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If you’re looking for adventure and dramatic landscapes, then make sure to add the Colca Canyon to your Peru itinerary.
This incredible canyon in the Andes is one of those highlights of Peru you can’t miss! Hiking here gives you views that will take your breath away.
This canyon is actually one of the deepest in the world – in fact, it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!
There is one other canyon in Peru that’s supposedly deeper – the Cotahuasi Canyon – but no one really knows for sure. Besides, Cotahuasi is incredibly remote and virtually inaccessible. Colca Canyon is much easier to reach, and you can hike on one of the many trails if you’re up for the challenge.
Although Colca Canyon is nowhere near as famous as Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, or Rainbow Mountain, it’s actually Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination, thanks to its incredible natural beauty.
When visiting the Colca Canyon, it’s best to go prepared. You need to know when to go, what to bring, and what to expect once you get there – which is precisely what we’re going to talk about in this blog!
Let’s dive in.
1. About the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is in the Peruvian Andes. It’s 3,400 meters (11,155 feet) deep at its deepest point, and around 70 kilometers (43 miles) long.
Meanwhile, at its highest point, it’s 4,877 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level. That’s some dramatic landscape right there!
The closest city to the Colca Canyon is Arequipa, which is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) away. It receives around 150,000 visitors every year, making it one of the most visited destinations in Peru.
The Colca Canyon was home to many pre-Inca cultures, and these early civilizations were responsible for developing much of the agricultural technology that the Incas get credit for.
On top of this, the Colca Canyon is home to a large variety of wildlife including llamas, alpacas, and pumas.
Most notably, however, it’s home to the Andean condor, a large, endangered bird that was highly significant in Inca mythology. In fact, the condor was one of three key sacred animals in the Inca religion, and it represented the realm of the gods.
2. Where is the Colca Canyon?
The Colca Canyon is located in the Andes mountains in the south of Peru.
It’s 160 kilometers (100 miles) northwest of Arequipa, which is the second most populous city in Peru. It’s also in the Arequipa region, which can get a bit confusing since the city and the region have the same name.
It takes around three hours to drive from Arequipa, and most travelers choose not to drive themselves. The roads can be a little crazy in Peru, especially in more rural areas, and gas stations can be few and far between.
Plus, driving yourself doesn’t really tend to save you that much money, so it’s easier to have a tour company take care of all the details for you (more on the best tours of the Colca Canyon below!)
3. Where should you visit the Colca Canyon from?
Arequipa is the closest major city to the Colca Canyon, and so naturally it’s the best place to visit from. Many Colca Canyon tours start here, and it’s even possible to do a day tour from the city. Visiting the Colca Canyon is one of the best things to do in Arequipa.
There’s also a small town called Chivay that’s right in the heart of the Colca Canyon. This is usually where you’ll stay on an overnight tour.
4. When is the best time to visit the Colca Canyon?
You can visit the Colca Canyon at any time of the year, but the ideal months are generally considered to be May and June. This is just after the rainy season ends, so the trails will be in good condition and not too muddy. It’s just before things start to get super busy, and also when the condors are most active, so you’re more likely to see them.
The dry season occurs during the winter in Peru and generally lasts from May until October. There’s much less chance of rain, but it’s also when the Colca Valley is busiest, and when temperatures are at their coolest.
During the day, you can expect temperatures of around 50-70°F (10-21°C). This may sound pretty comfortable, but the sun can be really intense and so it can feel a lot hotter when you’re hiking up high.
Temperatures often drop to well below freezing at night during the dry season, so it’s important to be prepared for that as well.
Meanwhile, the wet season, which lasts from November to March, is a less popular time to hike, which means there will be fewer tourists and lower prices. It’s also a little warmer during the day, and much warmer at night – although you will still need a jacket after the sun goes down.
As for the time of day, most tours leave early in the morning so that you can make the most of the daylight and the warmer temperatures. If you’re hiking the Colca Canyon, don’t expect to sleep in!
5. How hard is the hike through the Colca Canyon?
While this is among the best hikes in South America, we’re not going to lie to you – it’s a pretty difficult hike.
There are 3-day and 2-day hiking tours. We recommend doing the longer tour, as all of the tours cover the same distance anyway, so giving yourself an extra day means that you can take things at a slower pace.
Unless you’re a super fit, pro hiker, this is a big bonus because the trails are steep and it can get really hot when the sun is beating down on you.
What you also need to know is that the last day of the hike is very difficult, because it involves climbing out of the canyon. It’s steep, hot, sweaty, and strenuous. In fact, it has been known to reduce experienced hikers to tears. Honestly, you’ll probably hate everything at some point on the final day of hiking, so just bear that in mind.
