Added by Ian Glass
Colca Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world (... it is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon). So if you're backpacking in Peru, why not go on a three day trek through this natural wonder?
Colca Canyon is an amazing hike and truly an awe-inspiring place to explore... it's just a little tricky to get to.
Notes Before Hand:
1) In the Peruvian city of Arequipa, you will need to take a 5-6 hour bus to Cabanaconde to reach the Canyon. Tickets for the bus can purchased at main bus station (Terrestre). A oneway ticket to Cabanaconde is 16 soles. Early morning buses depart at 1am, 3am, 5am, and 6am. I know this might seem like a gross time to catch a bus, but remember it is a 5-6 hour ride. Once you arrive in Cabanaconde, you'll need at least 4 hours of hiking time the first day... so plan accordingly, leave early and sleep on the bus. I would recommend getting your ticket(s) the day before you set out on your hike. Nothing would be worse than rolling into a bus station at 3am and finding out the bus you want is sold out.
2) This trek is a little different from your more traditional ones i.e. it is less gear intensive. Although I am 100% gear intensive multi-day hikes, there is something to be said about going super light weight. The reason you don't need to bring much in the way of gear is, each small village you visit in the Canyon has a family-homestay or tiny hostel you can stay at. They also offer breakfast and dinner. I know this may be a turn-off to some people because "Why pay for something when I can provide (food & shelter) for myself?" but the fact is you are helping what little economy they have there. I will go over the prices in the daily rundown. Also, if you've been backpacking for a while this gives you a chance to leave your bigger pack locked up at a hostel and go explore.
3) That said, be sure to reserve dates at that hostel (where your pack is locked up) for when you return from the Canyon to Arequipa. It's pretty lame trying to find an open hostel at 11pm at night after you've been busing and hiking all day. I learned that one first hand.
Day 1: Arequipa - Cabanaconde - San Juan de Chuccho (Bus 6 hrs - hike 5 miles)
Arrive at the bus station half an hour early to be on the safe side. The bus will first go to Chivay (3 hrs), where you can get off to stretch your legs and get a quick bite to eat. In Chivay or Cabanaconde you will have to buy a boleto tourismo (Tourist Ticket). Officials with green or beige vests and clipboards have them for sale, and you have to buy one, there is no way around this. The tickets are 35 soles per person. They are square, and MAKE SURE they have a rectangular tear-off section attached for “control” at the end of the hike. If they get lost, you'll have to pay for another one. So, hop back on the bus and take it for another 2 hours to Cabanaconde.
The bus will drop you have in the main plaza of Cabanaconde... and you have to find the trailhead, which is a little bit of an adventure unto itself. Here is the basic rundown to reach the trailhead. Facing the church in the main plaza, go down the road that runs along the left side of the church. After about 3 blocks you need to turn left onto a street that is ‘more’ paved with stones than with dirt, and after a few more blocks you will end up on an actual paved road, which is the one the bus comes in on. After about 10-15 minutes you should pass a large football stadium on your left, and shortly after you will be at the overlook Mirador de San Miguel where there is an actual trailhead sign.
Once you've reach the trailhead, you will descend roughly 3000 ft. to the Canyon floor. The hike down will take approximately 3-4 hours. At the Canyon floor is a suspension bridge. There is usually a member of the de Chuccho community there to greet you, check your Tourist Ticket, and escort you to a lodge to stay at. If no one is at the bridge, continue to follow the path and you will reach the small community and lodging.
Costs in San Juan de Chuccho
Room: 8 soles per person
Dinner: 8 soles per person
Breakfast: 5 soles per person.
Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho - Sangalle Oasis Town (5 miles)
After having a relaxing breakfast in San Juan de Chuccho, pack up, and set out on the trail. To get to Sangalle you have to go through two small villages – Cosnirhua and Malata. When you reach Cosnirhua, the trail will break in two: one goes through town and the other skirts along the edge of town. They both reconnect outside of Cosnirhua. From there, it is about a 20 minute walk to Malata. Once you leave Malata, it is about another hour to Sangalle.
Sangalle isn't so much a town as it is a series of small resorts in an oasis. There are four resorts in total. Be sure to visit all four resorts before deciding where to stay. They range in quality and price... ergo some are a little nicer than others.
Once you have picked a place to stay, you can enjoy the Oasis! There are rivers, waterfalls, fruit bearing trees, and even a swimming pool. Plus there will be people from all of the world down there, so be sure to make some new friends!
Costs in Sagalle (approx.)
Room: 10 soles per person
Dinner: 10 soles per person
Breakfast: 7 soles per person
Lunch: 10 soles person
Day 3: Sangalle Oasis Town - Cabanaconde - Arequipa (5 miles, 5hr bus ride)
Set out early from Sangalle to avoid the midday sun while hiking up the exposed Canyon trail. The path from Sangalle to Cabanaconde is very straight forward, just follow the switchbacks up. It will take you approximately four hours to reach the top of the Canyon. At the top, you will have to present you Tourist Ticket to a control guard. Make sure you have it available. From the control guard, you will follow what seems like a ditch through a cornfield. Don't second-guess yourself and keep following the trail. It will eventually give way to a road the will lead you back to the main plaza. At the main plaza you can purchase a bus ticket back to Arequipa (16 soles). If you know how long you'll be in the Canyon and can stick to a time schedule, it might be wise to buy your return bus ticket before you head out... just be sure not to miss it.
Once you get back to your hostel in Arequipa, clean up, relax in the common room/kitchen, share your adventure with new friends and if you're lucky, they just might point you in the direction of your place to explore.
- Boleto Tourismo 'Tourist Ticket' - Required (35 soles)
- Outfit to hike in
- Outfit to sleep in
- Warm layer
- Rain layer
- Chacos (perfect hike for them!)
- Water bottles (water can be bought in Canyone, but it's expensive)
- Lunch and snacks for three days
- Sun screen
- Sun glasses/hat
- Swimming suit
- Travel towel
- Extra cash (soles... recommend having small bills)
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