Colca Canyon is one of the main reasons for visitors to stop in Arequipa, in the south of Peru. Six hours away by local transport and you are plunged into the beautiful scenery of the second highest canyon in the world, far deeper than the Grand Canyon in America. But the best part of hiking Colca Canyon is probably the Oasis you can stay in, at the bottom of the valley.
Imagine cooling off, after a long day hiking, in a clear blue swimming pool overlooked by gigantic red cliffs. A heaven for backpackers who are not scared of heights and very steep hikes.
Another great thing about hiking Colca Canyon is that you can Do-It-Yourself, without a guide or a tour. An amazing self-guided trek without the need of carrying a tent or food which we will detail in this itinerary. So if you are looking to know how to trek Colca Canyon without a guide, keep reading.
Hiking Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon trek is the main attraction in the area of Arequipa. Nestled in the heart of the Andes, this Canyon is the second deepest in the world with its maximum depth of a staggering 4,160 m. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in America. The best way to visit the canyon is to hike it and even spend the night at the bottom, but it is also possible to hire horses or bikes.
As for us, we chose to hike, and as usual, we did it without a guide or a tour.
The different routes
The self-guided walk we detail in this blog post is the most common hiking route. It is a 3d/2n but you can also do a 2-day rtek if you prefer skipping the first night in San Juan de Chucho and heading straight away to the Oasis.
If you are not in a hurry, we would however recommend doing the 3-day hike. It will give you more time to enjoy the Sangalle Oasis at the bottom of Colcan Canyon on your own on day 2.
For those who have a lot more time and enjoy week long hikes, there are a lot of other trails from Cabanaconde or Sangalle leading towards different valleys and villages such as Tapay or Fure. Some will even bring you to hot water springs, geysers and volcanoes… However, these routes aren’t well signed and maps difficult to find. The tourism office in Arequipa was really helpful by providing the local bus schedule to Cabanaconde and a map of Colca Canyon. We would recommend to give it a go and pop by for a chat with them if you are planning something different or longer.
Colca canyon Trek 2 days
- Cabanaconde -> Sangalle (direct or via San Juan de Chucho) -> Cabanaconde
- Direct hike to the Sangalle Oasis – Return trip through the same steep trail. (8km / 7 h)
- Via San Juan de Chucho – Same route as the one detailed below but stay in Oasis only. (20km / 10 h)
- Cabanaconde -> Llahuar -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde
- You will have to stay in Llahuar – so no Oasis chilling time in this route (25km / 12h)
Colca canyon trek 3 days
- Cabanaconde -> San Juan de Chucho -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde (Most common one)
- Stay in both villages – enjoy the oasis longer – Route detailed below (20km / 10h)
- Cabanaconde -> San Juan de Chucho -> Llahuar -> Cabanaconde
- Long day of walk – challenging – no Oasis! (30 km / 18h)
- Cabanaconde -> Sangalle -> Llahuar -> Cabanaconde
- Direct Route to Sangalle – long chill time at the Oasis + challenging hike to Llahuar (22km / 15h)
- Cabanaconde -> Llahuar -> Fure -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde (czickontheroad)
- For good hikers – Hot springs & Waruro waterfalls- Challenging (35km / 15h)
Colca Canyon trek 4 days
- Cabanaconde -> San Juan de Chucho -> Sangalle -> Llahuar -> Cabanaconde
- Perfect if you have time – challenging but less walk per day – Stay in each village (30km / 18h)
- Cabanaconde -> Llahuar -> Fure -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde
- Hot springs, Waruro waterfalls & Oasis (30 km / 15h)
Our itinerary, 3d/2n hiking in Colca Canyon without a guide
Step 1: Arequipa to Colca Canyon (Cabanaconde)
To avoid the heat of the Peruvian sun, it is better to get started early. On day one, you will need to wake up at the very latest of 4:30 am, to get a taxi from your hostel to the terminal of the minivans to Chivay. It is close to the main bus terminal,“terminal terrestre” on Avenida Andres Avelino Caceres. Here is a link to find your way with Google maps.
The ride to Chivay will take around 3.30 hours, and once in Chivay, you will have to take another collectivo for 2 hours to Cabanaconde. They are usually waiting for each other. If you don’t ask you be dropped off anywhere special, the driver will take you to the terminus, the main square of Cabanaconde.
Tips if your are not an early bird
The minivans leave all day, as soon as they are full. Or, if you prefer a direct ride, you can also hop on a local bus from the main terminal.
Buses leave from Arequipa Bus terminal with the following companies: Andalucia 9:30 am – Reyna* 11 am – Milagros 2 pm.
