Is It Worth Hiking Colca Canyon?
“Is it worth hiking the Colca Canyon?” it’s literally the question I googled the day before our hike, as we were not completely convinced and honestly just never heard of this part of Peru. Based on our experience, I can tell you that it is 100% worth it!
We chose the shorter hike (also the toughest), which takes you down the Canyon on day one and up again on day two. Going back, if we had more time, we would have probably done the three days hike which requires a slower pace.
On day one you get picked up around five am and drive through the mountains for a couple of hours until you reach the breakfast spot. The first interesting sight is the ‘condor cross’, a viewpoint above the canyon where thanks to optimal winds, condors can fly undisturbed. Weather is a very important factor at this point in order to be able to spot condors and in general throughout the hike. I would not recommend going for the hike on a cloudy couple of days, or even worst if rain is forecasted, as it will make the walk really unpleasant.
The hike starts around eight o'clock after you have met your guide and split into groups of maximum nine people. On day one expect to walk nineteen kilometers downhill, all the way from the top of the canyon to the little green oasis that blooms like magic at the bottom of the valley. The air is pungent with the smell of peppercorn and lemongrass. The nature is lush, untouched and luxuriant. The water runs powerful through rivers, streams and waterfalls. At the top of the mountain you will see the source of Amazon river, which makes its way down and crosses borders and lands. Along the way, which takes the whole day, you will stop for lunch at a local eatery and grab local fruits which all taste incredible (our favourite was definitely the granadilla and prickly pair). The hike is medium hard, due to having to walk downhill for a long time, thus putting pressure on your knees, but overall very beautiful and enjoyable.
Once you spot the oasis, almost at the end of the seemingly endless first day hike, it literally looks like a mirage! Thanks to the water flowing naturally from the river and waterfalls, nature has been able to bloom into a patch of leafy, green trees, colorful flowers and soft grass and on this natural carpet a small little village has been built. The main purpose of the oasis is to welcome tourists in one of the different guest houses, which offer different levels of accommodation, included within your tour. Our accomodation was very, very basic but considered the price we paid for the tour we should have imaged! To make sure not to have unpleasant surprises, when you book ask the type of accomodation that comes with the package.
At the oasis you will be served a simple dinner (you can buy beers) and afterwards make sure to go to sleep early, as the real challenge starts the next day at four am.
The second day’s hike was without a doubt the hardest hike we both have ever done. It’s not long at all, just six kilometers, but it’s straight uphill. You are basically walking up the mountain for a solid two hours, almost as if you were walking up a staircase. It was hard, really hard, but we managed to reach the top and the sense of accomplishment was very sweet! Even more sweet when we saw a group arriving up on donkeys (which you can rent in the oasis), making us feel super heros for having accomplished the hike.
At the top, the morning sun will warm you up and the cutest lady will sell you hot coffee, tea and cookies to help you regain property of your body. From there, a proper breakfast is served in the closest village and after feeling slightly better the next stop are the most amazing natural hot spring, which we strongly recommend you try. Paying only fifteen soles you can access the pools, where hot natural water, which is said to have healing property awaits you to make you feel human again. There are bathrooms, showers and changing rooms.
On the way back there are several stops to be made at a view point and a llama farm, but our group decided to skip them as we were all really tired. The tour ends around five pm, when you will be dropped back in the center of Arequipa.
How to book
In Arequipa you will find many agencies offering tours to the Colca Canyon, or you can just reach out to your hostel, like we did. We didn’t look into the package too much, so we ended up spending very little (100 soles plus the entrance to the park which is 70 soles). This also meant we spent the night in a very basic accommodation, but despite that, the tour was wonderful and our guide extremely prepared, kind and insightful (you can reach out directly to him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
What to bring
Since you will be walking for long hours and up and down the mountains, it will be hot, so make sure to not overpack your small backpack and really bring only few things and one change of clothes.
Essentials to carry with you are: toilet paper, a swimming suit, a bottle of water, pocket change.
We were told by our guide that not having other simple ways to get rid of garbage, locals living in the oasis burn it in the fields. In order to not be contributing to polluting this area, make sure to not leave any piece of garbage behind you, not during the hike or in the oasis.
The best thing is to carry your garbage back up with you and bin it once you are in Arequipa.