All in all, we’re not saying don’t hike the Colca Canyon, we’re just saying be prepared. It is challenging, so you need to be in reasonably good physical shape. And unless you’re a pro, go for a 3-day hike so that you can take your time.
Another thing to note is that the Colca Canyon hike takes place at the same altitude as Arequipa, so we highly recommend spending at least a day – or preferably two or three – in the city acclimatizing, otherwise, you might find yourself falling prey to the dreaded altitude sickness.
Related read: Don’t miss hiking the Salkantay Trek while you’re in Peru! It’s one of the best ways to see Machu Picchu.
6. Can you visit the Colca Canyon without hiking?
If the sound of this hike is giving you second thoughts about visiting the Colca Canyon – relax – you don’t actually need to hike.
In fact, you can take a full-day tour from Arequipa that allows you to enjoy the beautiful canyon with no strenuous physical activity involved at all! You’ll spend an hour at the incredible Condor Cross viewpoint walking along the edge of the canyon. There’s a condor nesting site nearby, so you’re likely to spot a few!
Not only is this tour budget-friendly at $38 USD per person, it includes both breakfast and lunch, and bonus stops at the Yanque hot springs and a national reserve where you can spot alpacas and vicuñas.
This really takes all the hassle out of planning your visit!
7. Do you need a tour to visit the Colca Canyon?
No, you don’t have to visit the Colca Canyon as part of a tour, but to be honest, they’re cheap and save you a lot of hassle.
Visiting independently only saves you a couple of dollars and requires you to put a lot more work into planning, which we just didn’t think was worth it. Plus, having a guide with you means that you learn so much more about the canyon and its history.
Unlike the famous Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu, there’s no one official Colca Canyon hiking route with a definite start and finish.
There are lots of potential ways you could go, so planning your own route and choosing between the many different options can get really confusing. It’s a lot easier to just have someone guide you along. Besides, if you’re hiking, it’s also safer and more enjoyable to do it as part of a group, with someone who knows the area well.
With that being said, if you’re an athletic and experienced hiker and you really want to do this independently, then you can – just make sure you’re well-prepared.
8. What are the best Colca Canyon tours?
Full-day Tour (no hiking)
This is a classic one-day Colca Canyon tour that departs and returns to Arequipa. It is a long day at around 12-14 hours and includes a lot of time in the van.
This Colca Canyon tour is best suited for those with limited time, who don’t want to hike, and are okay with long drives.
You will view the depths of the Colca Canyon from above, see Condors flying overhead, and relax in some hot springs! No planning is involved either as your tour guide and driver will show you the way. And although a long day, if you don’t mind having a little snooze in the van between attractions (I’m a notorious vehicle sleeper), this is a great option.
Another plus, is it’s the cheapest tour you can do to the Colca Canyon!
Our Recommended Tour: This full-day Colca Canyon tour is affordable at only $40 USD and includes breakfast and lunch. Its early departure means you will see lots of Condors and have time for the hot springs. The guide also speaks fluent English!
2-Day Backpacker Colca Canyon (only very fit hikers)
This tour is one I would ONLY recommend for very fit and eager hikers. Many tourists fall into this tour’s trap which is that they can see and do the same things as a 3-day tour on this 2-day tour, which is true, but it is a much less enjoyable experience if you’re not a good hiker.
This tour starts around 3 am in Arequipa and stops at the Condor Cross viewpoint before starting a full day of hiking. You will spend the night at a nice hotel with a pool in the depths of the Colca Canyon. However, based on what we saw when we were there, by the time you arrive you’ll barely have time to enjoy it before going to bed.
It is two big days of hiking – so just be prepared! If you like to hike but want a more relaxed pace, consider booking the 3-day tour instead which does the same route at a slower pace (next on this list!).
Our Recommended Tour: This 2-day Colca Canyon hiking tour is $180 USD and includes all of your meals, a night in a beautiful hotel, entrance fees, and an English-speaking guide. It has awesome reviews and a reasonable price considering all of the inclusions!
2-Day (1-Night) Colca Canyon Tour WITHOUT Hiking
This Colca Canyon tour is perfect for those who can allow 2 days for visiting the Colca Canyon and the surrounding area, but don’t want to hike. It hits the top tourist hot spots and spends the night on the edge of the canyon, but does not hike down into its depths and back up again.
It is more about sightseeing and relaxing. To me, it’s the perfect Colca Canyon tour for the non-hiker!
