Colca Canyon, Peru

posted in: Mini Adventures | 0

Written by Lucie

In May 2018, Mark and Lucie did a three-day trek in Colca Canyon. The main options for visiting Colca Canyon are one-day tours, which mostly drive to various sights, and the two- or three-day treks. You can also visit and trek in the Canyon independently, however, we found an organised trek that was so well-priced we decided to sign up. Both the two- and three-day treks cover the same ground but we’d heard multiple people say that the three-day was more enjoyable so that’s what we did.

Day one

Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chucho, 7km, ~1200m descent

We were collected from our hostel in Arequipa at 3am for the drive to Colca Canyon. The drive was freezing and travels over at least one pass that is nearly 5000m above sea level. Lucie wished she was wearing thermals, in addition to her jacket, scarf, hat and blanket!

At about 6am we reached Chivay where we paid our entrance fee for the Canyon. Then we continued on to Achoma where we had breakfast (it was still freezing). After multiple cups of tea to warm up, we drove to Cruz del Condor. This is a lookout across the Canyon and we watched three condors, a Peruvian hummingbird, and a falcon.

Colca Canyon from Cruz del Condor.

Lucie would happily have stayed looking at the impressive mountains for hours but by 8:15am it was time to move on to avoid hiking in the full afternoon sun. We got to Cabanaconde, changed into shorts and applied sunscreen, then started hiking along the Canyon. The flatish path soon turned sharply downhill and we descended about 1200m to the large river in the bottom of the Canyon. The path was very obvious the whole way. It was very dry, dusty and rocky in places. The dust made the steep downhill slopes and occasional rocky steps quite slippery, but it was not a difficult walk. The main challenge was the sun.

The whole way down there was no shade and and the sun quickly heated up to around 30 degrees Celsius and became relentless. At one point we found a very thirsty, tired-looking dog who we gave some of our water. A bit later, the dog came trotting past looking much happier. We also saw a hawk and a group of four condors soaring along the edge of the cliffs.

Walking along the Canyon.

When we reached the suspension bridge we had seriously shaking knees and were very hot and thirsty. We sat in the shade for a snack while we waited for the group to reform. We saw some two-day trekkers being herded along and were glad that we had the extra time to rest in the shade and stop to admire the views and the wildlife along the way. Back on the move, we climbed up a short distance and then walked along a narrow path/small stream, which turned into a path next to a small aqueduct. About 1km later we reached San Juan de Chucho where we stopped for lunch. It was about 1:30pm, and although we’d only walked 7km, the hot sun and the very early start meant that we were happy to settle in for the rest of the day. After lunch we took a quick shower (luxury!) and a nap. Then looked at the surrounding mountains and amazing scenery, played cards, stargazed and went to bed.

Day two

San Juan de Chucho to Oasis de Sangalle, 11km

We were up shortly after sunrise to get breakfast and get walking. We first passed the guinea pig shed (lots of guinea pigs being raised for eating), which seemed to be guarded by the turkeys. Then, we climbed a short way up to join the main track. The track was mostly flat for a few kilometres and travelled along the side of the Canyon. As before, it was mostly dusty and rocky underfoot.

Halfway up the Canyon.

We reached the town of Cosñirhua and then Malata. The locals were in varying levels of traditional dress, with most sporting the hat, but more western clothes on the body. We visited the ‘museum’, which was a single room with artifacts, such as different types of corn and other vegetables from the area. There were also two mannequins with complete traditional outfits, some bad taxidermy of native animals and agricultural tools.

After the museum we continued on the path to an amazing viewpoint of the Canyon and the start and end points of our journey. Then it was time to start dropping down to the river and another suspension bridge. The shaking knees threatened to reappear but this decline was much shorter than on day one and overall the hike was fairly flat. We stopped to look at a beautiful set of waterfalls and on the other side of the bridge we climbed up and down a little over the last kilometre to Oasis de Sangalle. It was just before noon when we arrived and we were happy to get out of the sun, have a snack and jump into the pool!

Nearly at the river.

After a swim and lunch we relaxed in the shade, chatting as a group, eating popcorn and watching the sun drop below the side of the Canyon. The sky was very blue apart fromsome whispy white clouds, which were learnt were actually ash clouds from Volcán Sabancaya!

Late in the afternoon, a group of two-day trekkers arrived (the end of their first day with the 3am start in Arequipa) but the whole oasis, including the pool was in shade and we again felt happy to have the extra day.

We eventually moved to a table and played cards until dinner and then made a swift exit to go to bed, getting distracted by the amazing stars on the way.

Day three

Oasis de Sangalle to Cabanaconde, 6km, ~1200m ascent

Day three started at 4:30am with a banana. The stars were still amazing and we began hiking up, out of the Canyon under their soft light (and torches). It was a little chilly but as soon as we started to climb we got very warm. We kept a slow but steady pace and the whole way up was a never-ending series of switchbacks. The path was the standard loose gravel and dust.

After about an hour the sky started to brighten and some colour seeped into the world. The path became more rocky and for a long time every step became a big step uphill on the uneven ground.

At about 6:45am the birds were awake and the sun was hitting the tops of the mountains. We were passed by a line of people on mules (like most hikes in South America you can rent a mule to carry you), and then we broke into the sun. A short while later and we had climbed the last few hundred metres to reach the top.

We layered up, took in the view and then walked the last kilometre to Cabanaconde and our well-earned breakfast.

Mark getting baby alpaca kisses.

On the way out of Colca Canyon we stopped at the hot springs for a dip in the different pools, starting with the freezing river and moving up in temperature. Then we stopped at Chivay for a big lunch, and on the road we stopped at a few miradors. The first was to get up close and personal with some llamas and alpacas, the second was the highest pass at the Mirador Los Andes: 4910m above sea level and with views of the volcanoes Hualca Hualca (6025m), the smoking, ash spewing Sabancaya (5976m), Ampato (6288m), Chachani (6075m), and Misti (5825m). The last stop was to see a huge group of wild alpaca, llama and vicuña (other relatives of the llama).

The smoking volcano.

Then, it was back to Arequipa. Overall, we really enjoyed the trek and definitely would recommend the three-day trek versus the one- or two-day options. It would be very easy to do solo, but for $50 for three days we thought it was worth taking the tour. If you’re keen, you don’t need to pack much, but do take some warm clothes for nighttime, toilet paper, sun hat and sunscreen, water and snacks.