Just be aware that taking these buses means that you are unlikely to complete a day of hiking once you arrive in Cabanaconde.
*Note: the 8 am bus operated by Reyna is not in service anymore.
On the way to Cabanaconde, try to not fall asleep. The landscapes are really beautiful. The bus takes you through the dry highlands up to 5,000 masl, where you will have the chance to spot Vicuñas running around. To your left, you should be able to spot one of the most dangerous volcanos in Peru. It won’t be hard to spot as the Volcano Sabancaya often projects ashes and smoke!
As you pass through several small villages, you have the chance to get a glimpse of the traditional outfits worn in the Cabanaconde region. The main artefact would be the colourful Cabanconde hat. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to capture any with our camera but you will notice it right away.
NEXT READ: A BACKPACKER GUIDE TO AREQUIPA
Step 2: Cabanaconde to the start of the trail
As you hop off the bus in town, you need to find the start of the hike to San Juan de Chucho, which for us, wasn’t an easy task. We asked around, but somehow took the wrong path and ended up walking through corn fields with the scare of being chased by farmers or even a bull. With the help of our GPS, we finally found the correct path which led us back to the main road we arrived from earlier that morning.
The start of the trail is the one behind the football pitch, after the turn to the “Mirador San Miguel”. Google Maps link here.
Tip to not get lost
To avoid getting lost and spending unnecessary time looking for the way, ask your driver to leave you at the football pitch of Cabanaconde (El Estadio de futbal a la entrada del Pueblo). About 100 m to your right, there is a little hut* where you should be asked to pay the Boleto Turistico in order to start your walk.
*Note: If the hut is closed, no worry, go ahead and start the hike. Somebody will stop you at one point during the hike to sell you the Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket). It is obligatory if you enter Colca Canyon. Make sure you are given proof of purchase. The boleto Turistico has been put in place by the government and is ran by the locals. All the benefits are supposed to be distributed to the community. You shouldn’t be asked to pay any toll except for this ticket. You may be asked to produce the ticket upon completion of the hike as proof of payment, so keep it safe.
Step 3: The way down to San Juan de Chucho
As you start the trail, the drop of the canyon is immediately visible from the many switchback cliffs. Tricky at times with rolling stones and sand, make sure you don’t walk too close to the edge. Even if the trail is quite large, a fall here may not be advised since the cliff can reach up to 900 m.
You can imagine that at this height, the views of the canyon are really impressive. Yet, as you walk down the steady steep path, San Juan de Chucho gets bigger and bigger and your legs get more and more exhausted.
The village of San Juan de Chucho is a little hamlet situated at the bottom of the valley. Along the River Colca, it is surrounded by old Incan terraces still used for agriculture. After you cross the bridge at the bottom of the valley, you will need to follow the arrows on the rocks to find your way to a place to stay. If you see a red cross, you have gone too far or took the wrong turn.
Why you should invest in hiking poles
We would recommend to use hiking poles during your walk down. Even with a light backpack, your knees and hamstrings are working hard for more than 3 hours. This constant exercise of muscles we don’t use often can lead to injuries. Hiking poles will relieve you from pain and will also give you a better balance on the rocks and gravel as you hike down.
Night 1: Finding an accommodation in San Juan de Chucho
As you cross the River Colca, over the wooden bridge, you will encounter a couple of locals who will offer you a place to stay for the night. All hostals (homestay/B&Bs) will pretty much be offering the same price and services, such as a bed in a dorm or a private double with dinner and breakfast included.
We chose to stay at the Posada Gloria, which has a very lovely garden and cosy private bedrooms. Prices include dinner and breakfast.
Tip about booking your accommodation or not
If you decide to not book and find a place to stay once in San Juan, make sure to ask to visit the room, before agreeing to anything. If you don’t like it you can still go to the next hostal. Just be aware that San Juan de Chucho is very small, remote and is not accessible by car. The rooms will, therefore, be limited and minimalist but good enough for a night in nature.
On the way to the village, we took a shortcut indicated by a local woman. Along the path, we were stopped by an old lady selling drinks and fruits. She showed us a sign saying that we MUST buy something from her to be able to pass. Refuse and she will ask you to turn around and take a longer way which is about 30 minutes. Now, we understand that everybody in this type of remote area is trying to make a business out of tourism, but what we didn’t find fair was to be forced to buy something that at the time we didn’t need.
