Trekking Colca Canyon

One of the most popular tours available in Arequipa is a Colca Canyon trek. There are options for two, three or four day treks. The afternoon I arrived in Arequipa I didn’t fancy the thought of getting up at 3am next morning to do a three day trek. I chose instead to spend the day in Arequipa and do just a two day trek. It actually follows the same route as the three day trek but covers two thirds of the distance on the first day and the final third on the second day.

It still involved a 3am start on the first day. True to form the 03:00-03:30 minibus pick-up actually happened at 03:45. I could have had almost an extra hour in bed…

Colca Canyon is the deepest in the world and is several hours drive from Arequipa. Our first stop after about three hours was for breakfast. Roughly an hour later we reached Cruz del Condor on the canyon rim, often a good place to see condors. We joined many other bus loads of tourists, lined up along the edge of the canyon with cameras at the ready. On a good day there are fifteen to twenty birds seen. We only saw four. The guides said this was probably because a helicopter had entered the canyon the previous day and disturbed the birds. Helicopters don’t normally enter the canyon but this one had to recover the body of a boy who was lost there 200 days previously. We may have only seen four but they were magnificent. Once again a longer lens would have been very useful. The birds soared effortlessly along the canyon wall, riding the thermals. The thing that impressed me most was the size of the shadow they cast on the sloping canyon rim.

Some distance further along the road to Cabanaconde the bus dropped us off and we split into groups depending on whether we were doing the two or three day trek. There were four others in my group, Rick, Marika, Annie and Laetitia. Huber, our guide, explained the itinerary to us and we set off. We descended about 1200m vertically into the canyon and travelled about seven kilometres before reaching San Juan de Chuccho, the village where we stopped for lunch. The three day trekkers spent the afternoon and stayed the night there. Us more hardy, or foolish, two-day trekkers continued for another three and a half hours along the canyon to Sangalle for our dinner and overnight stop. Sangalle is also known as “the Oasis”.

During the wet season from December to March the terraces are full of crops and the dead looking scrub and cacti turn a wonderful green. At this time of year the canyon looks pretty barren.“The Oasis” is the exception. Water from a geothermal spring above the level of the river supplies a small oasis where there are trees, bushes and lush green grass all year round. We arrived hot and sweaty and caked in dust. There are a few “resorts” here. There is no electricity, the accommodation is extremely basic and the spring provides the running water for the showers and swimming pools. Unfortunately by the time the water reaches the resorts it has cooled from about 35 degrees to only 18-20 degrees. If not for this then “the Oasis” would be an idyllic spot and no-one would ever want to leave. The three-day trekkers get to spend the whole afternoon of their second day here.

We were up at 5am next morning for the eight kilometer trek out of the canyon to Cabanaconde. The trick is to do as much of the 1200m ascent before the sun comes over the canyon rim as possible. Most people took between two and two and a half hours to reach the canyon rim. The slowest struggled out in about three hours. The fastest took only an hour and a half; obviously younger and fitter than me. After breakfast in Cabanaconde the minibus drove us to hot baths a short distance from Chivay. There were five separate pools, four outdoors and one indoors which really were hot – between 35 and 42 degrees. We spent an hour there, two or three hours and a massage would have been really nice. After lunch in Chivay we drove back to Arequipa with a couple of photo stops.

Our guide, Huber, was very entertaining and informative and the whole tour was really good. The first day was very long and quite tiring. For anyone reading this and considering doing a Colca Canyon trek I’d recommend doing the three day one. There are dozens of agencies offering basically the same tours for almost identical prices. The differences are in the choice of operator and quality of services included. I booked through my hostel (Sol de Oro) and happily recommend them and the operator they used (I did email the hostel and ask which operator it was; they answered a different question. So much for my Spanish.)

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