While you can visit Colca Canyon on an organized tour or hire a guide, it’s venturing down there independently that provides the most satisfying experience of the Canyon’s splendor. 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. At the time, we found all of three blog posts to help us plan the trip, so we wrote our own guide as a way to help all those who come after us. We keep this Colca Canyon hiking guide up to date, checking for and adding the most current information we can find.
This is the June 2018 edition of the guide, its 3rd, completely reorganized and rewritten from last year and updated with the latest information. We hope you find it helpful. If the unlikely event you find any inaccuracies, please email us or comment below the article.
In this article
- Planning your trek in Colca Canyon
- Packing list
- Getting there
- Getting around
- Colca Canyon DIY trekking itineraries
- Trekking Colca Canyon – Day 1: Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
- Hiking Colca Canyon – Day 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar
- Day 2 alternative 1: San Juan de Chuccho to Sangalle
- Day 2 alternative 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Fure
- Colca Canyon trek – Day 3: Llahuar to Cabanaconde
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Planning your trek in Colca Canyon
About Colca Canyon
World’s second deepest canyon, about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon at 3,270 meters / 10,730 feet, Cañón Del Colca is located 160 kilometers / 99 miles northwest of Arequipa, Peru. Named after qolqas, granaries built into mountainsides, the Canyon is about 100 kilometers / 62 miles long. The trekkable portion of Colca Canyon covered in this guide is roughly in the Canyon’s middle section.
While the Canyon has been inhabited for about 1,000 years, trekking here began in the early 1980’s; tourists started arriving in the 1990’s.
Aside from the stunning natural landscape, visitors enjoy watching giant Andean Condors soar over the Canyon, wildflowers bloom, terraced farms cascade down the hillsides, village life pass, and indigenous Quechua culture survive in nearly unchanged forms.
One of world’s biggest flying birds, the Andean Condor is one of the main draws of Colca Canyon. The best place for condor watching is Mirador Cruz del Condor, between Chivay and Cabanaconde.
The spot is easy to skip if you are bussing directly to Cabanaconde (see Getting around). Add an extra day or take a very early, i.e. 1:00 a.m. bus, deboard, and either hike 2 hours or take the next bus to Cabanaconde. Alternatively, you can do this on the way back.
From inside the Canyon, specimens hover in the distance high above like tiny black crosses.
The Colca Canyon area is drier and hotter than other parts of Peru.
Rainy season, such as it is, lasts approximately from December to March, with February being the wettest. We do not recommend trekking Colca Canyon without a guide (or with one, for that matter) in the rainy season. Consider safety, as there’s a possibility of flash floods and landslides, and comfort. If you do come during this period, pack a poncho, water-proof shoes, and an extra change of clothes.
The rest of the year, the Canyon is dry and hot, though temperatures drop dramatically at night. The best period to visit Colca Canyon is April thru June.
Set out on your daily hikes in Colca Canyon as early as possible in the morning. There are few trees or shelter to provide shade; by 11:00 a.m. the place is scorching. Bring or buy a lot of water.
Hiking in Colca Canyon on your own is not only a more economical option, it’s more scenic and adventurous. A 3-day/2-night trek in Colca Canyon by yourself costs a fraction of what a tour company may quote for a 1-night stay sans trekking.
For example, in 2014 we trekked three days and spent two nights in the Canyon for S/255 (USD77.70) per person, including entry fee, transportation, accommodations, and meals, while a popular tour company wanted S/480 (USD146.20) for a one-night visit inside Colca Canyon.
In addition, some tour companies only dispatch tours when they reach a minimum signup quota, so even if you are ready to buy, the tour may not happen.
In short, trekking Colca Canyon without a guide beats the alternatives, particularly if you love hiking.
- Permit for the Canyon AKA boleto turistico: S/70 (USD21.30)
- Night in a hostal: S/10–20 (USD3.05–6.10),
- Dinner or a breakfast: S/10 (USD3.05)
- Water, beer, and snacks can be as expensive as an entire home-cooked meal.