For us, this type of tourism business is not acceptable. As we protested (is Spanish), the woman who told us about the shortcut arrived and spoke to the old lady in Quechua. They then turned towards us and informed us it was a misunderstanding and that we could pass if we wished to…
CHECK OUR GUIDES FOR OTHER SELF-GUIDED HIKES IN SOUTH AMERICA
Step 4: San Juan de Chucho to Sangalle – Day 2
On the next morning, you can have a lie in until 7 am! The sparse vegetation of the valley offers very little shade along the trail. Therefore, it is better to start the hike to Sangalle as early as possible to avoid the heat of the sun.
The first 30 minutes is about reaching the main road in the town of Cosñirhua. It is a very steep path with rolling and slippery stones. Make sure to take plenty of water with you and sun cream. In Cosñirhua you can buy some supplies such as water, fruits and chips. The walk then follows the gravel road until the town of Malata, where you will turn left towards Sangalle.
The second day of walking shouldn’t take more than 3 hours, which will give you plenty of time to enjoy the Oasis. As you get closer to Sangalle, the vegetation is more dense and greener. The dry cacti and plants disappear to leave space for palm trees and other tropical trees.
Tip about the water bottles
The water at the Colca Canyon is sold 3 times the price than in Arequipa. To make it cheaper during your hikes in Peru, but also all around South America, you can bring a water filter or water purification tablets. If you don’t have these, we would recommend to buy water in Cosñirhua or even on the way to Sangalle because the hostels at the Oasis are outrageously expensive…the beer is cheaper than water!
Night 2: Finding Accommodation in Sangalle
All along the trail, you will see paintings and arrows showing you the way to hostels in Sangalle. Follow them to get to the Oasis. The “village” consists of accommodation facilities, so you will have plenty of choices. We would recommend to walk around and talk with the owners. Ask for the price, the menu for dinner and check the pool. As you will probably arrive early in the morning, this feature will be the most important one for the day, so you have the right to treat yourself as you wish!
We stayed at the hostel which was the most affordable for us. The Tropical lodge (and its swimming pool) were empty all day until a massive group of young backpackers arrived. This hostel seems to host the overnight tours which come from Arequipa. We thought it was going to be very busy and noisy but the atmosphere was really good at dinner and everybody went to bed without noise right after… Our only issue ended up to be Jenny’s continually running nose and 2 dogs who decided to spend the night barking outside our door.
For a quieter place, have a look at the Oasis Paraiso EcoLodge, situated right next to the Tropical Lodge. It has been highly recommended to us (after our hike…)
Negociate the pricesIf you plan on having lunch, dinner and breakfast during you stay, try negotiate the price. Most hostal owners knocked a few euro off when asked for a deal.
Step 5: what goes down must go back up…
So far, you have been walking down from Cabanaconde admiring the incredible views of Colca Canyon. But all this time, every step down you took was another one you ultimately will have to climb back up on your last day. For sure, you will hear many people telling you how hard and exhausting the hike back up is… It really depends on how fit, prepared and used to altitude you are. For us, it wasn’t too bad, but others really struggled.
At the top of the hill, somebody may ask to check your tourist ticket. Once done, you can continue on the path to the village for about 1 hour. In Cabanaconde, you might need to hang out a bit at the main plaza while waiting for the bus. There should be a direct bus to Arequipa in the morning. If not, a minivan will stop in Chivay to allow you hop on another minivan to Arequipa.
Transport Cabanaconde to Arequipa
Bus schedule From Cabanaconde to Arequipa: Reyna: 6.30 am – Andalucia: 9 am – Milagros: 11 am – Reyna: 2 pm – Milagros: 11 pm
Colca Canyon altitude
Sangalle is located at 2,180 m, while the bus back to Arequipa leaves from Cabanaconde at 3,287 m. It is therefore 1,107 m to hike up in zigzag for about 4km. This means the inclination of the path is 30%! Jenny who had been feeling sick all night, coughing and sneezing still managed to follow Steven’s rhythm and passed every single person ahead.
Without even trying to go fast we reached the summit of the canyon in 2.10 hours. But we have heard it can take up to four hours.
Alternatives to this 3 day/2 night hike of Colca Canyon
- To avoid the early morning rise and the long bus ride on day one, you can leave later and sleep in Cabanaconde for the night.
- There is a viewpoint on the way to Cabanaconde called “Cruz del Condor” where you can see condors soar on the rising heatwaves. You will have a better chance to see them in the morning but you might end up surrounded by 10 tourist buses too. To get there, you can take the minivan or the local bus from Arequipa and ask the driver to drop you off at the Mirador. Your only issue will be to find the next bus going to Cabanaconde (there is no bus stop). If you can, hitch-hike, but be aware that in Peru, local people always expect a few coins for the ride (to be given when you hop off).
