Colca Canyon - Landscape 2

Did you know that the second deepest canyon in the world, the Colca Canyon (~2.1 miles deep), is in southern Peru just a few hours from Arequipa. If you’re like us, your knowledge of the existence of deep canyons starts and ends with the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world though, right? Nope, it’s the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon (~3.7 miles deep!) in Tibet. The Grand Canyon ( only ~1.1 miles deep) is actually #5 after yet another Peruvian canyon called Cotahuasi (~2.0 miles deep) and the Copper Canyon in Mexico (~1.2 miles deep). Consider this your geography lesson for the day and yet another reason to travel more. Anyways, in this post we’ll tackle how to hike the Colca Canyon trek and whether or not you need a tour.

From the moment you arrive at the bus terminal in Arequipa, people will start trying to sell you tours to the Colca Canyon trek. It’s a good option! Particularly, if you don’t want to do any planning. The price that you can get for a group guided tour is actually comparable to what we spent hiking it on our own. However, a self-guided hike of the canyon is very do-able, if you prefer to explore at your own pace. The trail is well marked and easy to follow, and there are villages and posts selling snacks along the way. We recommend doing it self-guided with a travel buddy or two (dibs on Michelle!).

Colca Canyon - Landscape 5

Before We Begin

  • The Cotahuasi Canyon is in southern Peru as well however it is much harder to get to than the Colca Canyon. This post will only focus on the Colca Canyon.
  • We did a 3-day/2-night Colca Canyon trek. A 2-day/1-night trek is also available and involves visiting only the main town at the base of the canyon, Sangalle, a.k.a. the Oasis. Given the time it takes to get to the Colca Canyon (~6hrs), we wanted to maximize our time in the canyon itself and opted for the 3-day.
  • We were highly recommended going to Catarata Huaruro, a waterfall deep in the canyon. It’s recommended to stay in the canyon for 4-day/3-nights in order to visit it. However, we think if you start early enough and don’t mind long hiking days, you can visit on a 3-day/2-night trip. It just might not be very enjoyable (depending on how much you like to push it). Let us know in the comments if you do!
  • Make sure to download the Maps.Me offline map of the Colca Canyon area on your phone prior to this hike. While the trails are well marked, the app helps a ton!
  • Cabanaconde is a town on the rim of the Colca Canyon and is the starting point for most Colca Canyon hikers. Your bus from Arequipa will end there.
Colca Canyon Trek Bridge to Llahuar
Bridge at the base of the Colca Canyon trek near Llahuar

What You’ll Need:

What to Pack

  • S/250 per person for a 3-day hike + S/70 park entrance fee
  • 2L water. You can buy more along the way.
  • Trail snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimsuit
  • Towel
  • Toiletries (Yes, you can shower daily!)
  • 2 changes of clothes

Map

Colca Canyon Map

For a physical map, go to the tourist info center in the main plaza in Arequipa.

Bus Schedule

Colca Canyon Bus Schedule

To confirm the bus schedule for your visit, go to the same tourist info center in the main plaza in Arequipa.

Colca Canyon Trek 3-day Itinerary

Day 0

  1. Stop by the iPeru Tourist Information Center in Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas to get the bus schedule and purchase the park entrance ticket (S/70 per person). Also buy any snacks you may need.
  2. To start the hike on the same day, you must take the 3:30AM bus, and you must purchase your bus ticket the day before. Take a cab (or bus) to the bus terminal to purchase your bus ticket. A taxi from the Plaza de Armas to the bus terminal is approximately S/7-8.

