Many people are quick to associate adventure travel in Peru with Cusco’s Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, however the entire nation is an adventure enthusiast’s natural playground. Consider, for instance, a visit to Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon. Located near Arequipa, Colca (and its slightly deeper neighbor, Cotahuasi) makes for a rewarding destination as it combines breathtaking scenery with an unforgettable hike.
Below we outline all you need to know before visiting Colca Canyon:
– A Complete Guide to Arequipa’s Colca Canyon
Located a short, three-hour drive from Arequipa, Colca Canyon is easily accessible and the ride offers some of the country’s most striking landscapes. Crossing high mountain passes and the ethereal terrain of the Altiplano, the canyon country has little vegetation but you’ll see a few birds and llamas managing to live in this harsh environment. The rough terrain is the perfect place for trekking, hiking, water rafting and other outdoor activities.
Colca Canyon is dotted with communities and lined with terraces and the colcas (storehouses for crops) that give the river canyon its name. These stone reservoirs were left by the Collaguas and Cabanas, pre-Inca civilizations that flourished in the valley around 600 AD. The storage spaces would help not only preserve grains and tubers but also prevent famine in case of difficult climatic or political periods.
Colca (10,830 feet or 3,300 meters deep) is often mistaken as the world’s deepest canyon; that honor actually belongs to the neighboring Cotahuasi canyon (11,560 feet or 3,535 meters). While Colca is more popular due to its accessibility, Cotahuasi is ideal for travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path destinations.
• Best Time to Visit
Similar to Cusco, the Arequipa region experiences a rainy season from January to March. The rest of the year is predominantly dry, therefore leaving a big window of opportunity to visit Colca Canyon. Keep in mind that the southern hemisphere’s winter months run from June to August, resulting in sunny and dry days followed by frigid nights.
Nature enthusiasts and photographers may want to book between March and June when the great Andean condors are most active and visible. With enormous wingspans exceeding 10 feet (3 meters), these majestic birds attract many visitors to this region. The best time of day to catch a glimpse of the Andean Condor is during their early morning hunt when they can be seen soaring gracefully over the ravine as they search for prey. With a chance of luck, this feathered friend will swoop close to the lookout points offering special photo opportunities.
• Best Hiking Routes
The canyon landscape is nothing short of stunning, with snow-capped volcanoes, ancient ruins, waterfalls, natural hot springs, and native wildlife such as alpacas, vicuñas, and llamas. There’s no better way to explore this astounding natural landscape than hiking.
You’ll find trails ranging from easy to difficult, suitable for almost every level of fitness and experience. Your hike might take you as high as 13,123 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, so it is recommended to spend at least one full day in the city of Arequipa (7,660 feet or 2,335 meters) prior to hiking. Every Colca Canyon route begins with a challenging descent that requires great focus and mindful footing.
Along your personalized trekking tour Colca Canyon, you can visit highlights such as the tiny village of San Juan de Chuccho; the Condor Cross lookout, a common viewing spot for the endangered Andean condor; the 6,000-year-old cave art of Mollepunko; the Fortaleza de Chimpa, a walled mountaintop citadel, and thermal springs, where you can stop off and soothe tired muscles.
Kuoda can offer to include this journey in your tailor-made Peru itinerary. Be it a one-day tour from Arequipa, a 2-day/1-night trek, or a 3-day/2-night option (an extra day spent at the base of the canyon), there are about half a dozen Colca Canyon route variations, and our travel experts can help you make the best choice based on your physical stamina and time allowance. No matter which Colca Canyon hiking route you choose, be sure to allow yourself time to slow down and enjoy the view!
– Colca Canyon Alternative: Cotahuasi Canyon
The terrain at nearby Cotahuasi Canyon is more rugged than Colca, making it an excellent fit for more experienced hikers looking for off-the-beaten trails. Like Colca, Cotahuasi offers a variety of different hikes ranging from easy to difficult, yet this region is best experienced through longer excursions of four days or more.
Cotahuasi Canyon is 66 miles (107 kilometers) from Colca Canyon and 124 miles (200 kilometers) from Arequipa. There is just one road that can take travelers to remote Cotahuasi from Arequipa, which takes about 10-12 hours by bus.
Cotahuasi also offers some of the best rafting in Peru. Private rafting tours will take rafters through the deepest sections of the canyon, across incredibly fast white waters, including stretches with class IV and V rapids. Ideal for serious rafters, trips in the canyon can last up to nine days.
Those interested in cultural travel might enjoy visiting the canyon’s traditional settlements. Secluded in this remote area of the country, these communities see few outside visitors and as a result, remain relatively untouched by modern life. One of the most exclusive tours in Peru, a visit to one of these communities is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Peruvian traditions and customs.
• Where to Stay
The majority of Colca trekkers spend at least one night at the base of the deep canyon to rest and recuperate before the next day’s uphill adventure. Sangalle is a popular village to spend the night in as it counts with humble bungalows and even refreshing swimming pools. This is a great resting point for the night if making a 1-night/2-day trek.
For intrepid hikers setting out on a 2-night/3-day route, the tiny community of Llahuar. Just a few cozy lodges are available in this area, but the real prizes are the three, riverside thermal pools.
Though you may not expect it, a couple of luxurious accommodation options located a stone’s throw away from Colca will convince you to extend your stay. These include:
- Belmond Las Casitas
Tucked amidst native flora and fauna, this exquisite stay will continue to reward you with the stunning views that accompanied you throughout your hike. Built using the local style of architecture, a collection of private and peaceful cabins will charm you as you indulge in a bit of pampering. The Presidential Casita includes everything to feel at home away from home, including a kitchenette and lounge area, plus a heated pool.
- Aranwa Pueblito Encantado del Colca
Hugged by the Colca River, the dreamy hotel features a lush garden and outdoor pool. It is the ideal spot to sit back with an evening drink and admire the blanket of stars that light up the night sky. The spacious tiny homes certainly make you feel as if you’ve stumbled upon an oasis. The on-site restaurant and activities make this a memorable stay.
• Packing Tips
Travelers planning on spending a night or two upon the Colca Canyon trek are recommended to pack:
- Wide brimmed hat
- Warm layers for the night
- Breathable layers for the day
- Large, reusable water bottle
- Toilet paper
Packing tip: Only bring the essentials! The lighter your backpack the easier it will be to accomplish this great hiking feat.
– Start Planning with Kuoda
Many travelers agree that Arequipa is one of the most breathtaking cities in Peru, and the nearby Colca Canyon only solidifies that title. An awe-inspiring example of nature’s power, a trekking experience in this ravine will fill you with a deeper appreciation for our planet.
To plan your own personalized trip to Peru, including information about renting equipment, guides, and private excursions to the Colca and Cotahuasi canyons, contact one of our expert travel designers.