- You can do the hike the other way around, but it might be a bit more technical, mainly on the last day as the path is very rocky and sandy.
What to Pack for the hike
Looking at most of the hikers, we have seen a few crazy things. To be sure to not suffer, be a little bit prepared. Here are our tips. They are also valid for any other hike in Peru!
- Hiking poles – Even if you think you look like a 70-year-old granny doing your weekly walk, you will, in the end, be grateful to keep your balance, avoid sore knees on the way down and save your energy while going up.
- Hiking shoes – him / her – This can sound silly but no! runners or converse to not do well on a gravel path. Hiking shoes are a must when you go for a moderate to difficult hike. Colca Canyon isn’t a flat trail and can be very tricky with loose rocks. If you don’t want to break a leg, ankle or your nose on loose path, get yourself a pair of good hiking shoes!
- Backpacks – Carrying plastic bags in one hand and handbag in the other is not the best way of carrying water for this type of hike. Get a small backpack and if you don’t have any, leave all your belongings in a plastic bag in your hostel and your big one with you. Your back won’t be killing you and you will definitely spend less energy.
- Timing – You shouldn’t leave Sangalle later then 6:30 am. The sun goes up at the same time as you. If you leave too late, you will be roasting. Leaving early means you will be in the shade for most of the hike up.
- Water – If there is one thing you need to carry, it is water. Don’t underestimate the need for drinking because at this altitude your body works harder than during a usual trek at sea level. To avoid heat stroke make sure to bring 2L per person on the last day.
- We would also recommend using a water filter bottle during your hikes. Carrying purification water tablets is also a good idea if you plan on hiking in South America. This being said, don’t drink too much alcohol at high altitude as it will get you even more dehydrated.
- Altitude sickness – High altitude starts at 2,400 m and the sickness with it. From this point up, your body will need more oxygen to function correctly. Make sure to take deep breaths in and out as you hike. Take your time and find your own rhythm. It is better to have a continuous, steady rhythm than walking fast and constantly stopping to gasp for air. If you start to have a headache, drink a lot as it can be due to dehydration. For the rest, as we are not doctors, we will let you read about altitude sickness and the symptoms as it is always better to be aware in case of any eventuality.
Cost and useful information
Taxi from the city center to bus terminal: 10 Soles (€2.60)
Minivan: Arequipa to Chivay: 15 Soles pp (€3.90)
Minivan: Chivay to Cabanaconde: 5 Soles pp (€1.30)
Bus: Cabanaconde to Arequipa: 20 soles pp (€5.20)
San Juan de Chucho – Hostal Posada Gloria
Double bedroom: 20 Soles (€5.20)
2 beers: 24 Soles (€6.25)
Dinner: 10 Soles pp (€2.60)
Breakfast: 8 Soles pp (€2.10)
Sangalle – Tropical Lodge
Double bedroom: 20 Soles (€5.20)
1 Beer: 10 Soles (€2.60)
Lunch: 10 Soles pp (€2.60)
Dinner: 10 Soles pp (€2.60)
Breakfast: 10 Soles pp (€2.60)
Water: 7 Soles (€1.80) for a 500 ml bottle (same price 2L in Cornishua)
There are no ways to book this place online, but if you need here, is a good alternative: Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge.
Boleto Turistico (tourist ticket):
South American: 40 Soles (€10.40)
Foreigners: 70 Soles (€18.20)
Total cost of self-guided hike:
For 2 people – including beer, water and snacks): 359 Soles (€93) ie. €46 pp.
Cost of a 3d/2n tour: $125 pp (€106)
Same 2d/1n itinerary as us as part of a tour: $108 pp (€90)
Tips for guides, water and beer are not included in the tour prices.
Looking for more adventures in Peru? You may also like these articles!
- What To Know Before Hiking The Rainbow Mountain
- 8 Reasons Why You Should Hike The Salkantay Trek
- How To Get To Machu Picchu? All Of The Possibilities Explained
- Sacred Valley, a self-guided hiking tour of Maras, Moray, Ollantaytambo and Pisac
- Sandboarding and Buggy Riding in Huacachina
DID YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE? LIKE, COMMENT, SHARE OR PIN IT!
*Note: this article may include affiliate links to hostels or products we recommend. This will be of no extra cost to you but will help us continue running this blog.
About the Author
Jenny, Tales From The Lens writer & photographer
Jenny, 32 & F
She is very organised and always finds the best itineraries!
Jenny is also a wildlife enthusiast who loves volunteering for animal conservation projects. Don’t get her started talking about whales or else she may never shut up!
Wishlist: Svalbard, Alaska and African S