The Colca Canyon Tour – Our Experience and Tips
Most people don’t know that besides the famous Machu Picchu, Peru boasts the Colca Canyon which is deeper the Grand Canyon! Only a couple of hours driving from the city of Arequipa (Peru’s second largest city, after Lima) one can access this amazing sight. We couldn’t miss another chance to hike, so we signed up for a Colca Canyon tour immediately. Here is our story with our tips and suggestions for you to enjoy the Colca Canyon tour as much as we did.
A Bit about Arequipa
Many tourists come to Arequipa simply to visit the beautiful city. It has pristine Spanish Colonial style architecture as well as all of the modern amenities one would like (can you say Pizza Hut and KFC!) It is easy to forget you are in South America here, this city just feels European.
However, once arriving to Arequipa you quickly realise that the Colca Canyon is a “must see” tourist attraction here. Almost every second building advertises tours leaving daily and dozens of people on the street approach you at anytime of the day trying to sell your their tour.
Booking the Colca Canyon Tour
Naturally, we weren’t going to miss out on the opportunity to hike the deepest canyon in the world, so we scouted out tour prices and found that our hostel (Friendly AQP) offered a three day hiking Colca Canyon tour for only 140 soles (about 2.3 soles= $1 CAD) which was a great deal considering it including two nights of accommodation in lodges as well as meals. We signed up without really having a clue of the itinerary or knowing exactly what we were going to see, “it is the major tourist attraction,” we thought, “we have to do it.”
Make sure you pick a reputable company as most of the Colca Canyon tours are similar in price, but differ in quality. Our tour had good food and nice accommodation (keep reading and check out where we stayed on the second night.) Also, ask your Colca Canyon tour company for a packing list before you go.
However, what your Colca Canyon tour operator won’t tell you to pack, vodka! We have gone on enough of these tours now to know that there are always prime opportunities to drink with your new found friends on your tour, and they conveniently take you miles away from any town to charge 4 times what they would normally would for a beer or even a Coke. We always pack some of our own to prevent spending a fortune at these places, and vodka is perfect for a hike because one liter will last both of us and is enough to share with new friends for both evenings.
The Start of the Tour
We got picked up at 2:45am and crammed into a mini bus where we drove for about 3 hours before a quick breakfast stop and then a stop to watch the Condors fly. For bird people, this would be the highlight of the whole tour as these are the second largest birds in the world, they are just massive! Prehistoric dinosaur looking type birds. Although we weren’t particularly excited about this portion of the tour because we had seen the birds before in Argentina, it was cool to see so many in one particular spot.
Then it was time to start the hike. I was feeling confident and was ready to get going. I offered to carry the vodka as my bag didn’t feel that heavy – that was my first mistake, but back to that later.
Day One – It’s all downhill from here
My confidence slowly disappeared as we started climbing down and down and down, it was a massive drop and every step was slippery. Personally, I would rather be huffing and puffing and out of breath climbing the biggest hill than going downhill. Downhill is very hard on my knees and ankles and with the all the rocks it is so easy to fall, when traveling even a sprained ankle can really ruin your plans for a long a time so I really don’t like the risk.
That all being said, I was the slowest in our group. Daniel and I decided to take a short cut – that was my second big mistake. Although the short cut was shorter, it was steeper and I fell backwards at one point and slid down the hill on my butt. I stood up, brushed myself off, yelled at Daniel that we weren’t taking anymore short cuts, and kept going.
After about 3 hours climbing down the steep Canyon we got to bridge and took a short break. This is when I noticed the Vodka that we so cleverly planned to bring, had fallen out of the water bottle holder on the side of my backpack. I am almost certain it came out when I fell as I fell backwards onto my backpack. I should’ve checked then if I still had everything, but I didn’t. So much for planning ahead to save money, I guess it was Karma’s way of getting back at us for not wanting to spend money at the local places along the way, now we were going to have no choice.
