Colca Canyon is one of the most beautiful nature experiences in Peru and the second deepest canyon in the world with its 3270 meters of depth.
The lush green valleys and the fact that you might see one of the largest bird species in the world, the majestic Andean Condor, makes this a unique excursion.
In fact, one of my best experiences in Peru was to hike Colca Canyon. We did it in two days with a guide. You will find all you need to know to do the trek in this post.
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About Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and nearly half the depth of the deepest canyon in the world, Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon in China.
The green valleys in Colca Canyon are used for agriculture by local farmers following the traditions of the Inkas.
There is endless terraced land dating back thousands of years, growing anything from potatoes to corn. Among travelers, the canyon is famous for viewing the immense Andean Condor.
The Andean Condor is one of the world’s largest birds with a wingspan of more than 3 meters
What to know before you hike Colca Canyon
The hike is not the maximum depth of the canyon as the hiking trail doesn’t start at the top of the highest peak surrounding the canyon.
You are looking at more or less 1200 meters of elevation from top to bottom of the hike. As a result, the steep way back up requires a lot of effort for most.
There are plenty of travel agencies that offer Colca Canyon trekking in Arequipa. There is no need to book in advance as the tours don’t have a limited number of visitors.
When you hike Colca Canyon you should be aware of altitude sickness. People react differently to the thin air and low oxygen levels. A few days in Arequipa (2300 meters) is recommended so that your body gets used to the altitude before the hike. Locals chew coca leaves which are proven to prevent and help against altitude sickness. You might also get offered coca leaf tea. Don’t worry, the leaf itself is not like the drug and doesn’t make you high or addicted in any way.
There is a fee to enter the canyon of approximately 70 soles. This is usually not included by the tour agency and needs to be paid in cash when you arrive at the canyon.
After the Colca Canyon trekking, you can enjoy a bath in one of the many natural hot springs. It is absolutely worth it and soothes stiff muscles after some rough days. The fee is not included in most tours but is only a small extra that your body will thank you for spending.
There is not much shade during the hike and the sun is rough, so be prepared with sunscreen and cover up with clothes and a hat.
Ready to hike Colca Canyon
Cruz del Condor viewpoint
The viewpoint Cruz del Condor is the main attraction for day trips that take you around to the best view sights by bus. Day trips do not include Colca Canyon trekking. However, all the hiking tours include a visit to the viewpoint. We stopped there in the morning on the first day after breakfast.
The canyon is 1200 meters deep at this point and the majestic mountain walls throne above the massive gap. Most mornings you are likely to spot Andean Condors there, thus the name, “Condors cross”. Remember, though, that these are wild animals so there is no guarantee that they will hang out there. Anyway, the travel agencies know when in the morning it is most likely to see them and they make sure to get there early. As a result, the viewpoint is full of tourists and you will most likely have to elbow your way to get a good view.
Lots of tourists or not, it is totally worth the visit. Both for the canyon views that are spectacular, but also for the sights of the Andean Condor if you see them. Wow! What a creature. Floating around the sky with a wingspan of more than 3 meters, they are absolutely enthralling to observe.
Cruz del Condor viewpoint is an obligatory stop before or after you hike Colca Canyon. You will most likely see the majestic Andean Condor hunting above you.
Colca Canyon trekking
There are both two- and three-day trips to hike Colca Canyon. They are both quite tough as they both make it all the way from bottom to top the last day. The two-day trek that I did takes you along the canyon wall for a long, pleasant walk down to the bottom the first day. The path is not very steep, though there are parts with loose gravel so you have to walk carefully. Also, you constantly walk under the burning sun which can be exhausting.
Once at the bottom of the canyon, crossing the Colca river, the landscape becomes more vigorous. There are fruit trees in abundance, and you can pick tasty figs, prickly pears, avocadoes and more as you walk along.
We had a stop in one tiny village at the bottom of the canyon for lunch before we continued the hike towards the Oasis where we were going to spend the night. The three-day trek stays in a village nearby the first night. The rest of the day the path went up and down along the bottom side of the valley until we arrived at our shelter. This is what the three-day trek will do the second day.
At dusk, before arriving at the Oasis, we observed a couple of Andean Condors circling above our heads. Us and nature. Us and wildlife. Truly magical.
Most of the resorts at the bottom of the canyon have restricted electricity which is turned off after dinner. Therefore, make sure to charge your phone and camera and keep your flashlight handy.