Expect to see Condors, relax in hot springs, explore the town of Chivay, as well as visit Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve.
Our Recommended Tour: This 2-day Colca Canyon sightseeing tour visits all of the stops mentioned above, includes a one-night stay in a hotel, and one breakfast. The $75 USD tour comes highly reviewed with an enthusiastic guide!
3-Day (2-Night) Colca Canyon Hiking Tour
If you have time to go on a 3-day tour and don’t mind a bit of hiking, then this tour is for you!
This 3-day Colca Canyon tour starts very early to allow you to visit the Condor viewpoint at the most ideal time of day. It then heads to the start of the hike which on the first day, is all downhill before reaching your hotel for the night.
The next day, you’ll hike mostly flat ground along the valley of the Colca Canyon to reach your next hotel which has a pool and beers for purchase! You’ll spend the night before starting a steep incline the following day to finish the hike.
This is the Colca Canyon tour that we personally did. It was the perfect mix of a challenging hike with time to sit back, relax and enjoy the views.
Our Recommended Tour: This 3-day Colca Canyon tour is what we did! For only $97 USD, it includes all of your meals and very nice accommodation. While it is a hiking tour, the hike is completed over 3 days it is done at a nice slower pace with plenty of time to enjoy views, hot springs, and a pool with drinks!
Related read: You can check out step-by-step info on our hiking experience as we compare all the types of Colca Canyon hiking tours here!
9. What to pack when visiting the Colca Canyon?
Probably the number one thing you need to bring when visiting the Colca Canyon is sun protection. We’re talking high-SPF sunblock, a hat, and sunglasses – preferably ones with a good level of UV protection.
The Peruvian sun is super strong, even early in the morning, so it’s important to be prepared. Plus, hiking is no fun when you’re sunburnt and miserable – and this trek is challenging enough as it is!
Although we were just talking about sun protection, you also need to pack for wet weather. Even if you’re hiking during the dry season, it’s best to bring a light rain jacket with you as there’s still a chance of light showers or drizzle.
During the wet season, waterproof trousers are also a good idea.
Good quality, comfortable hiking boots are a must at any time of year, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking on uneven ground. It’s also important to break them in before your trip as you don’t want to get blisters halfway through your hike!
You will also need some warm clothing for the nights, especially during the dry winter season. Temperatures can drop well below freezing, so it’s important that you have good quality, warm clothes to keep you warm when the sun goes down.
Thick socks to sleep in will help a lot, especially when you’re sleeping in the oasis!
A trekking pole will also prove very helpful, as many sections of this hike are steep or uneven. The pole will help take some of the strain off your legs and help with balance and stability.
Insect repellent is a must because, even though the Colca Canyon is dry and barren, there are still plenty of mosquitoes and other bugs around. We recommend choosing something pretty strong because, trust us, those little bugs can be really persistent!
Finally, make sure you pack plenty of snacks and water. A good rule of thumb is 1 liter of water for every 3 hours of hiking. Colca Canyon has a very dry climate and you’ll definitely sweat a lot while hiking in the sun, so it’s absolutely vital that you stay hydrated.
You can’t drink the tap water anywhere around the canyon, so you’ll need to start out with a good few bottles of water and buy them from shops along the way, and your accommodation.
There are sections of the hike with no shops, notably the route between Cabanaconde and Llahuar, which takes 5-6 hours. Your tour guide should advise you on this so that you’re prepared, but if in doubt, always err on the side of caution and pack extra.
As for snacks, you’ll definitely need some energy-boosting snacks. We recommend protein bars and nuts, as they’ll help keep you going when you start to flag. Fruit is also good, especially if it’s something like bananas which are packed with potassium.
Again, since there are portions of the hike where you won’t see a shop for miles, it’s always a good idea to pack more than you think you’ll need.
Related Read: For more detailed info to prepare for the hike, check out our complete guide to trekking in Peru!
10. What are the top attractions in the Colca Canyon?
The Condor Viewpoint
The Andean condor is the largest flying bird on earth, and you can see them all year round at the Colca Canyon. As its name suggests, the Condor Viewpoint is one of the best places to spot them from.
Located in the upper part of the canyon, near the village of Cabanaconde, the Condor Viewpoint is a great place to take in the sheer size and scale of the Colca Canyon. Best of all, you can often see condors soaring through the canyon from here.
The best time to visit the viewpoint is early in the morning, as this is when the condors are most active at the site. It can get a little crowded during peak season, but it’s definitely worth it.
Just outside the town of Pinchollo, the Antahuilque viewpoint is less popular than the Condor viewpoint but the views are just as spectacular. You can see the river winding its way through the canyon, and take in miles upon miles of dramatic green landscape.