Whether you’ve backpacked in the wilderness before or are a casual hiker, pack lightly and remember to bring these essentials:
- Hiking boots. Not sneakers, not mere hiking shoes. Whether you will be hiking Colca Canyon without guide or with one, the trails are uneven and ascents/descents difficult.
- Hiking poles. Recommended for descents.
- Water. You can buy bottles in the villages but pack extra.
- Wide brimmed hat and sunscreen. The sun is brutal, do yourself a favor.
- Headlamp or flashlight. To access shared bathrooms at night.
- Cash. There are no ATMs.
- Toilet paper. Just do it.
- This guide. Download it to your smartphone/tablet or print it out. There is no wi-fi, except spottily in Sangalle.
Basic precautions for hiking in Colca Canyon are the same as in any wilderness area, amounting to, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Colca Canyon is located at a high altitude. Take basic precautions before hiking here. Spend a few days in Arequipa first or add a night in Chivay. Take it easy on your trek, pause and drink water often. Be sure to protect yourself from the scorching sun (see Packing list above).
While hiking through Colca Canyon, keep to the middle of the path; loose rocks on the edge and uneven hillside terrain pose risk. Be aware of uneven ground on dirt paths. Particularly when headed down into the Canyon, proceed slowly, look under your feet, and keep your knees bent. A pair of hiking poles is recommended.
If you decide to admire the views, stop. If you encounter donkeys, scoot toward the landmass, never to the edge of the trail.
Falling rocks and landslides
The greatest danger is falling rocks and landslides or rock slides. The key is to remain vigilant. Watch for falling rocks and for tremors announcing an imminent rockfall. 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.
If you encounter a trail buried under a small land or rock slide, walk fast over it (a path will often be already made by locals). If it looks dangerous or you hear/see signs of the slide still moving, turn back.
Buses to Cabanaconde (3,287 m / 10,784 ft above sea level), a sleepy town at the edge of Colca Canyon where three principal trailheads are located, depart from Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa.
Bus schedules from Arequipa to Colca Canyon tend to change so check ahead for the current schedule. The most frequently mentioned departure times are 1:00 a.m., 3:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m. (we took this bus on our trek), 9:30 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. Get your ticket early for the popular “normal” morning times.
To overnight inside the Canyon the same day, leave Arequipa early in the morning, as steep paths can be treacherous in daylight, let alone in the dark.
Alternatively, break the trip down with a few hours in Chivay, then continue to Cabanaconde to stay the night there and hike down the next morning.
The trip from Arequipa to Cabanaconde takes 5.5–6 hours, including a stop in Chivay at the Canyon’s eastern end.
One way trip from Arequipa to Cabanaconde costs S/17 (USD5.20).
You must have a boleto turistico to enter Colca Canyon. The ticket, valid for 5 days, is available for S/70 (USD21.30) from red-vested Autocolca tourism agency representatives on the bus to Cabanaconde or at the terminus on the town’s main square.
Colca Canyon map
The network of trails inside Colca Canyon is simple. While there is no official map available, the map below (image courtesy of feeb) was in wide use until a few years ago. Newer maps tend to be more colorful but have the same amount of information.
Regardless of which Colca Canyon trek map you end up using, most of them provide a good approximation of time and elevation changes needed to hike from point to point. If you don’t see distances, don’t worry: they’re deceptive, if not useless hiking up and down the steep slopes.
If you want a paper map, stop by the Pachamama hostel in Cabanaconde and buy their 2015 Colca Canyon trekking map.
All hike durations in this guide are approximate ranges. Your time will vary depending on your fitness, breaks as well as the weather.
Entering the Canyon
There are three principal trails down into the Canyon, all starting in Cabanaconde and all steep downgrades.
- If you are headed to San Juan de Chuccho, from the bus terminus in Cabanaconde’s main square, Plaza Principal, double-back along the main road to Mirador San Miquel where the trail begins (alternatively, shave some 15 minutes off your hike by asking the bus driver to drop you off at the Mirador). It takes 3–4 hours to get to San Juan.