Another hour hike along “Inca flat” ground (a way the Peruvian’s describe slight up and downhills, or almost flat ground) and we were at our lodge for lunch and where we would spend the night. The lodge was nestled on the side of the Canyon with a breathtaking view. We were lucky enough that we chose the three day Colca Canyon tour which meant we were done hiking for the day!
Tip, always choose the three day hike! The two day hike does the same route but in a much shorter time. There is less time to enjoy the views as well as the amazing pool on the last day. Trust me, a three day Colca Canyon tour is the ONLY way to go.
We had lunch and then the majority of our group went for a nap. Daniel and I had a beer with a Canadian guy from our group and chatted with him until dinner when the rest of group got up again. We had a great group of people which made the whole trip so much more enjoyable, we even had an older Peruvian lady, who despite the language barriers tried to speak with us all as well. We all stayed up for a couple hours more chatting and then hit the hay.
Day Two – A Walk in the Park
The next day was by far the easiest. It was mostly “Inca flat” with just a bit more downhill near the end. About 3.5 hours of walking and we were at our resort, the deepest point in the Canyon at a place with a gorgeous pool. We had all afternoon to relax and have a couple drinks (Daniel and I bought a bottle of Pisco from a guy with a stand selling random goods along the way and actually got a decent deal at 30 soles.) It was a gorgeous day with the sun shining and made for the perfect afternoon. I could’ve stayed in that place for days, it was so beautiful and relaxing.
The Final Day – The Real Challenge
Unfortunately, the good times had to come to an early end as our Colca Canyon tour guide reminded us of the 4:30am start in the morning. Most other groups were starting at 5am but the older Peruvian lady in our group knew she was going to be slower, so instead of her starting alone we all decided to start with her early and hike with her the whole way.
That hike was tough, it was 4.5 hours of only uphill, and steep uphill at that. Some people really struggled, there were horses available for hire to take you up the hill for about 70 soles and many people did this, but nobody from our group. We walked steady and in line behind the lady, she set the pace and we all followed. Secretly, I think we were all glad we had her as a excuse to take our time because we all were breathing pretty hard the whole way up.
Finally we made it to the top! The lady was so excited, she was literally praying and thanking god when she was done. It was really inspiring to see someone of her age (I would guess around 60) take on such a hike. Not to mention, she joined a tour with a bunch of young gringos and she didn’t speak a word of English, so it was really neat having her on our tour with us. It was also really funny seeing the looks on all the 20 something’s faces when she hiked her way to the top on the Canyon, while they all had to take horses. Good for her!
Needless to say, after three days of hiking you would think we would’ve been tired but some of our group (and even tour guide) met up after we had returned to Arequipa for a night out on the town. Some more good times with great people!
Tips for the Colca Canyon Tour
-You can do this hike yourself, but the tour was so cheap (140 soles) and was well worth not having to map out the route. Everyone we met who did it themselves wasted a lot of time getting lost frequently.
-There is vendors to buy water from along the way, but it is expensive. There are streams but our guide told us not to drink from them. Bring purification tablets as then the stream water will be just fine to drink.
-On the start of the second day you will pass the cheapest vendor (this is where we bought the Pisco) so load up on snacks and water here! He is a little old man with a stand of everything you could possibly imagine just sitting there on the side of the mountain.
-Pack snacks. The meals included are good, but not huge for someone with a big appetite. Also, even if you think you don’t have a big appetite, you will after a full day of hiking.
-I already mentioned this, but chose the three day tour! You need this time to enjoy yourself otherwise it is literally two 12 hour days of buses and walking.
-Pack bug spray, a flashlight, a swim suit (for the pool), and a towel for showers.
-Bring a book or cards or something to do in the evenings.
-Remember to pack a sweater as it can really cool down at night.
-Leave your big backpack at the hostel and only bring the essentials as everything you pack you will carry!
The Colca Canyon tour was an awesome way to start off our journey in Peru, it was also good preparation for the big hike we knew was coming up next – the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu!