A blog post in English! We recently did a three-day hike through the Colca Canyon by ourselves, and were inspired to write a blog post about it because we thought we could give some helpful advice based on our experiences.
A hike through the Colca Canyon is one of the most popular tourist activities around Arequipa, and there are more than enough tour agencies to choose from if you don’t feel like doing it yourself. However, it is actually fairly easy to just go without a guide. It might save you some money and it sure was an adventure for us!
*Disclaimer: we’re just two people writing about our experiences. We’re not hikers, and it was a fairly heavy trip for us. Although the area is quite safe, there is always the risk of slipping and falling, so be careful and notify people that you will be in the Colca Canyon.*
Step 1: Preparation.
We got a free map at iPeru, located opposite the cathedral on Plaza de Armas in Arequipa. This map, like the other maps that seem to be out there, is not to scale and not technical, but gives a nice overview of the towns in the canyon. You could use it to get a rough idea of where you want to go.
Step 2: Getting there.
We took a public bus to Cabanaconde (6 hours), which left from the central bus station (Terminal Terrestre). When we went, the buses that went all the way to Cabanaconde left at 1:00, 3:00, and 11:00 a.m.. Of course, this is subject to change. We bought a ticket the day before we wanted to leave, but I did not get the impression that this was necessary. If you want to hike down the canyon on the same day, you will want to take an early bus (more on this later). If you’re fine with spending the night in Cabanaconde, the 11 a.m. is great (beautiful views on the way).
Price: 17 soles one way (per person).
Step 3: Hiking down.
We opted to follow the route from the Parallel Life, so our first stop was San Juan de Chuccho. We had slightly miscalculated the time it would take to get down there, and since our bus arrived late (17:10), we ended up spending almost 1,5 hours hiking in the dark. I strongly recommend that you do not do this. Let us be the idiots who made this mistake so you don’t have to. In total, it took us 3 hours to get from Cabanaconde all the way down to the bridge. You just walk back to the road that the bus came in on, or you could ask the bus driver to drop you off at mirador San Miguel. If you walk, you will see a weird-shaped grey building on your left, after which there is a dirt road that splits off from the main road. This road leads you past a football stadium on your left and past a look-out point, after which the trail goes down. There were only a couple of forks, two of which were marked ‘no entry’, and one of which thoroughly confused us (it was dark). It turned out both roads at this fork come together again later, so don’t sweat. DO NOT TRUST GOOGLE MAPS. We had downloaded a map of the area, but it only caused us stress as it said there was a fork where there was none and it had placed the town far too much west.
Step 4: The first night.
During our nightly adventure, we had noticed a red-and-white blinking light on the opposite side of the canyon. This turned out to be Roy, who was nice enough to also pick us up from the bridge. To be fair, he thought we were two different people who had reserved a stay at his place, but still. From the bridge it was about a 20 minute walk to Posada Roy, where we spent the night. They were very nice people, the room was clean, the shower had lukewarm water (we’ve had a lot worse), and they have a pet alpaca! They were also nice enough to make us dinner and inquire at what time we wanted breakfast.
Prices at Posada Roy:
Room with a matrimonial (queen) bed and private bath: 20 soles per person.
Single bed in room with shared bath: 10 soles per person.
Dinner (tea, soup and main – in our case chicken, rice, and fries): 10 soles per person.
Breakfast 1 (tea/coffee, 2 fluffy pancakes, butter, jam, scrambled eggs): 8 soles.
Breakfast 2 (the above + fresh fruit juice): 10 soles.
Step 5: Hiking to Sangalle.
To get to Sangalle from San Juan you’ll need to pass the towns of Cosñirhua and Malata. There seem to be two ways to get to Cosñirhua, the one mentioned on the Parallel Life, and one that goes up and then straight. We opted to take this latter ‘easier’ route, but ended up getting a little bit lost – I think. Either way, if you don’t want to accidentily walk halfway to Tapay it’s probably best to take the other route, or ask very clear directions. From Cosñirhua it’s just straight to Malata, and you follow the same road onwards. A little outside of Malata you will see what looks like some sort of look-out point on your left. There is no sign, but it’s a kind of platform. The trail to Sangalle leads down from there. There is a trail starting right after/next to the platform, if you follow the road, and a trail starting from the platform when you walk on it. I believe they go the same way, but we took the one next to it. About half way we came across a guy selling drinks and bananas, and he confirmed to us that this was indeed the trail to Sangalle (we weren’t completely sure because there are no signs anywhere).
