DESTINATIONS Peru South America

9 things to know before hiking Peru’s Colca Canyon without a tour

Hiking the Colca Canyon was definitely not on our original itinerary in Peru. Frankly, because we had never heard of it! But as we got to planning our Arequipa stay, the prospect of dramatic scenery, Andean condors and a physical challenge became quite appealing.

We completed a self-guided 3 day trip and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves (minus the muscle pain in the days that followed). If you enjoy hiking and beautiful countryside then coming to Colca Canyon should not disappoint!

Here are 9 things to know before hiking Colca Canyon.

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#1 What to expect

At some point, Colca Canyon was considered to be the deepest in the Americas, until they discovered an even deeper one (Cotahuasi) next door. Luckily, Cotahuasi is not really open for tourists so your claim of conquering Colca is likely to go unchallenged, especially since it’s deeper that the Grand Canyon itself! It’s also a home to a large population of magnificent Andean condors which can be seen during the hike or the popular Cruz del Condor viewing point.

So, is it the most spectacular hike you will ever do? Probably not, but it’s dramatic and challenging enough to make it worth the effort.

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#2 Don’t stress out about finding storage

Turns out, most hotels and Airbnb hosts are more than happy to store your belongings (free of charge that is) if you are coming back to Arequipa to stay with them for an extra night. Other options include storage services at the main bus station (Terrapuerto) or in central Arequipa, albeit we highly recommend asking your hotel.

  • In case you’re on the hunt for an Airbnb in Arequipa, here’s the one we stayed at. Our hostess, Claudia, kindly looked after our belongings while we we’re away. We can definitely recommend staying at her place!

#3 Self-guided vs organised tour

We chose to do the trip on our own mostly because we don’t like the pressure and time constraints that come with an organised tour. Majority of the tours involve leaving Arequipa at 3 am for a 5-hour drive to reach the canyon, after which you will be hiking for the rest of the day. That did not sound like something we wanted to do…

Most importantly, we saw an opportunity to save some cash. The tour sets you back $40 – $50 USD excluding the $20 USD entrance fee for a 2-3 day overnight trip (per person). However, we ended up spending a grand total of $90 USD for 2 of us (More details on cost at the bottom of this article).

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Photo taken at Mirador San Miguel

#4 Be ready for a long ride from Arequipa

The bus travel from Arequipa to Cabanaconde is a grueling one. In our case, the journey took over 6 hours instead of the advertised 5. The main problem is that once the bus reaches Chivay (and this applies to all companies), it transforms from a tourist bus into a colectivo picking up locals every 5 minutes. On the bright side, the views during the last hour of the trip are stunning.

If you’re planning to allocate a full day to reach Cabanaconde like we did, we recommend taking the 11am Transporte Reyna bus from Arequipa to arrive before 5-6pm (two other companies are Milagros and Andalucía). As is customary in Peru, we bought our tickets on the day of travel.

Tip | On the way to Colca, sit on the right hand side of the bus for the best views!

#5 Choose an itinerary that’s right for you

There are many variations of possible itineraries – there’s no right or wrong! For instance, we gambled that we would be able to see condors along the trek so we skipped the 1.5h detour to Cruz del Condor. We also chose not to go to the pool in Sangalle as it was beyond our budget.

Our itinerary

Arequipa – Cabanaconde – San Juan –  Cosñinhua (overnight) –  Sangalle (pass through) –  Cabanaconde

Day 1 was dedicated to travelling to Cabanaconde and relaxing overnight before starting the hike down the canyon early morning the next day.

On day 2, we trekked all the way to Cosñinhua where we spent a night. At 5 am on Day 3 (final day), we started the 4 hour return hike down into Sangalle and then back up to Cabanaconde, in time to grab breakfast and catch the 11.30 bus back to Arequipa. Although tough, we thought we wouldn’t want to stay down in the canyon for more than a night hence this route worked perfectly for us.

Here are two other popular itineraries:

Clock-wise canyon hike 2D1N

Cabanaconde – Sangalle (pay for pool access) – Cosninhua – San Juan (overnight) – Cabanaconde

Extended canyon hike 3D2N

Cabanaconde –  Llahuar (overnight) – Cosninhua – San Juan (overnight) –  Cabanaconde

#6 Watch out for condors

As mentioned, we skipped Cruz del Condor hoping to see condors during the hike. We entered the trail at 8.02 and spotted our first condor at 8.04. Not bad, right? These beautiful creatures catch the thermal waves early morning (8-10am) & late afternoon (4-6pm). Have the camera ready.

#7 You can take a dip in the pool (for free)

If you like us follow the trail to San Juan, at the bottom you will see a small pool to the left of the bridge. We took time to dip our swollen feet in the cool waters and enjoyed a view of the canyon from below. It seems they don’t let the tours do this due to time pressures, but we had all the time in the world. Definitely one of the highlights of Day 1.

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#8 It is possible to find a room to stay without booking in advance

Outside of the peak months of August and September, it is easy to find an accommodation in the various villages of Colca Canyon without pre-booking. This allows you to be more flexible and adds to the adventure! Just make sure you load your Google Maps with some guesthouse options and download it offline.

We had marked in our map a guesthouse called Mauricio & Rufina located in Cosñinhua. They rent basic yet comfortable rooms and the best part is that they prepare meals made with organic vegetables they grow on their farm. We thoroughly enjoyed having dinner with them and learned quite a bit about life in the canyon. We paid 30 soles for one night in a double bed that included a delicious dinner. 

If you decide to stay in Sangalle, we are told Oasis Paraíso is the best place to stay. Rooms start at $25 USD/night. Check reviews and book here.

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#9 Time your return wisely

On the way back, we left our accommodation in Cosñinhua at 5am to allow plenty of time for hiking back up and catching the 11.30am Milagros bus in Cabanaconde. It was tough going up knowing we had a strict deadline but that actually motivated us to keep a good pace. We made it up by 9am and had time for breakfast! If you aren’t confident you can make it in time or feel exhausted, there’s an option of taking a mule from Sangalle ($20 USD) to get back out of the canyon. 

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That beautiful sunrise beam

Cost of Colca Canyon trek without a tour for 2:

2 x return bus tickets (17 each way) = 68 soles
1 night Cabanaconde hotel = 50 soles
1 night Cosnirhua (incl. dinner for 2) = 30 soles
1 set lunch (shared) = 10 soles
Entrance fee (70 each, valid for 7 days) = 140 soles 
Total: 90 USD for 2 people

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Last but not least… Here is a map that can help you plan your own route with approximate journey time, which we found to be accurate:

Colca Canyon Itinerary Map and Distances

Hope you found this Colca Canyon Guide helpful and if you have any questions, please leave a comment down below.

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Self-guided tour to Colca Canyon Peru

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