Hiking The Colca Canyon
Three day loop
For many visitors to Arequipa, a trip to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest in the world, is the biggest drawcard. As Peru’s third most popular attraction, it is known as the place to go to spot condors, South America’s most famous bird, but afterwards I felt like it was undersold as it is so much more than just that.
A great thing about a visit here is that there are so many different hiking routes due to the number of small settlements offering accommodation throughout the canyon. Many people opt for a very long day trip but you can easily arrange a hike to suit your time frame and ability ranging from two to four days.
Not keen to get up at 3am and go through a tour company, which is your only option to see the canyon in one day (unless you’ve hired a car), we opted for a three day, three night trip (not including the travel day to get there).
Here is our route: Cabanaconde > Llahuar > The Oasis de Sangalle (via Fure) > Cabanaconde and the details are below.
The day before
Loaded up with pre-purchased snacks and cash (very important as ATMs are scarce in the valley and few places accept credit cards) we took the public bus (company is Reyna) from Arequipa to Cabanaconde at 11am for a cost of 17 soles. This is the cheapest way to get to the canyon. Many people take the shuttle which is faster on all those hills but more expensive. The biggest drawcard of the shuttle is that it stops at Cruz del Condor, the famous viewing platform that you’ll see first up on every single Google of ‘Colca Canyon’.
Although the bus ride is long (up to seven hours) the second half of it is worth staying awake for with plenty of steep drops and snapshots of rural Peruvian life on display. Notice the distinctive stepped terraces, a method of agriculture dating back to the pre-Inca days.
We were thrilled with the recommendation to stay at Pachamama, a fantastic hostel that ticked all of my boxes: clean, super comfy bed, delicious menu at the on site restaurant (divine pizzas!), a decent breakfast and great staff that took the time to explain to every guest their options for hiking the canyon and provided really useful comprehensive maps.
Cabanaconde > Llahuar (10km)
This was our easiest day by a country mile as it is the descent down into the canyon.
Within the first half an hour we came across a rather unofficial looking man selling the park pass which cost 70 soles and is valid for four days.
To get to Llahuar is about 10km and it’s pretty easy going but still pretty steep in sections. This only took us three and a half hours including a 15 minute break. In terms of terrain, it is pretty typical of what you’d expect from a dry, hot canyon at over 3,000 metres. There is beauty in the aridness with amazing valley views, the very green Majes River and a geyser all adding points of difference.
We stayed at Llahuar Lodge and arrived without a reservation. The room rate included breakfast but not dinner. We got a little private cabin (shared bathroom) and it was perfectly fine. We were excited for the thermal hot springs but the lukewarm pools were a bit of a non-event and I got more pleasure out of a refreshing dip in the river! Dinner was pretty bad, but it was either eat it or go hungry. The pancake breakfast the next morning was slightly better.
As is with most of the colonial-era settlements within the canyon, electricity was only available in the rooms from 6-9pm. There was wifi within the restaurant but it only worked when very few people were using the network.
Llahuar > Fure > The Oasis de Sangalle (26km)
This was a killer day! I can’t emphasise this enough. Our original plan was to hike to Fure and stay the night but because we made such good time the day before we didn’t want to confront another afternoon twiddling our thumbs. We took three hours to walk the six kilometres to Fure because the hills were so steep.
Arriving shortly before 10.30am we left our bags at Furewassi accommodation and walked just over three kilometres uphill to “the waterfall” which was definitely worth it; a forceful ejection seemingly spurting straight out of the canyon’s sheer sides.
After lunch at Furewassi we decided to push on to Oasis de Sangalle which we knew was going to make this a very long day.
There was one decent uphill but for the most part the gradient of this next section was pretty manageable. We were aware that there was a more direct route to the Oasis but we were highly advised by everyone that we spoke to not to take it due to slip hazards. By this stage it had also started to rain and visibility due to mist was very poor so we weren’t prepared to risk it.
This meant we had to take a detour to the town of Malata (9.7km from Fure). By the time we got there we were absolutely soaked through; our sodden, unreadable map the perfect representation of our downtrodden spirits and aching bodies. We asked locals to point us towards the Oasis, named so because of its lush, paradisiacal appearance, and actually ran part of the 3.5km to get down there, fantasising that the accommodation on offer would match its external appearance as a tropical island resort, complete with palm trees and swimming pools.
Our white fluffy slipper delusions were shattered fairly promptly after checking out some of the accommodation offerings which were just as basic as the neighbouring settlements. However, my only real requirement at this point was a hot shower which I found at Eden Lodge. Other than that the place was a bit of a disappointment - pretty bleak and not that clean - except dinner was acceptable.
The Oasis de Sangalle > Cabanaconde
The only thing left to do today was climb straight up and out of the canyon. We had booked breakfast the night before but there was some confusion and it didn’t eventuate.
This was one of the toughest ascents we did in all of South America. The fact that we had to scale more than 1,000m was compounded by the 26km we had walked the day before. But, we just took each switchback one corner at a time and had plenty of little stops. We were at the top, sweat-soaked but elated, in two hours and 40 minutes and then just had a 10 minute walk on the flat back to Cabanaconde.
We paid for a shower at Pachamama then got lunch in town before catching the 11.15am bus back to Arequipa for 18 soles.
- 40kms over three days
- Tough but the highs were worth the lows
- Awe-inspiring landscapes
- Very memorable
- Didn’t see any condors! (Think we were the only ones)