Colca Canyon was always at the top of our list of places to visit in Peru. As luck would have it, Colca Canyon is located near Arequipa, where we stayed for a week to attend a Spanish immersion course. One way to visit Colca Canyon in a short time is to book an organized tour or hire a guide. Since organized travel isn’t really our style, we headed to the world’s second deepest gorge on our own to try trekking Colca Canyon without a guide or a tour.
There isn’t a ton of information out there on trekking Colca Canyon without a guide or a tour, though this is changing as more and more travel bloggers visit. We started our preparations with helpful posts from the folks at The Parallel Life and Brendan’s Adventures.
Similarly, there isn’t much by way of maps available either. We used a version of this map throughout the trek (image courtesy of feeb), taking a counterclockwise route to and through the Canyon. While the map provides good approximation of the time and elevation it takes to hike from point to point, it says nothing of distance, which given the ascents and descents is not as relevant anyway.
Trekking Colca Canyon, Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
We took the 8:00 a.m. Reyna bus from Arequipa’s Terminal Terrestre to Cabanaconde via Chivay. (According to more recent reports, this bus is no longer available. Different travelers report different alternative departure times for different bus companies—1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 11:00 am., 1:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m.—so check ahead for the most current schedule. In any case, if you want to overnight inside the Canyon, leave in the morning, as you don’t want to hike the treacherous paths in the dark.
You can either go all the way to the terminus in Cabanaconde and double-back along the main road to Mirador San Miquel where the trail down to San Juan de Chuccho begins, or you can shave some 15 minutes off your hike by asking the bus driver to drop you off at the Mirador.
The trail is a steep downgrade, descending almost 1,000 meters / 3,280 feet in total. The views tested our fear of heights and the slope tested our knees and calf muscles. After nearly 3 hours of hiking, we finally spotted with palpable relief the bridge spanning Rio Colca at the bottom of the canyon.
A tourism agency representative at the bridge checked our boletos turisticos. We followed a Canadian couple with their tour guide and a boy with his sheep for about 10 minutes to Casa de Rivelino, where welcoming, if a little reserved hosts offered us a matrimonial (queen) bed in a rustic, cozy hut with a dirt floor. The shared bathroom was next to the turkey cage, where we also saw chicks, a pig, two sheep, and a beautiful night sky.
Dinner was delicious: beef, rice, and potatoes accompanied by a cold Arequipeña beer, our reward for a day’s work.
As much as we enjoyed Rivelino’s, next time we might try Roy’s, the other option in the village a few minutes’ walk away, to enjoy an ensuite bathroom and avoid the dogs (one was disturbingly sick-looking and foul-smelling and another barked outside our room at night a couple of times). Fellow travelers report rooms are clean and there’s a pet alpaca.
- 5.5–6 hours bus ride from Arequipa to Cabanaconde with a stop in Chivay
- 3 hours hike from Cabanaconde to the hostal in San Juan de Cuccho (we were going rather slowly given we weren’t feeling our best that day and our shoes weren’t really great for hiking downhill, so it could be done in less)
- Costs per person:
- 70 soles (USD 21.55) boleto turistico required to enter the Canyon, available from an agent in a red vest on the bus or the square in Cabanaconde, valid for 5 days
- 17 soles (USD 5.25) Reyna bus Arequipa–Cabanaconde
- 10 soles (USD 3.10) queen room with a shared bath at Rivelino’s + 23.50 soles (USD 8.40) dinner, water, and Day 2 breakfast at Rivelino’s
- Alternative: 20 soles (USD 6.20) queen room with a shared bath at Posada Roy + 10 soles (USD 3.10) dinner + 8-10 soles (USD 2.45–3.10) Day 2 breakfast at Posada Roy
Trekking Colca Canyon, Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar
Breakfast at Casa de Rivelino was promptly at 7:30 and we lingered over our banana pancakes, coffee, and coca tea knowing we had plenty of time to hike to our next destination Llahuar. We finally asked our host for directions and left at 9:00, heading up the side of the Canyon to Cosñirhua, the first of several villages on the way to Llahuar.