Day 1

  • Get yourself to the bus terminal for 3AM and take the ~6hr bus to the town of Cabanaconde. (Note, you will need to pay a small tax before boarding your bus.)
  • The bus will stop at the town of Chivay along the way, where you will have a quick break to use the restroom and buy snacks. There’s a lady standing outside the door into the terminal that sells alpaca jerky with canchitas (toasted corn). Get yourself some (if you’re not vegan)! It’s great!
Chivay Bus Terminal
The bus station in the town of Chivay. Note the llama decorations.
  • Grab a quick breakfast at the two story restaurant in the Cabanaconde town square. They have WiFi! This is the last time you will have WiFi until you victoriously emerge from the canyon, so get those last minute texts and Instagram posts out!
  • It’ll be around 10:30AM by the time you finish breakfast. Start your 4-5 hour hike to the town of Llahuar. See below for more notes on Llahuar. The steep downhill and midday sun make this the toughest day of the trek. Stay strong!
  • There are few options for where to stay in Llahuar, and there might be a small town too, but we didn’t see it. The social scene is all at Llahuar Lodge. You’ll literally walk right into Llahuar Lodge at the end of your Day 1 hike. Most people stay here and they even have thermal pools.
  • THERMAL POOLS!? you may be thinking. Don’t get TOO excited. They weren’t very warm when we visited, but they’re a nice place to relax and meet your fellow trekkers.
  • Showers are available with hot water while the sun is out.
  • No need to book in advance.
Colca Canyon Trek
View Near the Llahuar

Life is a bit more expensive in the Colca Canyon. Here is what you can expect to pay in Llahuar:

  • Dorm bed in 4 person dorm: 20-25 soles
  • 2.5L water: 15 soles (the most expensive water in Peru!)
  • Dinner: S/25
  • Vegetarian Dinner: S/15
  • Breakfast: S/10
  • Beer (660ml): S/12
Colca Canyon Llahuar Lodge
Llahuar Lodge. The structure is only the common area. You’ll stay in rudimentary huts. Ours was literally tied together with wire.

Day 2

  • Start hiking by 8:30AM so you have time to enjoy the pools in Sangalle, also known as the oasis. It’s about a 5-6 hour hike. The day will end at the same elevation you started, but the up and downs along with the time-on-trail make this the second hardest day.
  • Day 2 offers the best views of the canyon! Make sure to take plenty of breaks to enjoy them!
  • After the lookout (see pic below), you can take a steep descent into Sangalle (just follow the signs to Sangalle). Depending on your knees though, you may want to opt for a longer and more gradual hike through the next small town of Tapay. It might take an hour longer, but is much more gradual. You can also buy snacks and water there.
Remember to take plenty of breaks!
  • There are many options for accommodations in Sangalle. Do not stop at the first place and do negotiate your price!
  • We recommend staying at Oasis Paraiso Hostel or Tropical Lodge. Do NOT stay at El Eden.
  • Showers are available with hot water while the sun is out.
  • No need to book in advance.

Sangalle is slightly cheaper than Llahuar. Here is what you can expect to pay in Sangelle:

  • Dorm bed: S/15-20
  • 2.5L of water: S/10
  • Dinner: S/20
  • Vegetarian Dinner: S/15
  • Breakfast: S/10 soles (we recommend skipping breakfast the morning of day 3)
  • Beer (660ml): S/12

Day 3

  • Start hiking by 7AM and hike 2-3 hours out of the canyon back to Cabanaconde. Although we expected this to be the toughest day, we found it to be the easiest since the hike is short and done in the shade of the morning.
  • Purchase your ticket for the 11 or 11:30AM bus back from Cabanaconde. Milagro has an office right on the town square. No need to buy in advance. OR if you see a tour bus in the town square, you can ask them if they have any open space.
  • As you did on the way to Cabanaconde, your bus will stop in Chivay where you can buy snacks and pee.
  • Stay awake to enjoy the views at least until you get to Chivay! The views of the canyon are spectacular and you’ll see llamas and alpacas. There are also some VERY interesting and questionable sculptures in the small towns we passed… Be on the lookout.
  • You should arrive back to Arequipa around 6PM.
Arequipa Llamas
Wild pack of llamas!

