One of the most popular things to do in Arequipa, Peru is to go on the Colca Canyon trek. Colca Canyon is famous for being twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and offering fantastic oases for those who venture deep into its paths. This article will explain how you can take this trek and what to expect when you are on it.
How to Do the Colca Canyon Trek
To book a Colca Canyon trek, I recommend going to the main Arequipa city center, Plaza de Armas, and booking with one of the companies located there. When I researched treks online, they were often double, triple, even quadruple the prices we were quoted at the square. These sites are targeted towards Western tourists and will rip you off. At the square, you can walk around and price compare because even the brick and mortar companies can sometimes have a vast price difference.
My friend Christine and I opted for a 3 day, 2 night trek because it was marketed as an intense trek and the more time you had, the better. There is also a 2 day, 1 night option available.
Overall, hiking Colca Canyon was incredible. It was my first time going on an overnight hike so I had some reservations but it ended up being pretty ridiculous, in a good way. Some highlights included drinking beers with a local Quechua woman, getting adopted by a Dutch family, napping next to the Colca River on a bed-shaped rock, having a (short-lived) scorpio roommate (maybe this wasn’t as much of a highlight as it was terrifying), and finding an oasis on the bottom of the canyon. Here is a more detailed itinerary:
Day 1 (12/25/15) Christmas!:
Christine and I were picked up from our Airbnb at 3:30 am by an enthusiastic driver. Bleary-eyed and lids heavy with sleep, I have no shame in saying I napped all the way to our breakfast. We took our breakfast in a small village near the origin of the trail and it consisted of bread and jam. Eggs were egg-stra.
After breakfast, we headed toward Mirador Cruz del Condor (pictured below) where we waited for the endangered condors to make an appearance. Whether or not you get to witness condors depends on luck, sometimes they make an appearance, other times they are nowhere to be seen. After twenty minutes, we still hadn’t seen any, and joked that they were too hungover from celebrating Christmas Eve the night before (In Peru, it seems to be a much more active and jovial celebration than the States, complete with loads of alcohol and fireworks, similar to our Fourth of July celebrations).
After the condor viewing party, we headed to the starting point of the trail. At this point, people were allocated into different groups depending on whether you were 3D/2N or 2D/1N. Christine and I were placed with a Dutch family while the majority of people went into the 2D/1N group. However, there was only one main trail into the valley and we continued to mingle.
Our guide Wayira started by giving us some history of the area and then we began the four-hour trek to the Gloria Hotel (hotel being a generous term), where we had lunch.
Hiking through the canyon was gorgeous, with mountains rising to touch the sky and endless shades of brown all around you. From some parts of the trail, you could see the tantalizing green oasis waiting below for you.
Here is a picture of where we had lunch and spent our first night. It is pretty easy on the eyes no? More on what it was actually like later…
After eating lunch and dropping off our belongings, we decided to adventure a little. This is also the point that the 2D/1N group separated from us and continued to hike to reach the hotel that we would be spending Night 2 in.
Christine and I backtracked along the trail to arrive at the bridge over Colca Canyon River. Wayira accompanied us and began telling us his life story and how he had ended up being a guide for Colca Canyon. Even though we had completely different upbringings, we found ourselves laughing at the same jokes. As we dipped our toes in the water, he told us why the mountains were special to him. Some time during this talk, we drifted to sleep on the rock we were sitting on, toes drying in the warm, gentle sun.
After we woke from our slumber, we headed across the bridge and along the way, we made a new friend! He was our four-legged guide through the majority of the trail and was a damn good one, correctly leading the way and keeping us in good spirits with his enthusiasm.
After we reached our hotel, we had a simple, home cooked dinner and talked politics with the Dutch family. It was interesting because they knew so much about American politics (I definitely cannot say the same for my knowledge of Dutch politics) and asked for our opinion on the presidential election and our thoughts about Trump (they were not fans lol). While traveling, I have found that people constantly care about what’s happening in the States because it is such a global power and has the potential to affect them in their home countries. In our day-to-day, it may be easy to forget that we live in a nation that’s considered a superpower, but I like how traveling forces you to consider your responsibilities and duties as a global citizen.
After dinner, we hung out with our guide and he took us to a nearby hostel, where we met a local Quechua woman and drank beers with her. While we couldn’t communicate directly with her (my Spanish is limited and Quechua sounds nothing like Spanish lol), our guide acted as a translator and we learned about her life, which was fascinating. As it grew darker, we decided to head back, our guide needing no flashlight as he walked the trail from memory.
