to Cabanaconde.
This trek captures the essence of Colca Canyon in a brief yet worthwhile hike. I’ll talk more about how the experience is in the next section.
3-Day, 2-Night Colca Canyon Trek
This extended adventure, spanning three days and two nights, follows the familiar route of the 2-day trek but introduces a strategic overnight stay in San Juan, which is the lunch stop on the 2-day trek.
The additional day serves to break up the 15 km typically covered in just one day on the 2-day trek. Day 3 mirrors the final day of the 2-day trek, involving the challenging 1000m climb from Oasis de Sangalle up to Cabanaconde.
Tailored for those seeking a more relaxed pace due to physical considerations, this slower-paced trek offers a longer stay at the canyon.
Alternatively, enthusiastic and physically fit hikers can extend their hike and go longer than the usual hike although this is usually a DIY or unguided option.
How difficult is the Colca Canyon Trek?
The Colca Canyon Trek is quite tough, no matter which way you go. How hard it is depends on how fit you are, how fast you go, and which path you take. All treks start with a steep walk down into the canyon, but the real tough part is climbing back up because it’s really steep. If you’re on a tour, they can arrange a mule to help you up on the second day.
But if you’re hiking alone, you can ask the places you stay for help finding a ride. If, for some reason, you can’t finish the trek, there are options. In Llahuar town, you can get a ride from the Llahuar lodge to Cabanaconde. The lodge can help with that. And from Sangalle to Cabanaconde, you can get a mule to hike you out of the canyon. The homestays in the oasis can help with that too.
Getting lost is not likely, but if it happens, stay calm. Stop, think, look around, and make a plan. Some villages in the canyon have cell service. If it’s an emergency, you can call the High Mountain Rescue Unit in Chivay at (054) 531-165 for help. So, even though the Colca Canyon Trek is tough, there are ways to handle the challenges and make it through
Can you DIY the Colca Canyon Hike?
Absolutely, you can embark on a do-it-yourself adventure for the Colca Canyon hike. Many independent travelers opt for this approach to tailor the experience to their preferences. To DIY the Colca Canyon hike, start by researching the trail, understanding its difficulties, and planning your route. You can arrange transportation to the trailhead, manage your accommodation, and explore the canyon at your own pace. Ensure you’re well-prepared with maps, essential gear, and information on local support services.
However, with the DIY option, meticulous planning is key. Although the Colca Canyon trek is generally straightforward, lacking extensive signage makes it relatively easy to lose your way. It’s unfortunate but true that there have been instances of hikers going missing while trekking Colca Canyon on their own. During our hike, we encountered posters of a missing hiker who had not yet been found. Therefore, if you opt for the DIY route, it’s strongly recommended to plan your entire journey meticulously to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip to Colca Canyon.
Is it worth to DIY the Colca Canyon hike?
In my view, taking a guided trek is the best way to enjoy the Colca Canyon. Some people choose to go on their own, thinking it saves money. But the truth is, the two-day guided Colca Canyon trek costs about $72, and it includes 2 breakfasts, 1 lunch, 1 dinner, and a stay in the Oasis de Sangalle. Doing the trek by yourself won’t likely be much cheaper than a guided tour. Plus, with a guide, you get someone who knows the way, can show you interesting things, and can get help if you can’t continue or get hurt. The trek can be tougher than expected—during our hike, we saw about 5 mules carrying passengers. A guide can quickly arrange this help. If you’re on your own, it could be much harder. Going with a guided trek is also safer.
So, if you’re thinking about trekking the Colca Canyon, I really suggest going with a guided trek. Besides taking care of extras like transportation and visits to attractions, a guided tour is a safer choice for around the same price as it would cost you to trek by yourself.
Honest Review of the 2 Day, 1 Night Colca Canyon Tour
The day kicked off crazy early at 3:00 am. Got picked up, and we headed to Chivay, arriving at 6:30 am for a breakfast feast of scrambled eggs and bread. Then, we hit the road for a two-hour (42 km) ride to La Cruz del Cóndor. We witnessed the mind-blowing flight of those Andean condors—massive wingspans and all—at a cool 3400 meters above sea level. Counted ourselves lucky to spot at least 12 of these majestic birds.
At around 11am, we reached Mirador de San Miguel, and that’s where the real deal began—the descent. Quick heads up, the downhill part felt like a breeze, but brace yourself for the uphill surprise on the last day. Colca Canyon ain’t your average stroll, and I really wished I had packed a set of hiking poles.