Things To Consider

  • You should leave your big backpack in Arequipa. Everything you need for this hike you can fit in a day bag. 2 changes of clothes and your usual hiking supplies.
  • Be sure to take out enough cash beforehand. Surprise, surprise, there are no ATMs at the bottom of the canyon. Budget about S/250 person. This does not include the S/70 entrance fee.
  • Expect to pay a additional 1-2 sole tax anytime you take a bus out of Arequipa. Once you have your ticket, a bus company agent can point you to the booth where you pay the tax.
  • We read online that you potentially have the option to take two separately colectivos with a transfer in Chivay and shave about an hour off of your drive to the Colca Canyon. We chose the bus option since we read that price between the two options was similar, the colectivos were not 100% reliable, and we could sleep on the bus and not have to worry about coordinating a colectivo transfer.
  • You have the options to stay in the town of Cabanaconde the night before you hike. This means you have to take the 6-7 hour bus the day before to get to there. The more time I can spend sleeping on a bus, the better my overall bus experience, so we went with the 3:30AM bus option.
  • If you stay in Cabanaconde, you have the option to see condors from a nearby viewpoint the morning before you start your hike. The condors are most active between 7-9AM. Ask you hostel for the best time to go!
  • Get some snacks. Michelle and I are health nuts, so our recommendations are as follows: 1 sleeves of Oreos and Ritz crackers per person per day. Only half kidding. Before you go, be sure to stock up on snacks since you’ll need to eat enough calories to count as lunch on the trail. We went to the super market in the Plaza de Armas and bought plenty of trail mix (yes, Oreos and Ritz too). If you plan ahead, I’m sure you can find cheaper snack prices at a local corner store.
  • Pack as much water as you can, water is much more expensive than usual at the bottom of the canyon.
  • We recommend starting in Llahuar first. The hike down was tough enough. I can’t imagine doing the 4-5, maybe even 6, hour hike up the canyon and back to Cabanaconde after 2 days of hiking!
  • If you decide that you don’t want to stay at Sangelle, you can instead chose to stay at the town of San Juan de Chuccho. Expect to walk an extra hour or two on Day 2 to get to there.

Colca Canyon Trek Cost

Our total cost for 1 traveler to hike the Colca Canyon including transportation to/from Arequipa as of November 2019:

  • Colca Canyon Entrance Ticket: 70 soles
  • Taxi To/From Bus Station: 14 soles (7 soles each way)
  • Snacks: 35 soles
  • Bus To Colca Canyon + Tax: 19.5 soles
  • Pre-Hike Breakfast in Cabanaconde: 9 soles
  • Hostel in Llahuar: 20 soles
  • Food in Llahuar (snacks+dinner+breakfast): 50 soles
  • Hostel in Sangelle: 15 soles
  • Food in Sangelle (dinner): 20 soles
  • Water: 25 soles
  • Beer + Alcohol: 30 soles
  • Post-Hike Breakfast in Cabanaconde: 9 soles
  • Bus To Arequipa: 18 soles

Total Cost for 1 Traveler for 3day/2night Colca Canyon Trek including transportation to/from Arequipa: ~335 soles (~$100USD)

Guided Versus Self-Guided

After running all the numbers, the price between guided versus self-guided tour is negligible. Whichever you choose, you’re on your own for the entrance ticket, water, snacks and alcohol. Regardless, we recommend doing this mountain self-guided for the flexibility. Most guided tours do not even provide the option to go to Llahuar. Without a guide, you can walk at your own pace (no matter how fast or slow it may be) and take detours or rest breaks whenever you want.

For those traveling solo and want to do the Colca Canyon trek self guided, I have heard that you can purchase only the transportation to/from the Arequipa to Cabanaconde for a reasonable price. With this option you do not need to worry about coordinating bus tickets and will still be able to hike at your own pace. Plus, you’ll probably meet other travelers thinking about doing the same route as you!

We made many friends hiking self-guided, and they were all hiking self-guided, too!

Where to Go Next?

Love trekking? Check out our thoughts on taking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.

There is also a ton to do in Arequipa (chocolate making classes anyone?) and you’re only a night bus away from Cusco and the Sacred Valley.

Other Notes

All prices are accurate as of October 2019.

Other blogs we used to help plan our trip:

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