Majestic condors, breathtaking scenery and one of the most exhausting trails we hiked so far. These brief words are the best description of Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world.
This time we’ll make it
Our time in Peru was getting close to the end. However, we still had a few places that we really wanted to visit. Among them was the Colca Canyon. This is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and a Polish group contributed to its discovery.
In 1981, a kayak expedition under the leadership of Jerzy Majchrzyk aimed to cross throughout the canyon along the Cabanaconde river. Despite the difficulties they succeeded, which gave them an entry in the Guinness Book of Records couple years later.
Colca Canyon is more than twice deeper than the Grand Canyon in the United States. Grand Canyon made a great impression on us, but we didn’t have enough time to go hiking back then. Therefore, this time we simply couldn’t miss the chance. Eager the unforgettable hike, probably not quite aware of how exhausting it will be, we went on a trip to the Colca Canyon.
When regular people sleep…
Arequipa was the last place from which we could do a trip to the canyon. Initially, we wanted to organize everything on our own, but constantly worrying to be everywhere on time got us slightly tired. That’s why we decided to buy an organized tour with a proper guide. We got it from a travel agent who was a friend with the owner of our hostel, and at a very affordable price.
Minibus was supposed to start picking people from hostels from 3:00 at night. At our place – La Casa de Chamo was supposed to be around 3:30. We did wait until 4:45 and got quite nervous. We wanted to give up, ask for our money back and go back to sleep… and then we heard the honking. Irritated and tired of waiting, but also relieved, we took the last two places in a tight bus and finally hit the road.
Cruz del Condor
Except for two short stops – for breakfast and to buy tickets for the canyon – the first interesting point of our trip was a viewpoint called Cruz del Condor. Located 1200 meters above the bottom of the canyon, it’s the perfect place to enjoy the view of majestic condors soaring over the valleys.
Condors are the largest birds in the world. Often called Eternity Bird, due to the length of life, which is an average of 60-70 years. They’re under strict protection because of the risk of extinction.
Unfortunately, despite looking for them for almost an hour, we didn’t see any. Apparently at the end of November the air is still too cold in the morning for the condors to glide up high. But we could not wait any longer, because that’s the characteristic of organized yours – to do and see everything we have to stick to the plan.
On the trail
From the Cruz del Condor our bus headed toward Cabanaconde. However, we did not get to the town itself – the driver dropped us off on a hill few kilometers from it, close to the viewpoint of San Miguel. From here, around 10:15 AM, we started our hike to the Sangalle Oasis, which was our goal that day.
Only after getting on the trail we could finally take a look at the views, admire landscapes and try to grasp the greatness of the Colca Canyon with our own eyes. It is impossible to describe in simple words how impressive is the canyon when viewed from different perspectives – when you descend down and then climb back up the hill. How deceiving is the thought that goal is so close, because all the time you see it… But after more than two hours of hiking you’re only on the bridge over the river Cabanaconde and the end is still a long way to go.
Many times we stopped to look at the canyon, sometimes take pictures or just relax. At the beginning we were accompanied by the dog. It was lying all alone on a rock somewhere halfway up the canyon, and whimpered. We called him to go with us and accompanied us to the river. We even named the dog Rodrigo – it sounded like a perfect fit and – funny – he did react to the name.
The entire route to the oasis took us a little more than 6 hours. Along the way we passed three villages, and in one of them we ate lunch. Some people who booked the longer trip variant stayed here for the night. When finally we got to the oasis we were a lot more than happy!
Sangalle – an oasis of peace
Although the cottages (a big word) were small, completely without electricity and with permanently draped windows, and besides the bed there was nothing in them, we still were relieved and happily dropped our backpacks. Although the toilets and showers left a lot to be desired, but this time we didn’t bother to have only cold water and no light. But the large swimming pool with fountains was a dream come true for relaxing after such a busy day.
Bath, beer, nice conversation with other tourists and even edible dinner “a la spaghetti” 🙂 That’s how the rest of the afternoon and evening passed for us – just resting and relaxing before a strenuous climb next morning.
Intense second day
We set off early in the morning for the return climb – around 4:30 AM. Our guide/joker assured us all that we have only to climb only 500 meters up. In fact, it was 1300 meters of, and it took us 3 hours. We were so tired that we didn’t even have enough strength to take pictures. There were moments when we thought that we might drop dead… But we made it! And words cannot express how much satisfaction we felt standing on a vantage point at the end of the hike.
Once all of our group reached the summit and caught their breaths after climbing, we took the path across the fields to the village, where in one of the hostels we had breakfast. After breakfast, the bus was waiting to hit the road to the other attractions. It was on the bus when we saw the first condor soaring over the Colca Canyon. Amazing view! It lasted merely a moment before it flew somewhere beyond our reach, but when we got to the next vantage point another one flew just over our heads. This time we had more time to admire the Eternity Bird.
Another place that we visited on the second day were hot springs of La Calera, near the village of Chivay. We didn’t feel like soaking in hot water on a hot day, so we did just walk around. From there, on the way to dinner, we drove through a village (probably Yamgue) which, the guide said, has “a beautiful church”. We had to trust his words, because our bus did just a lap around the main square, without even stopping 🙂
The last place we visited during that trip was a viewpoint of volcanoes and volcanic mountain range in the central Andes. Located at an altitude of 4910 m.a.s.l. mirador has become the highest place on earth where we were standing so far 😉 We got a bit chilly here due to sudden temperature change (because of the altitude)… But it was worth it as the views of the volcanoes, including the active Sabancayo, were quite impressive.
Nice “addition” on the way back to Arequipa was that we saw Andean vicuña. These living in the wild animals are related to llamas and is commonly assumed that domesticated alpacas originated from them. Our untrained eyes couldn’t really tell the difference between vicuñas and alpacas. Still, it was fun to see live wild animals that are on the coat of arms of Peru.
- Our trekking in the Colca canyon was organized entirely by the travel agency. We do not know the name of it, because everything was organized by Chamo, the owner of the hostel where we were staying in Arequipa. We paid a total of 260 PEN for two people (77 USD). The price included transfers, night in the oasis, meals and guide. It was the most affordable offer from all we’ve found.
- Almost all travel agencies in Arequipa, Puno, Chivay (the largest city in the valley of the Colca) and Cabanaconde (the town closest to the canyon) have Colca Canyon trip in their folders. Usually, prices depend on the type and length of trip. Examples tours and loads of interesting information about the canyon can be found at the website of Pachamama Home hostel from Cabanaconde.
- You can of course go trekking on your own. Just get to Cabanaconde with a local bus (collectivo) and from there take the hiking trail. That’s how our favorite travelers, whose adventures we enjoy to follow, did it- TropiMy Przygody. You can find their post about trekking in Canyon Colca on their own on their blog (Polish)
- Canyon map with trekking trails marked can be found here.
- Entrance ticket to the Colca Canyon costs 70 PEN (21 USD). It is worth remembering, that when organizing the trip on your own you will need to purchase a ticket before heading out on the trail – at the hostel or at a checkpoint near the view points along the route of the bus.
- On the way back from the oasis you can take a ride on a donkey. This is a good (yet not comfortable) option for people who will lose their enthusiasm when they’ll see the front of almost vertical wall of the canyon. Whenever we took a short break, immediately from behind the corner a donkey caravan appeared, with the owner offering a ride to the top, like he was not believing we could make it to the top.
- And for those interested in the hot springs near Chivay – a ticket to the thermal baths of La Calera costs 15 PEN (4,50 USD). Unfortunately, there are no discounted tickets.