Step 6: The second night.
In Sangalle there are four places to spend the night. We compared three of them. The first one (Eden) did not really want to negotiate with us – he offered us a room with shared bathroom for 15 soles per person. After we said we wanted to compare he sent us all the way back on the trail and up another path, while we later found out that there were just stairs that we could have taken. In other words, we thought he was an asshole so we certainly weren’t going back there. At the second place (Oasis Paraiso) the owner agreed to 10 soles per person, but when we were in the room we noticed a stain on the sheets. Could have been toothpaste, could have been sperm, but either way the sheets were definitely not washed. At the third place (something with Ciel – Ciel Azul?, anyway the one most western oriented, their sign says they rent mules), finally, they offered us 10 soles per person for the room and agreed to serve us lunch in 20 minutes (Paraiso said it was too late for lunch, so we were happy). No lock on the door, but we seemed to be the only people staying there. We enjoyed the pool for a bit and had dinner at 7, after which we paid and went to bed.
Single bed in double room with shared bath: 10 soles per person.
Lunch (soup and rice with veggies): 10 soles per person.
Dinner (soup and rice with different veggies): 10 soles per person.
They did not serve breakfast, but luckily we had brought some bread and muesli bars.
Step 7: Hiking up.
We were up at 5:30 and out on the trail by 6:00. We were not the only ones. In fact, so far, the only people we had run into were locals, but on the way up we met many other backpackers. As mentioned in other blogs, the road is very easy – you just go up. There were some forks, but they all seemed to come together again. It took us about 3 hours to climb all the way to the top (I’m quite proud of this considering we’re Dutch and not in very good shape). After that, it’s about a 15-20 minute walk to the center of Cabanaconde.
Step 8: Getting out.
When we got to Cabanaconde, the 9:00 a.m. public bus to Arequipa had just left. There were public buses at 7:00, 9:00, 11:30, and later in the afternoon. We waited with buying a ticket, because we wanted to check out the tourist buses. There were two of those parked in the plaza, but unfortunately they were both full with people who had booked a tour. We waited an hour, bought a ticket for the public bus, and waited another hour. In those two hours no other tourist buses showed up, and the public bus was half-full when we bought a ticket at 10:30 (low season!).
Price: 17 soles per person.
– Ask the way, a lot. There are no signs anywhere as far as we could see. In fact, I really wonder what they do with the 70 soles you have to pay because there was also abundant trash on the trail (seriously, who does that? Just carry your trash out, or at least until the next village/trashcan).
– We were super happy with our water filter, as water is crazy expensive down in the canyon.
– It’s also advisable to bring some snacks, and definitely a flashlight.
– If you’re up for hiking a little bit more than the route that we did, we would advise you to skip Sangalle and walk onwards to Llahuar and Fure, which are supposed to be really nice. The reason we say this is because Sangalle itself is not super interesting, and all the ‘resorts’ there are quite run-down.
– If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
Total costs for us:
Snacks and bread: 5 soles.
Bus to Cabanaconde: 17 soles x 2.
Bed at Roy’s: 20 soles x 2.
Dinner at Roy’s: 10 soles x 2.
Breakfast at Roy’s: 10 + 8 soles.
Inka Cola (0.5L) bought in Malata: 3.50 soles.
Beers bought from man halfway down to Sangalle: 5 soles x 2.
Lunch in Sangalle: 10 soles x 2.
Dinner in Sangalle: 10 soles x 2.
Bed in Sangalle: 10 soles x 2.
Breakfast in Cabanaconde: 5 soles x 2.
2 bananas bought in Cabanaconde: 1 sol.
Bus to Arequipa: 17 soles x 2.
Tourist boleto: 70 soles x 2.
Total: 375,50 = 187,75 soles per person.