The final day of hiking starts long before sunrise. This is when you will hike straight up to the top of the Canyon on, according to our guide, 3 hours. We spent 4 hours. My knees were devastated from the descent the day before and I was struggling to carry the weight of my backpack. But I made it. And it was the most beautiful part of the trek as we walked above the fluffy white clouds that laid comfortably in the valley reflecting the morning sun above.
There are numerous natural hot springs sprinkled around the Colca Canyon thanks to the seismic activity in the area. And what could be better than a good bath in a natural hot spring after a multi-day hike? I know that my partner and I were tremendously grateful to soothe our sore muscles in that hot water.
Most agencies offer a stop at one of the hot springs.
How to get to Colca Canyon
If you go on a guided hike you start your trip in Arequipa. It is recommended to stay at least a night in Arequipa to acclimatize to the altitude before your hike. You can book your hotel in advance with Booking.com. There are plenty of travel agencies in the city that offer the Colca Canyon trekking tour with a guide. Thus, you can shop around for the best price. Make sure to check that the cheaper priced tours include the same as the more expensive.
The companies take you by bus from Arequipa. It usually leaves at about 3 am in the morning and takes around 4 hours to get to the Cruz del Condor at about 7 am. The bus stops for breakfast on the way too. Finally, the bus will take you to the start of the hike.
What to bring for your Colca Canyon hike
The Colca Canyon hike is not an easy one, so you will need to plan ahead and make sure you bring the essentials to make the hike enjoyable. Make sure you have a comfortable daypack to carry your stuff in.
Here is a list of things to bring:
- Hiking boots (make sure you have worn them earlier so you don’t risk getting those bad blisters from the first use – that will only ruin your trip)
- Hiking pants or shorts
- Hat or caps and sunglasses (the sun is extremely hot and there is not much shade along the trek)
- Sunscreen (as I said, the sun is extremely hot, so make sure you don’t get a sunburn)
- Warm jacket or jumper to wear at night
- Insect repellent (there are plenty of mean-ass mosquitoes at night)
- Swimwear, flip flops, and towel (to go swimming in the canyon river and in the hot springs)
- Torch or head torch (the last day starts before sunrise so unless you bring some light it is hard to see where you go)
- Snack (biscuits, nuts, seeds, fruit, etc to keep energy levels up)
- Water (bring at least 2 liters of water per person – once you get to the villages you can buy more)
- Cash (both for the entry fee and to buy water/snacks in the villages you pass on the way)
- Camera to freeze all those breathtaking views and memories along the way
- Backup battery and memory card for your camera (you don’t want to stand in front of that view to find out your camera is out of battery or that the memory card is full of the rest of your amazing Peru trip that you can’t delete)
When is the best time to hike Colca Canyon
It is possible to hike Colca Canyon all year round, though the dry season runs from March to November and is more pleasant. However, the condors are most active between March and June. Therefore, I would try to make it in this period as it is absolutely a unique experience to observe the majestic creature floating above you.
Also, as the rainy season ends in March, the hiking path will be in good condition. In this period the days are hot and sunny and nights are cool, but after June night temperatures can even drop below zero.
I went in March and the trek was in perfect condition, the sun was shining and we were lucky to see heaps of condors.
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Descending Colca Canyon
Read: 15 Epic off the beaten path destinations in Peru
Be a responsible hiker
Make sure you are a responsible hiker. The beautiful scenery won’t stay like this unless we look after it. Make sure you bring all your own waste and don’t leave anything behind unless you use a bin in one of the villages. Also, pick up any plastic or other rubbish you might see on the way. If you smoke, take your cigarette butts with you as well. They are not biodegradable. If we all take responsibility, this stunning piece of natural wonder will stay just as beautiful for future generations to enjoy.
Further, I want to emphasize the importance of respecting the locals in the villages you visit. Be curious and learn about their customs. It is great to spend money on local handicraft and small local businesses. However, there are many people in Peru trying to earn money from tourists on activities that involve animals. As an example, be aware that a donkey shouldn’t carry the weight of a grown-up person. Even though the locals ride them, tourists shouldn’t encourage to make it a tourism business by paying for a ride.
Think sustainably and make a difference!
Remember to get yourself good travel insurance before you go. I always use World Nomads and can highly recommend them.
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