- If you are headed to Sangalle / Oasis, take Calle Grau, which turns into a trail at the town’s edge. It takes 2–3 hours to get to Sangalle.
- If you are first headed to Llahuar, take Calle San Pedro, then Bolívar to Mirador de Achachihua, and continue on the trail past a football field and a bullfighting ring. It takes 4–5 hours to get to Llahuar.
Colca Canyon DIY trekking itineraries
You can take a number of different multi-day solo treks in Colca Canyon, depending on the time you want to spend inside the Canyon. No matter what route you take, your trek will be unforgettable. Below find a few sample itineraries. All but one are loops, which you can take in either clockwise or counterclockwise direction.
Except for Sangalle, there is no wifi or cell reception inside the Canyon. Get a PDF of this guide for offline use on your smartphone or tablet—ONLY $0.79.
This Colca Canyon trekking guide follows Sample itinerary #1 in the counterclockwise direction (this is the best Colca Canyon trek…but only because we took it, yours may be different and even better). Simply reverse the order if you go the other way.
Trekking Colca Canyon without a guide for 3 days + 2 nights
If you are looking to undertake a 3-day Colca Canyon trek, consider the following:
Sample itinerary #1
Cabanaconde › San Juan de Chuccho (overnight) › Malata › Llahuar (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #2
Cabanaconde › San Juan de Chuccho › Tapay (overnight) › Malata › Llahuar (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #3
Cabanaconde › San Juan de Chuccho (overnight) › Malata › Sangalle (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #4
Cabanaconde › Sangalle (overnight) › Llahuar (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #5
Cabanaconde › Sangalle › Fure (overnight) › Llatica › Llahuar (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Hiking in Colca Canyon for 2 days + 1 night
For 2-day Colca Canyon treks, try one of these:
Sample itinerary #6
Cabanaconde › San Juan de Chuccho › Malata › Sangalle (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #7
Cabanaconde › Sangalle (overnight) › Cabanaconde
Sample itinerary #8
Cabanaconde › Llahuar (overnight) › Sangalle › Cabanaconde
Trekking Colca Canyon – Day 1:
Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
The trail from Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho
The hike from Cabanaconde to San Juan de Chuccho takes 3–4 hours and descends almost 1,000 meters / 3,280 feet.
From Plaza Principal de Cabanaconde, double-back along the main road, past a cemetery, to Mirador San Miquel where the trail begins (alternatively, ask the bus driver to drop you off at the Mirador to save 15–20 minutes).
Once past the Mirador, the trail descends gently at first, then more steeply, ending in switchbacks just before Rio Colca. The views put the fear of heights to test and the descending path the knees and calf muscles.
At the bottom of the Canyon, a bridge spans Rio Colca. An Autocolca tourism agency representative will check your boleto turistico.
San Juan de Chuccho (2,300 m / 7,546 ft)
From the bridge, it’s a 10 minute easy walk to San Juan de Chuccho, a hamlet scattered in a grove of trees, providing welcome respite from the exposed hillside trails.
There are a few accommodations options in the village. Reservations aren’t available online. Simply show up (few people hike in the Canyon), or ask folks at Pachamama hostel in Cabanaconde to call ahead and make a reservation for you.
- La Casa de Rivelino. Welcoming, if a little reserved hosts offer matrimonial (queen) beds in rustic, cozy huts with dirt floors. The shared bathroom is next to cages with turkeys, chicks, sheep, a pig, and a beautiful night sky, offering companionship. Queen rooms with shared bathroom are S/10 (USD3.05). A dinner, bottled water, and next-day breakfast, including coca tea, costs S/23.50 (USD7.20).
- Posada Roy AKA La Casa de Roy. Located a few minutes’ walk past Casa de Rivelino (follow the signs painted on rocks), Roy’s is much friendlier, with clean, simple rooms featuring private bathrooms with warm-ish water. Queen rooms with an ensuite bathroom are S/20 (USD6.10), S/10 (USD3.05) for rooms with a shared bathroom. Dinner is S/10–12 (USD3.05–3.65) dinner, breakfast is S/8–10 (USD2.45–3.05).