At the top of the ridge, Cosñirhua’s inhabitants barely noticed our presence, though they seemed outnumbered by the donkeys, chickens, pigs, horses, sheep, and dogs. We let a man leading his two donkeys pass at the end of the trail where the road began. We both found it hard to believe that motor vehicles operate in towns that likely look as they did 100 years ago.
In the village of Malata, we saw the Canadian couple and their guide heading down to Sangalle, known as The Oasis, probably the most popular destination in the canyon (see below). It looked nice from above, but we had our minds set on the thermal baths in Llahuar.
Trotting on a dirt road out of Malata we finally spotted Mirador de Paclla Apacheta, the signal that Llahuar was near.
Alas, it was about another hour and a half down along the dusty dirt road, past the pueblos of Paclla and Pallqa. At one point the road was under serious construction and seemed dangerously close to collapsing in a rock slide, but the construction workers let us pass with a simple warning to “watch for falling rocks.” Noted.
After several switchbacks and bends, we finally passed through tiny Chuwirca and spotted the bridge to Llahuar.
The owner of Llahuar Lodge greeted us, led us into the dining patio with spectacular views of the rivers Huaruro and Colca below, and served us a delicious vegetarian lunch (all meals at Llahuar lodge were vegetarian, made with fresh ingredients, filling, and delicious). Best of all, the family who ran the Lodge were welcoming, warm, and helpful, making us feel at home from the first minute.
The matrimonial bed was very comfortable for a rustic hostel. The bathroom was shared, but clean and functioning, though the shower was cold. There seemed to be one other hostal in town, but we didn’t bother even looking since Llahuar Lodge had everything we wanted.
Including thermal pools.
We soaked our tired bodies in the riverside hot pool (though not as hot as advertised) as the sun set behind the Canyon ridge.
While we simply walked in during a not-so-busy season, you can now book your stay at the Llahuar Lodge ahead of time.
- Time: 4.5 hours hike, including a longish snack break at Mirador de Paclla Apacheta
- Costs per person: 69.50 soles (USD 21.40) total for matrimonial room, lunch, dinner, Day 3 breakfast, and snacks at Llahuar Lodge
Alternative: San Juan de Chuccho to Sangalle
If you plan on staying only one night in the Canyon, hike down to Sangalle aka the Oasis, as many one-day or overnight travelers do.
From San Juan, go up to Malata and deeper into the canyon, then turn down to Sangalle. If you are coming from the direction of Llahuar, there’s a turnoff to the right before you reach Malata, though some travelers report the path is a difficult one. Many Colca Canyon visitors hike down to the Oasis from Cabanaconde, about a 3-hour hike, and back up on the same day. This requires leaving Arequipa before dawn or overnighting in Cabanaconde.
The main attractions in Sangalle are swimming pools, grass patches, cocktails, and Rio Colca. More than one traveler reports the place is run down, making Oasis a generous nickname.
- Time: 1.5 hours hike down from Malata, 2+ hours back up; 3 hours hike from Cabanaconde, 4 hours back up
- Costs per person:
- 10-20 soles (USD 3.10–6.20) for a double or queen room
- 10 soles (USD 3.10) lunch/dinner (no breakfast available)
Trekking Colca Canyon, Day 3: Llahuar to Cabanaconde
We woke up for a 6:30 a.m breakfast prepared for, if not weary about, a long uphill trek to Cabanaconde.
Over breakfast (pancakes seem to be the trend in Colca Canyon) the Lodge’s señorita made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. One of the staff would be driving a 4×4 pickup to Cabanaconde and we could hitch a ride. We jumped at the chance. Obviously our calf muscles were more tender than our egos that day.
Before we left, we helped unload bunk-bed parts from the truck, and watched a staffer chase a mule across the field and the sun come out over the Canyon’s edge.
We left a little later than scheduled, arriving in Cabanaconde too late for the 9:00 a.m. bus back to Arequipa, so we bought tickets for the 11:15 a.m. bus (other departures, with different companies, are at 7:00 a.m., 7:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m., and 10:15 p.m.; as with the ride here, check at the bus station).
While waiting, we did everything that was possible to do in Cabanaconde: visit the church, have a coffee, pet a baby llama, and hang out in the plaza.