Patapampa Volcanoes Viewpoint
The Patapampa Pass is one of the highest points that you’ll trek through in the Colca Canyon. As you can probably guess from the name, you can see many volcanoes from the Patapampa viewpoint, including Mount Ampato, where the Lady of Ampato was found. Also known as Mummy Juanita and the Ice Maiden, she is the mummy of a young teenage Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods.
There are several places in the Colca Canyon where hikers can soak their sore muscles in the hot springs. The village of Chivay is home to La Calera thermal waters, which are open to the public and very popular with tourists.
Alternatively, Yanque is a quieter village and has hot springs which you can soak in for free!
Swim in hotel pools
There are several nice hotels along the Colca Canyon that have pools to enjoy. The Aranwa Pueblito Encantado in Corporaque has two great pools and a spa if you’re feeling indulgent. The Killawasi Lodge also has a small but very pretty pool!
Planetarium and Observatory Colca
If you’re staying in Chivay, you can visit the Planetarium and Observatory Colca, which is a great place to learn about the stars and planets, and even get an amazing view of the Milky Way. Naturally, you’ll need to visit after dark, so dress warm!
11. Is hiking the Colca Canyon suitable for children?
The Colca canyon is a very hard trek so unless you’re one of those incredibly active families with very athletic children, this hike is really only for fit adults.
With that said, families do hike the Colca Canyon so if you know your little ones are tough as nails and have hiking experience, you should give it a go. Just book a good tour and explain to them you will be bringing children.
If you are not keen on putting your kids to the test, the good news is that you can still take a day trip to the Colca Canyon that doesn’t involve any hiking. That way, you still get to see the canyon, relax in some hot springs and likely see condors!
12. Is visiting the Colca Canyon worth it?
Whether you hike or not, visiting the Colca Canyon is a super fun Peruvian experience and the views really are incredible. We loved our experience and had such a good time!
Where to Stay in Arequipa
Because Arequipa is the closest major center to the Colca Canyon (about 3 hours away), it’s a great spot to base yourself before or after taking a tour of the canyon.
Arequipa and the Colca Canyon are at the same altitude, so spending time here will help you acclimatize and hopefully avoid altitude sickness. I recommend staying in Arequipa for at least a day or two before your hike.
With that said, there are plenty of places to choose from for your stay. These are my top recommendations whether you are a backpacker on a budget or looking for a bit of luxury in the Andes.
Le Foyer Arequipa – $
You’ll hardly believe this is a budget-friendly option as Le Foyer Arequipa is a charming hotel in a colonial-style building. It’s 5 minutes from the main square and among great bars and restaurants. The real highlight here is the beautiful rooftop bar where you can enjoy free breakfast in the morning or a drink at night.
The rooms are spacious with tiled floors, wooden furniture, and private balconies. If you’re headed on an early morning tour of the Colca Canyon, they also have a great packed breakfast you can take to go. All this for $15-25 USD a night feels like a steal! Grab a room now before it books up.
Hotel Casona Solar – $$
The rooms in this character hotel are like something out of a storybook! Hotel Casona Solar features rooms with vaulted ceilings and exposed bricks made of volcanic stone in a refurbished house from 1702. You’ll love the location right in the heart of Arequipa and the cute courtyards on the property so you can sit and enjoy the sunshine.
You can choose a standard room for around $70 USD or “splurge” for suites that feature kitchenette and multiple levels for only $80! Breakfast is also included along with to-go options if you’re headed out on an early morning tour. Book a room now through Booking.com.
Palla Boutique Hotel – $$$
Close to Arequipa’s main square, Palla Boutique Hotel is a little escape in the middle of the city. The rooms and suites here are spacious and modern. The real highlight though is breakfast on the rooftop (which is included in your room price!) with views of the mountains and little hummingbirds flying around.
The staff members are super conscieious to make sure your stay is perfect. The suites start at $130 USD and are like a little oasis after a long day of hiking. Check availability for this hotel now on Booking.com.
Thanks for reading!
Hopefully, this guide to visiting the Colca Canyon in Peru was helpful! Whether you’re choosing to hike or just enjoy the views from the top, this spot is definitely worth a visit. It’s pretty awe-inspiring to watch the condors soar above one of the deepest canyons on Earth.
Before setting off on your travels to South America, make sure to check out our other blogs on Peru. This is a country we loved so much we overstayed our visitor visas the first time we came! We’ve returned since as there is just so much to see and now we want to share our tips with you.