- Posada Gloria AKA La Casa de Gloria. A popular, busy place to stay in San Juan Chuccho, Gloria’s offers rustic rooms, some with a shower, others communal. Rooms and dinner each cost S/10 (USD3.05).
Alternative: Tapay (2,800 m / 9,186 ft)
A quieter alternative for an overnight stay in San Juan is Tapay. Some 500 meters in altitude higher than San Juan, the hamlet can be especially attractive if your legs are all twisted from downhill walking and want the respite of an ascent to wrap up the day.
The path from San Juan to Tapay picks up behind Gloria’s restaurant. The hike up the Canyon takes about 2 hours.
Download this guide for offline use on your smartphone or tablet.
With its stone gateway and paved square around the church, Tapay feels like an upgrade from villages deeper in Colca Canyon. It’s almost entirely devoid of hikers, even in the busy season.
For accommodations, head to El Encanto Maruya, where simple rooms feature twin beds, electricity, and warm water in communal showers. Prices are comparable to San Juan, with room, dinner, breakfast, and snacks totalling about S/40 (USD12.20).
Hiking Colca Canyon – Day 2:
San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar
The trail from San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar
The hike from San Juan de Chuccho to Llahuar takes 4–5 hours.
If you are starting from San Juan, head along Rio Colca then along the creek to the right, deeper into the side of the Canyon, and keep to the left. After this mild first section, after the bridge the trail rises steeply in a series of switchbacks.
If you are starting from Tapay, take the downhill path to the right as you face the Canyon. The descent is steep and the path winds through many switchbacks, then levels out.
Either way, you will reach Cosñirhua (or Coshñirwa), the first of several villages on the way to Llahuar, in about an hour. A farming village, in Cosñirhua inhabitants seem outnumbered by donkeys, chickens, pigs, horses, sheep, and dogs.
Proceed for half an hour to the village of Malata, where a colonial stone church sits planted into the hillside on Plaza de Armas.
If open, Malata Museo is also worth a 15-minute detour: for 1 sol a helpful guide will show you artifacts of village life.
Leaving Malata, spot the trails from Cabanaconde to San Juan and Sangalle on the opposite side of the Canyon.
Soon the path forks at a small clearing with a cross: continuing on to Llahuar (another 3 hours) and down to Sangalle, visible with its oasis of lush trees and pools (another hour or so; see below).
Trotting further on a wide dirt road, stop at Mirador de Paclla Apacheta for welcome shade and wide-angle views of the Canyon.
Straight and winding sections alternate on the dusty road. Pass the pueblos of Paclla and Pallqa, and, after several switchbacks and bends, tiny Chuwirca. Take a right at the crossroads toward Llahuar.
The bridge to Llahuar soon appears below.
Llahuar (2,020 m / 6,627 ft)
Llahuar is a tiny settlement at the bottom of the Canyon. Aside from overnighting here, you can take advantage of the riverside thermal pools heated by volcanic activity. The water is far from hot but, after the long Colca Canyon trek without a guide, the soak is heavenly. Listen to Rio Colca gurgle by and watch the sun set and rocks roll down the surrounding hills.
There are two places to stay in Llahuar:
- Llahuar Lodge. First in the settlement as you arrive. Popular but food quality and service have reportedly declined in recent years. The dining patio has spectacular views of the rivers Huaruro and Colca converging below. All meals at Llahuar Lodge are vegeterian, delicious, filling, made with fresh ingredients. Living quarters are in rustic huts with comfortable matrimonial beds. The bathroom is shared, but clean and functioning, though the shower can be cold. Prices are again comparable to other places in the Canyon: the room is S/20, meals are S/10 each. Best of all, the family that runs the Lodge is welcoming, warm, and helpful, making guests feel at home from the first minute. Unless it’s busy season, you can simply walk in. Otherwise book your stay ahead of time.
- Casa Virginia. Less busy, quieter, and slightly cheaper, Virginia’s next door is an equally welcoming family business (they do try harder since they are past the Lodge). Rooms cost the same as at Llahuar Lodge; S/15 if you don’t want to go to the hot springs.
