The Colca Canyon is located in the Arequipa Region in Southern Peru. This area is usually known for its volcanoes such as El Misti and Chachani.
It also provides one of the deepest Canyon on earth. Actually it was thought for a long time that the Colca Canyon was the deepest of all with a 3400m depth (twice the Grand Canyon). But recently the nearby Cañon del Cotahuasi was measured with a 3500m depth. The impression when you arrive there is to feel very small, between the bottom of this huge gorge at 2100m (where the Colca River runs) and some 5000m+ snow-capped mountains above you !
No surprise that this has become a great place for hiking, with an authentic taste of Peru (what the Cusco area lacks). Easy trail, rich colors, genuine people... it's all there ! Another major interest of this Canyon are the Condors. You can see them flying in the morning and in the evening (check below for details).
The small village of Cabanaconde (alt. 3300m) is at the heart of the Colca Canyon. That's where the trails starts.
To reach it there is a daily bus leaving at 11:45 am from the Arequipa bus terminal.
It takes about 3h to go to Chivay (the bigger village East of Cabanaconde - with some marvellous thermal baths) and another 2h30 hours from Chivay to Cabanaconde.
The road is in bad shape, so try not to seat at the back of the bus if you don't want to bounce for hours !
Red Tape & Places to stay
The Colca Canyon is not a protected area, however :
- there's a $0,75 fee to enter (that you pay in Chivay when the bus stops)
- you cannot camp anywhere
- you can hike without a guide, trails near Cabanaconde are well marked
In Cabanaconde, there best place to stay would be the Hostal Valle del Fuego, as its owner will give you all the information you need to hike without bothering with a local guide. The rooms are rather basic, but warm welcome ($5 per person with breakfast)
If you want to sleep inside the Canyon, you can stay at the Oasis. It provides shelters, but you will need to take your sleeping bag with you (I'm not sure about the price... but cheap).
You may need to book both places ahead depending on the season you go.
From Cabanaconde there 3 common hikes to do :
1-day hike : going North from Cabanaconde to the Oasis, easy zig-zag trail
1000m down (2h30) and 1000m up (3h00) to return. With only 3 kms to go... you can imagine the steepness !
2-day hike : going North-East from Cabanaconde, down to San Juan de Chuccha (-900m / 2h), then up to Cosñirhua (+300m / 1h) and Malata (same altitude / 0h30), and finally to the Oasis (-400m / 1h). Spend the night there.
Second climb up back to Cabanaconde 1000m up (3h00).
This hike can be also be done in one. You will need around 8 hrs to complete it.
That's what we did... what a day it was !!
5-day hike : for this hike a guide and mules could make the journey much more confortable as it is an intense trek :
Day 1 : Cabanaconde to Puente Colgado (-1450m / 6 hrs)
Day 2 : Puente Colgado to Miña (+1750m / 10 hrs)
Day 3 : Miña to Quebrada Cerani (+1500m / -550m / 11 hrs)
Day 4 : Quebrada Cerani to Chachas (+120m / -1600m / 7 hrs)
Day 5 : Chachas to Andagua (+900m / -400m / 7 hrs)
It is an hour east from Cabanaconde on the way to Chivay.
The best is to take the first bus leaving Cabanaconde at 6:30am.
You will be there by 7:30am. Condors can then be seen bewteen 8am and 9am usually, and almost every day.
Incredible spectacle as you see them getting lifted by ascending air currents. Definitely worth a visit !!
And don't miss either the very nice thermal baths in Chivay !
Book, Map & Weather
The best guidebook would probably be : Trekking in the Central Andes (Lonely Planet - 2003)
As for maps, it is almost impossible to find a decent one, unfortunately.
The best is to ask at Valle del Fuego in Cabanaconde, and then on the trail. But it is well marked for the 1/2-hike.
Weather forecast : Arequipa
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