If you decide to hike from Llahuar to Cabanaconde, prepare for a 5 to 7-hour uphill trek. Double-back over Rio Huaruro toward Rio Colca. If you have time, take a quick detour to see a cluster of tiny geysers, otherwise leave the steaming landscape behind and head toward the switchbacks up the hillside.
Once you reach the soccer (fútbol) field, you’re at the rim. Rest at Mirador Achachihua, admiring your day’s accomplishment. Past the open-air bull ring, which should be on your right, take Calle San Pedro to return to Plaza Principal, the main town square of Cabanaconde.
- 1 hour pickup ride Llahuar–Cabanaconde; the trek is 4–5 hours, depending on which trail you take
- 6 hours bus Cabanaconde–Arequipa
- 30 soles (USD 9.25) pickup truck ride Llahuar–Cabanaconde
- 17 soles (USD 5.25) Milagros bus Cabanaconde–Arequipa
- 18 soles (USD 5.55) snacks
Alternative: Llahuar to Catarata
Adventurous travelers like Nomad Explorers take a day trip to the Catarata waterfalls. This is a strenuous, all-day hike, so we recommend leaving Llahuar at dawn and bringing a flashlight. Head up to Llatica and after a bridge take a left to Fure. Look out for painted direction markers to get to the Catarata waterfall.
- Time: Approx. 10 hours round trip from Llahuar
Summary and general observations
You can trek Colca Canyon in reverse order from our itinerary, or combine different parts of it into an itinerary of your own. Either way, there are plenty of options for solo adventures in Colca Canyon—if you have the time and energy.
We spent way less for our three-day/two-night trek in Colca Canyon (255 soles / USD 78.45 per person) than Colca Tours quoted us for a one-night visit sans trekking (480 soles / USD 147.65). The trekking option wasn’t available in our timeline because they hadn’t reached the minimum signup quota.
Otherwise, plenty of tour companies in Arequipa will be happy to take your soles and do the planning for you.
The Colca Canyon area is drier and hotter than other parts of Peru. We recommend setting out on your daily hikes as early as possible in the morning. There are few trees or shelter to provide shade and by 11:00 a.m. the place is scorching.
Rainy season, such as it is, lasts approximately from January to March. The greatest danger on wet days is landslides (or rock slides, as it were). If you encounter a trail buried under a small land or rockslide, walk fast over it. If it looks dangerous or you hear sounds or see signs of it still moving, turn back.
Basic precautions are the same as in any wilderness area, amounting to “don’t do anything stupid.” In addition, while trekking Colca Canyon, watch for falling rocks and for tremors indicating a rockfall is coming. If you do get caught under a rock fall, step away from the trail edge toward the mountain, pull your backpack over your head for cover, and if possible hide under or against a large rock.
One of world’s biggest flying birds, the Andean Condor is one of the main draws of Colca Canyon. Throughout our stay, we saw specimens hover in the distance like tiny black crosses.
The best place for condor watching is Mirador Cruz del Condor, between Chivay and Cabanaconde. With all that hiking, we missed it; we could have fit it in if we had taken an earlier, i.e. 1:00 a.m. bus on Day 1, or if we had added an extra day.
No matter, the sheer scenic beauty of the Canyon, punctuated by wildflowers and Peruvian village life, provides plenty of marvels to sate the soul.
We wrote and published the original version of this guide to trekking Colca Canyon without a guide or a tour after our visit in May 2014. The article has been one of our most popular ones in terms of hits from searches.
Back in 2014, we found all of three blog posts to help us plan the trip. Since then, many other travelers trekked the Canyon without a guide and wrote about it (see comments below, which we carried over from the original post, and those on the post at Parallel Life).
For these reasons, we updated our guide to trekking Colca Canyon without a guide or a tour with the most current information we could find, current exchange rates (it’s cheaper these days), and we also added sections based on other travelers’ experiences. We link to our sources throughout the guide wherever applicable. Here is the full list, with our utmost gratitude and congratulations on the trek well done and documented:
- Brendan’s Adventures
- Double-Barrelled Travel
- Nomad Explorers
- The Parallel Life
- Smash Adventures (archived/cached version)
- Two for the Road
- We houden wel wat bij
- Where in the World is Rawr?
- Der Backpacker (in German)