Day 2 alternative 1:
San Juan de Chuccho to Sangalle
Instead of Llahuar (or San Juan de Chuccho if you are following the clockwise route), you can head down to Sangalle AKA San Galle AKA The Oasis. Shorter, 2-day/1-night treks through Colca Canyon typically include a stay here.
You can also visit on a day trip from Cabanaconde, which will take about 7 hours of hiking in total and requires leaving Arequipa before dawn or overnighting in Cabanaconde.
The trail from San Juan de Chuccho to Sangalle
Sangalle is accessible by trails from
- Cabanaconde, recommended if you arrive to the Canyon in the afternoon, this steep, downhill hike takes about 3 hours (up to 4 hours on the way up).
- San Juan de Chuccho, via Cosñirhua and Malata, which takes about 3 hours total. The turnoff to Sangalle is a few minutes’ walk past Malata.
- Llahuar or Fure, which takes 5–6 hours. There’s a turnoff to the right before you reach the Malata crossroads, though the path is more strenuous.
Sangalle (1,900 m / 6,234 ft)
Sangalle is basically a resort-like tourist trap. Because it’s easily accessible from Cabanaconde and most Colca Canyon trekking tours stop here for the night, it’s the most crowded location in the Canyon. Book your stay ahead of time; expect worse food and service and higher prices.
The Oasis offers welcome shade in an oasis-like grove of trees, a number of sky-blue swimming pools, shaded in the afternoon, manicured lawns, and outdoor activities like lounging in hammocks or by the river, drinking cocktails, and playing volleyball.
Many travelers reports the place is run down, making “Oasis” a generous nickname.
We do not recommend Sangalle for an overnight stay but if you must: all accommodations options include a basic room (different bed options are available), a restaurant, and a pool. Prices are fairly comparable, at S/20–40, quality varies.
Day 2 alternative 2: San Juan de Chuccho to Fure
The trail from San Juan de Chuccho to Fure
Fure is accessible by trails from Llahuar and Malata.
From Llahuar, take the trail starting outside Llahuar Lodge. In 2 hours, you will reach Llatica (2,220 m / 7,283 ft). Cross the bridge and pass a community hall and drinking-water tap. Cool off in the river before continuing to Fure. Turn left toward a plantation, and up the hill. When you reach a bridge, you’re almost there.
From Malata, walk for 1.5 hours and take the marked trail up to Fure, which is another 2–2.5 hours away. If you pass Paclla, you’ve missed the turnoff and gone too far.
Fure (2,760 m / 9,055 ft)
Similar to Tapay, Fure offers a road much less hiked from other places in the Canyon.
Accommodations in Fure include:
- Fure Wasi. The first option when you arrive in Fure. Basic rooms in huts and a dining room.
- Hospedaje La Cascada De Huaruro. Rustic rooms in huts, located further into the hamlet.
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Side trip: Fure or Llahuar to Catarata
If you want to stay an extra night and hike Colca Canyon for one additional day, a day trip from Llahuar to the Catarata waterfalls is worth your while. The hike is a strenuous, all-day slog; the hike takes 10 hours round trip. Leave Llahuar at dawn and bring a flashlight for the return trip.
Follow the directions to Fure above. After Fure, look for painted direction markers to get to the Catarata waterfall, which is a 1.5-hour hike away.
The hike from Llahuar to the falls takes approximately 10 hours round trip. If you stay in Fure, the waterfalls are a 1.5-hour jaunt away.
Colca Canyon trek – Day 3:
Llahuar to Cabanaconde
The trail from Llahuar to Cabanaconde
Get up early to take the 6–7-hour hike back to Cabanaconde.
Double-back over Rio Huaruro toward Rio Colca. The trail descends gently along the course of the river.
Before you cross Rio Colca 1.5 hours later, take a short detour to a cluster of tiny geysers, if the trail is visible from the bridge and if you have time.
Continue to the wooden bridge across Rio Cabanaconde, and head toward the switchbacks to begin your ascent. The top of the Canyon is 4+ hours and more than 1,000 meters / 3,281 feet of elevation gain away.
At the top, past the sign to Llahuar and Fure, the trail follows the Canyon rim. Stop at the Mirador Achachihua lookout shelter for one last look at the Canyon.
Continue on the road, past an open-air bull ring and a football pitch, both to your right.
Take Calle San Pedro to the town square. You have come full circle on your trek to Colca Canyon!
There is no wifi or cell reception on this hike inside Colca Canyon. Download this comprehensive guide for your smartphone or tablet as an ebook.
Alternatives: Bus or pickup truck
If your calf muscles are more tender than your ego, opt out of hiking to Cabanaconde and take a bus or pickup. Both take the main road and about an hour to get to Cabanaconde.
To catch the once-daily bus, hike up to the main road and wait at the turnoff at noon. The ride is S/10 (USD3.05). Often tardy, the bus will arrive in Cabanaconde just in time for the 2:00 p.m. connection to Arequipa.
On occasion, a 4×4 pickup goes up from Llahuar to Cabanaconde first thing in the morning. The Lodge owner will either offer the option or you can inquire. The ride in the pickup cost S/30 (USD9.15). You may be asked to help (un)load the pickup (our task was bunk bed parts). The view of sun rising above Colca Canyon is worth the labor.
Attractions in Cabanaconde
You can take in the attractions in Cabanaconde in an hour or so while waiting for the bus back to Arequipa.
Cabanaconde’s sleepy main square is the liveliest part of town. Sit around to take in the local life, though that mostly consists of buses from Arequipa/Chivay arriving and departing.
Worth a quick visit is the church, Parroquia San Pedro de Alcántara.
- Pet a baby llama
- Tour colorful crosses in the fields around town
- Admire local women’s headwear
- Sidestep farm animal dung
Restaurants in Cabanaconde
There are a number of restaurants on and around Plaza Principal.
- Las Terrazas. Cheap mediocre eats, cocktails, an internet terminal.
- Sol y Sombra. Traditional dishes, daily set-menu lunch.
- Kuntur Wassi. Hotel restaurant, decent Peruvian dishes.
Where to stay in Cabanaconde
There are a few places to stay in Cabanaconde, including
- Pachamama Hostel. A backpacker classic. Helpful staff. Tour and guide bookings (though of course, you’re trekking Colca Canyon on your own.
- Kuntur Wassi Hotel. Off-season discounts. Clean rooms with logs and boulders fashioned into furniture. Luggage storage. Reliable wifi.
Bus schedule from Cabanaconde to Arequipa
Schedules for buses back to Arequipa change so the following is only approximate. As with the ride here, check at the Arequipa bus station, or inquire at the hotels/hostels in town, or simply wait for the next bus.
- 6:30 a.m. / 7:00 a.m. / 8:00 a.m. / 9:00 a.m. / 10:00 a.m. / 11:00 a.m.
- 1:00 p.m. / 2:00 p.m. / 9:00 p.m. / 10:15 p.m. / 11:00 p.m.
We believe this to be the most comprehensive guide to trekking Colca Canyon available online. In addition to tour companies, wikis, guide books, and Tripadvisor reviews, we researched the information during our own visit and from accounts of those who undertook a Colca Canyon hike before and after us, including:
- Alex in Wanderland
- Arranged Travelers
- Der Backpacker (in German)
- Brendan’s Adventures
- Cronicas de un Viaje Anunciado
- Double-Barrelled Travel
- Four Feet Walking
- Gallop Around the World
- He Needs Food
- I Am Achoo
- Nomad Explorers
- The Parallel Life
- Rich Trek
- Sand in My Bag
- Sit Down Disco Travel and Food
- Smash Adventures (archived/cached version)
- Tales from the Lens
- Two for the Road
- We houden wel wat bij
- Where in the World is Rawr?
Wifi or cell reception are spotty to non-existent inside Colca Canyon. Get this comprehensive guide as an ebook for your smartphone or tablet—only $0.79.