Colca Canyon & Trekking Travel Guide
If able to add the Colca Canyon to your Peru travels… you’re in for a treat and will be visiting one of the deepest canyons in the world at 4,160 meters (13,648 feet).
Highly recommended is to take this journey independent of ‘pass through a town for an hour or two’ rushed tours from Arequipa so as to experience it to the fullest. Travel Guide to Arequipa
Note: High season runs from May to November before the rains come (December to March).
From Chivay it is 40 minutes to the small town of Yanque with Uyu Uyu ruins a short hike (2 hours or so) away plus Tambo Hot Springs and Colca Lodge Spa & Hot Springs just 10 minutes from town. Travel Guide to Yanque
The area from Chivay to just outside the town of Cabanaconde (where the dazzling vertical drop-offs into the canyon begin) is often referred to as the ‘Colca Valley‘ (due to the abundance of farmland) yet is canyon territory through and through.
Just take a look out the bus or van window to the right and you’ll see steep slopes down to the Colca River (Río Colca in Spanish) below. You will also see crops built into rock-lined, stepped terraces growing quinoa, corn, wheat and kiwicha as well as many types of fruits and vegetables.
After Yanque is the tiny village Achoma where you can camp and buy water/snacks or a basic meal. Next is Santa Ana de Maca which has a few ‘hospedajes’ (local places to sleep) and ‘populars’ (local places to eat) around the main square fronted by the beautifully restored, white (color of the volcanic stone used in construction) Santa Ana church.
Most stop for a few hours to enjoy the viewpoint area just outside of town and see the ‘Choquetico Stone’ - a pre-Incan, minature ‘carved to scale’ model of mountains in the Colca Canyon.
From Maca you can visit the village of Pinchollo - popular for the short trek (around 30 minutes) to Hatun Infiernillo geyser. There is a 7 hour trek to another geyser – Sabancaya – which is best to arrange with a guide so as to not get lost. Ask around at the plaza for who is around to lead the way.
The last town of the Colca Canyon is Cabanaconde – popular for the Cruz del Condor viewpoint (gets crowded around 8 a.m. when all the tour vans arrive) and treks down into the canyon.
To get a glimpse of the viewpoint before your travels watch this YouTube video: Cruz del Condor Viewpoint . Locals show-up to sell artisan items, food and drink daily. There is a public restroom onsite.
For places to stay and where to eat in Cabanaconde view: Travel Guide to Cabanaconde.
Note: Peruvian tourism officials at the Cruz del Condor or start of treks into the canyon will ask to see your ‘boleto turistico’ (tourist ticket in English) or sell you one for 70 soles ($26.25 USD). The price doubled as of January, 2012.
Treks/Hikes into the Colca Canyon from Cabanaconde
There are dozens of options for trekking from Cabanaconde with the most common hike the journey down to Sangalle (also called “The Oasis”). This is a spectacularly beautiful area with well-kept gardens and natural warm springs (cold water pools as well).
It is a steep 3 hour hike down the canyon to Sangalle, 5 hour hike back up or can rent a mule for the return. There are 10 sole ($3.75 USD) rooms and a camping area yet everything else is pricey: 7 sole for a water, 10 sole for a meal, etc. The path has ‘steps’ for half of the way, and rocky dirt trail the other half.
From Sangalle you can cross the river and hike to the small town of Tapay , Taypay has a hostal with cabins and basic meals. You can then loop through other small towns such as Fure and Llahuar (around 4 hours); both have hot springs and basic tourist accomodations. Fure has waterfalls only 40 minutes by feet (yours!) from the town.
An alternative to the popular (and sometimes crowded) Sangalle hike is to go from Cabanaconde directly to Llahuar - around 5 hours. At Llahuar there is a family-run lodge with meals and basic cabins… the hot springs are hot! Not warm like at Sangalle.
Another popular trek but much longer – 8 or 9 hours – is to Lake Mucara. One traveler stated that at first site it looked like “a splash of pink”. A pink lake? No, tons of pink flamingos on the lake! There are no facilities at Lake Mucara, just pristine beauty; you need to bring food, water, tent, etc.
If you do want to take an organized tour to the Colca Canyon, there are numerous companies around the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa for you to arrange a trip through.
One company that gives guided tours from Arequipa and also has a hotel with lovely thermal baths in the small town of Yanque is Arequipa Tour Peru.
When traveling through the Colca Canyon please remember to tip the locals instead of the tour guides!
Photographs by Molly & Blake McHugh, all rights reserved.