After 3 hours of hiking, we hit the first suspension bridge, took a breather, and trekked to San Juan de Chuccho for lunch, making pit stops in Malata and Cosñirhua. The lunch at Juan de Chuccho was at unassuming restaurant. It looked more like a home than an eatery but the food was good, and that’s all that matters.
Come 5:00 pm, we landed at the oasis—a nice spot with cold-water pools. The path heading to the oasis was dry and barren so you can imagine how easy is it to spot the oasis from afar. With its palm trees and lush greenery, you can easily tell where the destination is.
After sweating it out on a 15 km hike, swimming in the pool was a no-brainer. Thankfully we arrived at a time when there’s still sunshine left.
We had to set the alarm for 5:00 am—ouch! We started the 3 ½ hour ascent in the dark using torches, and let me tell you, it was freezing! The uphill journey was a rocky, leg-burning adventure, especially after a full day of walking the day before. It doesn’t help that breakfast is not served until after the ascent up (don’t ask me why) so the entire hike up was more draining than should be. Now, I like to think I’m a pretty fit hiker, but this trek really gave my legs a workout. Had to take a few pit stops to ease the knee pain.
When we made it to the top, we were greeted by a lady was selling hot tea, coffee, and snacks. I waited for the entire group to catch up before the final 30-minute push to the breakfast spot. Breakfast was basic, in what felt like someone’s home, but it was a great spot to rest and regroup after two intense days.
Around 11:30 am, we hit Yanque for a one-hour soak in the thermal medicinal baths—total recovery mode. Paid 15 sols for entry, and trust me, it was worth every penny after that hardcore hike. Surprisingly, it was super relaxing and didn’t feel like your usual tourist trap. Maybe it was just
After that, we headed to Chivay for lunch, a buffet stop (optional, extra charge – but totally worth it). Post-lunch, we embarked on the journey back to Arequipa with tourist stops in the National Reserve (Mirador de los Volcanes 4910m) to spot some llamas and vicuñas.
So, the Colca Canyon tour—no doubt a challenging adventure, but with breathtaking views and a serious test of your strength. It was totally worth the sore legs!
How far in advance should I book a tour?
Booking your Colca Canyon tour in advance is a smart move to secure your spot, especially during peak seasons. I found that booking it 2-3 days before the tour is sufficient especially that there are plenty of tour operators doing this tour.
How were accommodations?
Our stay at the Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge had its ups and downs. While the huts provided decent beds for a night’s rest, certain aspects fell short of expectations.
The accommodation had two bathroom facilities, but unfortunately, only one was operational. The other, technically open, dispensed dirty water and showed signs of neglect. Within the working facility, most cubicles were out of order, with persistent drainage issues, and the presence of dogs in the area sometimes led to unsanitary conditions.
Now, let’s talk about the meals. The food was basic, bordering on mediocre, making it one of the less impressive aspects of the tour. It’s important to note that you can purchase bottled water or alcohol, but I’d recommend bringing a 2L water bladder and filling it up before the hike to save costs.
It’s also wise to pack some snacks since breakfast is served after the demanding 3-4 hour trek to the top on day 2. Overall, while there were some drawbacks, the accommodation experience was in line with the expectations for the budget, offering a place to rest in the stunning Colca Canyon.
How to prepare
- Acclimatization is Key
Before embarking on the Colca Canyon trek, spend a few days in Arequipa (2,335 meters) to acclimate to the altitude. This helps reduce the risk of altitude sickness, which can bring symptoms like headaches, shortness of breath, and nausea. Taking it slow is crucial, and avoiding rapid ascents beyond 500 meters a day is a good rule of thumb.
- Understanding Altitude Sickness
Altitude sickness is unpredictable, and its symptoms can vary. While various tips exist to prevent it, the most effective strategy is gradual ascent. For the Colca Canyon trek, which involves a quick ascent to Mirador Cruz del Condor (3,900m) and starting at Cabanaconde (approx. 3,400m), taking at least one rest day in Arequipa is essential.
- Pack Your Own Snacks
Be prepared with snacks, especially for the second-day morning hike, as most tour companies do not provide breakfast until after a significant climb. Packing energy-boosting snacks ensures you have the stamina for the trek.
- Explore Beyond the Famous Spots Peru offers more than Machu Picchu.
Venture into lesser-known areas and treks like Huchuy Qosqo, Golden Shadow, or Laguna Shallap for a unique Peruvian experience. Thankfully most tours will take you to places beyond Colca Canyon. Maybe you won’t hit them all, but try to.
