A Guide to Hiking the Colca Canyon, Peru

The Colca Canyon is located right on the Colca River and is a perfect destination to go hiking while in Peru. Hiking in Colca Canyon is considered one of the best options for other than the Inca Trail–but once you go hiking here, you’ll find that it offers a totally different type of experience. You can hiker here with a guide or without. If you have limited time you can easily join a tour that leaves from Arequipa, which makes it much more convenient than some of the other hikes you can find in Peru.

About

The Colca Canyon in Peru is an impressive destination. Reaching a height of 11,486 feet at its highest point, it’s hard not to be mesmerized by the landscapes that the canyon has to offer. One of the most famous images of the canyon are the photos taken of the local condors soaring over dramatic rocky faces and the hiking trails that take you through the cacti and a desert landscape.

You can start exploring Colca Canyon on your own from the small town of Cabanaconde. You can go without a guide, but transportation can be unreliable and time-consuming. Most tourists visit the canyon through a guided tour. Arequipa has plenty of tour companies which will take you to the canyon–about a three-hour drive from the city center. Guided tours most often include a direct van transfer to your hotel and back.

colca canyon hiking

Best time to visit the Colca Canyon

There are two seasons in Peru: the dry and wet season. Even so, you can still hike Colca Canyon all year. The dry season (May through October) is the peak season to visit since the chance of rain is lower and you have a better chance of seeing the flying condors. On the other hand, it is usually crowded and it can be more difficult to get accommodations or to book a tour during this time of year. The wet season (November through April) is a less-popular time to go hiking because of the increased likelihood of rain–it all depends what you want out of your time there!

Difference between treks and tours

You are most likely going to have to choose between heading out on your own or a tour when visiting the Colca Canyon. Also keep in mind that you will need to decide if you are going to visit for an afternoon or if you are planning on a hike that lasts several days. For the actual hike, you will be hiking in and out of the canyon. These hikes can be completed in two or three days if you rush, or you can choose a slower pace that takes three full days to complete. Much of this will depend on your fitness level and how much time you have to spend in this part of Peru. Most of the Colca Canyon hikes include an English-speaking guide, transportation, meals, accommodations, and entry fees.

If you have limited time, you can also go on a tour instead. You won’t be hiking, but it does include additional activities like the Patapampa Volcano and condor-viewing. You can easily go on a day trip from Arequipa if you aren’t feeling the desire to strap on your hiking boots.

What to pack

If you are going on a two-or-three-day hike, you will need some more items than you would if you are simply taking a tour. Be warned that you can experience several different temperatures within a day, so packing for multiple weather scenarios can make the hike much more pleasant. Here’s what you should bring with you when you’re attempting a hike of several days.

  • Day pack
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Layers of clothes to change into
  • Rain jacket
  • Hat
  • Headlamp
  • Bug spray
  • Lip balm with sunscreen
  • Reliable, broken-in hiking boots
  • Hiking poles (if needed)
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Camera
  • Bathing suit if headed to Chivay after your hike

Things to see in the Colca Canyon

You might not experience all these on your hike, but you should keep a lookout for a tour that can offer these additional points of interest for you to visit–they’re worth the extra tour and time at the canyon.

Agricultural terraces at Alcoma

This view point at Alcoma is possible to reach by driving through the Colca Valley, where you’ll see some beautiful desert scenery. The view point is located on an ancient, Inca ceremonial site marked by stone circle relics. Enjoy the views of the overlapping steps of the agricultural terraces stretching to the horizon in every direction.

Patapampa Volcano

On the way back to Arequipa, you might make a stop overlooking the massive Patapampa Volcano. Hold onto your hats (literally) since the lookout is located at over 16,000 feet above sea level. After enjoying the views, you will then most likely drive through the Pampa Galeras National Reserve, where you can spot llamas and vicunas wandering throughout the area.

Chivay hot springs

These thermal springs close to Chivay offer tourists the chance to relax after a long hike (or day touring, whichever you prefer). There are three different pools that you can choose from, each having its own level of heat. After several days hiking, you might never want to leave.

Have you ever hiked the Colca Canyon? Or did you take a tour?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

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