So, let’s talk about the rooms. The picture is gorgeous, yes, but sometimes pictures only tell half the story…To be honest, when Christine and I first inspected the room at lunch, it was less than ideal. The floors were made out of stones, so a bunch of random stuff (like bug carcasses) had gotten stuck between them and it was impossible to clean. There was no light and no ventilation. The clay walls were not the most welcoming looking and the blankets looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in ages (we also failed to spy any laundry areas and it’s curious because there are no water supplies…so how do they wash their linens??). I didn’t bother looking at the sheets because sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Bugs were everywhere and I just hoped that none of them were mosquitoes. We seriously considered leaving and trying to meet up with the 2D/1N group, but when we told our guide about this, he essentially produced 2 waivers that said he would not be liable for our deaths…which was less than reassuring. So we decided to stick it out and it ended up not being so bad, except for this GIANT scorpio that somehow decided it wanted to room with us. We ran out of the room to tell the hotel owner, who calmly got a magazine and proceeded to whack it while telling us not to worry because it was not poisonous. Yeah…didn’t sleep much that night.
Day 2 began with breakfast at 7:30 am. We were excited about today because we would be hiking to the oasis. Along the way, we traveled through various mountain villages, some homes nothing more than shacks made out of foraged tin and wood, while others were much more modern looking with beautiful gardens (pictured below).
We even passed through a barren soccer field looking area. Stopping for a break, our guide started talking about these cacti-looking plants nearby. Then, to our surprise, he broke a piece off, and collected a purple residue from underneath it. Apparently this residue is prized for its wine colored pigment and is a common ingredient in makeup. So of course, we had to paint our faces with it.
And what goes up, must come down. (But we ain’t comin down). We began hiking an uphill stretch and came upon this snack store, settled comfortably in the mountain side. It’s funny how even in the middle of the mountains in Peru, you can still find Pringles and Red Bull.
Snacks with a view.
Around 12:00pm, we reached our home for the night, the oasis!!
It was gorgeous, set in the valley of the canyon with palm trees and a swimming pool. Having never been to a place like this, I had to take a pic like the one below. Pretty sure what was going through my head was, “What is life?”
Pictured below are the bathrooms. It almost felt like we were living the island life.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the day lounging around as the hiking portion of the day was over. The oasis had hammocks strung about the mango trees, so we read, napped, and basically just chilled. In Arequipa, they’re known for their Arequipena beer and oftentimes, it’s the only beer that you can find. We drank some of these along with some of the best mojitos I’ve ever had in my life.
Here’s where the night got creepy…As we were chilling outside with a bunch of guides, one of them started getting a little too close for comfort and saying things like, “Korean women are beautiful and I think you have good energy.” Um…
I ended up quickly excusing myself and heading to the main patio area. Ladies, of course creepy guys can be anywhere, but this might be something to be aware of when doing the trek.
Anyways, the rest of the night went without incident and we fell asleep to the soothing sound of a waterfall. Not bad and it was a marked improvement from the first night.
Day 3 started early at 5:45 am as we would be making the ascent to the top of the mountain. You have two options for the ascent, you can either walk up these intense uphill trails or you can take a donkey.
Unfortunately, the night before, something had fallen from the ceiling onto my face and that pretty much squashed any chance of falling back asleep for the rest of the night. Running on little sleep, sore (grad school had left me in less than great shape), I opted for the donkey…We were lucky in that we were able to negotiate the donkey from 70 soles to 50 soles (about 15USD).
If I did it again, I would definitely opt for hiking because it would have made reaching the summit that much more rewarding. But on that day, I had zero regrets, especially after seeing people in much better shape than I dying a slow death while hiking.
After reaching the summit and taking a bunch of pictures, we walked over to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. The trek was now over and we spent the rest of the day learning more about Peruvian culture and sightseeing. I learned that dreams do come true when our last stop included a field of alpacas. Then we began the journey back to Arequipa and were dropped off near our Airbnb. All in all, it was a fun trip where we saw beautiful sights, met some wonderful people, and learned a little bit more about the outside world and ourselves.
While I would adjust clothing depending on the season (remember that winter in the Northern hemisphere is summer in the Southern!), I would highly recommend bringing these items, regardless of season:
- Headlamp (this will be a lifesaver when you are venturing outside to use the bathroom at night because there is sparse, if any, electricity at the hostels)
- Insect repellant like Deet (especially during summer time)
- Baby wipes or hand sanitizer (there’s not always soap)
- Camelbak (when you’re hiking and sweaty and tired, reaching for a water bottle gets old fast. Having a Camelbak made it easy to stay hydrate throughout this hike and hiking Machu Picchu).
You could also bring additional money to buy water, alcohol, and snacks during your stay. Beware that the prices are a bit higher because of transport costs up and down the canyon, but relative to Western prices it is still very affordable.
If I had to do this trek again, I would have chosen 2D/1N trek because it is definitely doable within that time frame, you will save time and can do other things in Arequipa, and you will save money. However, if you are looking for something that is slower paced and more relaxing, 3D/2N is perfect for you!
Other posts you may be interested in:
- See how you can hike Machu Picchu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World
- Cost of Living Report in Lima, Peru provides you with a better idea of what your costs may be in this country
- How to Find the Best Travel Parter will help ensure that your journey goes swimmingly