- Respect the Locals and Environment
When exploring the beautiful Colca Canyon, be courteous to the locals in surrounding communities. Avoid littering, preserving the natural beauty of the canyon, and ensuring a positive experience for all visitors.
Must-Have Packing List for the Colca Canyon Trek
Make sure your Colca Canyon adventure is smooth by packing these essentials:
- Hiking Poles
You can leave this behind if you have strong knees but I would consider this a must-have for some with knee issues
- 2L Water Bladder
Hydration is key, and a 2L water bladder helps you stay replenished throughout the journey.
Protect your skin from the high-altitude sun exposure with a reliable sunscreen.
Shield your eyes from the bright sunlight and glare during the trek.
- Bug Spray
Fend off insects that might be present in certain areas, ensuring a more comfortable hike.
- Swimming Suit
Pack a swimsuit for a refreshing dip in the pools at the oasis.
- Proper Hiking Boots
Wear sturdy hiking boots for the varied terrain, providing comfort and ankle support.
Carry cash for any unforeseen expenses, as card facilities may be limited in remote areas.
- Fleece Jacket
Evenings can get cool, especially during the dry season. A fleece jacket keeps you warm and comfortable.
- Toilet Paper
An absolute must for restroom needs along the trek.
Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, ensuring you stay cool.
While you can rent one, having your towel saves costs and ensures you have a reliable option.
- Light Clothing for the Day, Warm Clothing for the Night
Adapt to the temperature variations by bringing both light and warm clothing.
- Medicine for Dizziness and Vomiting
These can be handy in case you experience altitude-related discomfort during the trek.
How much does it cost?
The expenses for trekking the Colca Canyon vary based on your choice of guided or independent exploration. Colca Canyon tours can range from $65 to over $200 USD, depending on the duration and starting point of your trek. Additionally, there’s a $20 USD entry fee, not typically included in tour prices. Some other expenses that are not included on tours are:
- Tourist Ticket:
- Non-Latin: S/. 70.00
- Latin: S/ 40.00
- Peruvians: s/. 20.00
- Lunch on the Second Day (Buffet):
- S/. 38.00
- Admission to the Thermal Baths on the Second Day:
- S/. 15.00
Getting to and from Cabanaconde for the Colca Canyon Trek
The trailhead begins in Cabanaconde, a quaint village on the left bank of the Colca River, among the less-explored areas of Peru.
Transportation Options from Arequipa:
- Guided Tours
Two-day Colca Canyon trek companies usually provide transportation, either picking you up from your Arequipa accommodation or meeting at a central location. Ensure prior arrangements if you’re not in central Arequipa.
- Public Bus
Public buses (Andalucia, Reyna, Milagros) from Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa go to Cabanaconde, taking about 5.5 hours. Purchase tickets in advance at the terminal.
- Tourist Bus
Departing daily from Arequipa at 3 am, this bus option costs $20 per person, inclusive of breakfast, a stop at Cruz del Condor, and Autocolca Tourist Tickets.
- Car Rental
Renting a car is the priciest option ($90-120), but it offers flexibility. However, driving in Peru differs, and it’s recommended only if comfortable with chaotic traffic.
- Colectivo Service
Colectivo services from Arequipa to Chivay, followed by another colectivo to Cabanaconde, are available. Companies like Transportes Centella and Transportes Caminos del Inca operate these services. It’s a more flexible yet slightly longer journey.
Check the prices here
Return to Arequipa Options:
- Guided Tours
These tours removes the hassle of finding a transportation back to Arequipa.
Buses from Cabanaconde’s Plaza de Armas depart at 6:30 am, 9:30 am, and 1:30 pm, reaching Arequipa in 5–6 hours. Costs around S/26 ($6.50USD).
While less common, colectivos from Cabanaconde to Chivay and further to Arequipa are feasible. The bus to Chivay costs around S/5–10 ($1–2.50USD), followed by a colectivo to Arequipa for around S/20 ($5USD), offering a quicker alternative.
Choose the mode of transport based on your preferences for flexibility, directness, and travel time.
Trekking through Colca Canyon was a nice end to my Peru trip, and it’s one trip that you should do if you happen to be in Arequipa.
Whether you go with a guide or on your own, the incredible landscapes, encounters with condors, and the friendliness of the locals make it a trip to remember. The hike is tough but worth it, and the chance to relax in thermal baths adds a special touch.
Exploring the depths of Colca Canyon and enjoying its colorful surroundings turns this journey into not just a physical adventure, but a truly moving experience through one of Peru’s most beautiful places.