Colca 4 Ways Hero 3200.1000

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO VISIT COLCA CANYON – 5 WAYS TO SUIT EVERY TRAVELLER

Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, reaching a depth of 3,400m at its lowest point - almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Trekking is the most popular option for seeing the canyon but if you don’t have the best hiking legs then we’ve also listed alternative options to suit every backpackers need.

HOW TO VISIT COLCA CANYON

Colca Canyon is approximately a four-hour drive outside of the city of Arequipa.

 

The most common way to visit is via a tour as it includes transportation there and back. Most tours will be a single day whereas guided treks can last anything from 2 days to 4 depending on the type of tour you book with.

 

Along with tours, we’ve provided three other options which you might consider whilst visiting Arequipa.  The five ways are:

 

  • Guided single day or two-day tour
  • Guided Trek (2 days)
  • Self-Guided Trek (2-4 days)
  • Scooter rental
  • Motorbike tour

OPTION 1: GUIDED TOUR OF COLCA CANYON

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
CheapA lot of time on transport
Great if you don't like hikingYou don't go into the canyon

If you only have one day spare to visit the canyon then a guided tour is the best option.

 

The majority of tours pick you up between 3-4 AM due to the long drive to the canyon from Arequipa.

 

The tour will include a visit to Mirador Cruz Del Condor, a picturesque observation deck looking down into the valley and if you are lucky, you will see condors floating majestically on the updrafts of the canyon. You will also visit other places of interest around the canyon and have lunch in the town of Chivay. Tours should return to Arequipa around 5-6 PM.

 

Get Your Guide has a one day tour here to give you an idea. The prices above are guidelines and give you an idea of what to expect from the tours. But as ever we recommend booking tours in person rather than online as prices are far cheaper.

 

The two-day tour provides accommodation at the town of Chivay and gives you more time at the sites, spread out over two days.

 

Note that neither the one nor two-day tour goes into the canyon, you will only visit viewpoints and sights along its edge. If you want to go down to the bottom you will need to go on a trek.

OPTION 2: GUIDED TREK INTO COLCA CANYON

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Actually go in to the canyonThe trek is difficult
Stay overnight at the oasisNot as much freedom as a
self-guided trek
Great experience if you
love trekking
-
Meals, transport and
accomodation all organised
for you
-

There are two options for completing the trek, one is to do a guided tour, the other is to do it on your own.

 

We’ve gone into a deep dive comparing the two in our blog post here, however, below we’ll give the top pros and cons of each.

 

Trekking Colca Canyon is the only way to get into and to the bottom of the canyon. Because of this, treks are a minimum of 2 days. Going into the canyon is beneficial for several reasons. The sights along the route are stunning as you stand at the edge of the canyon looking down. 

 

Once you reach the bottom, relaxing by the pool in the oasis filled by waterfalls is a treat at the end of a hard day. And watching the stars in all their glory at night in the pitch blackness of the canyon tops it all off.

 

As we mentioned it’s a difficult trek but once you’ve completed it there’s a great sense of achievement at the end.

 

Similarly to the tours above, your life will be made easy through a guided trek. Pick up, again, is between 3-4 AM. The early start is required to complete a long first day of walking. This first day is spent walking down into the canyon floor. After crossing the River Colca, you’ll have lunch in San Juan de Chuccho before finishing the day walking to Sangalle and the serenity of the oasis.

 

Another early start awaits you as you look to climb the canyon before the heat of the day strikes. It’s a hard slog up the canyon, hiking c.1,000m up to Cabanaconde where you’ll have breakfast.

 

After this you’ll be picked up by your bus and take a scenic tour back to Arequipa, stopping off at hot springs as well as viewpoints looking out onto the epic volcanoes surrounding the city.

 

The tour should cost between £20-30 ($30-40) when booked in town. You’ll also need to pay an extra 70 soles (£15/$20) park entrance fee. The best place to book the tour is in the Plaza de Armas but make sure you haggle on price.

OPTION 3: SELF-GUIDED TREK INTO COLCA CANYON

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Freedom to dictate your scheduleMore admin to organise
Can stay in the canyon longerA bit more expensive compared
to a guided trek

This option is more of an adventure.

 

You will get all the benefits of staying in the canyon such as spending time at the oasis and seeing the stars, with the added minor difficulties of arranging transport and accommodation yourself.

 

You’ll need to get a bus to Cabanaconde where you can start a host of treks depending on what you’d like to see but more importantly time.

 

We’d recommend taking the bus in the morning before starting the trek and spending an extra night in the canyon to make the most of the experience and not have to get up at stupid o’clock each day. We haven’t done this ourselves but you can check out Along Dusty Roads blog for self guided trekking options in the canyon.

 

All in all, the cost will likely be £15-20 ($20-30) more if doing it on your own due to extra accommodation and lost discounts you receive on group bookings.

 

Ultimately the choice comes down to whether you like things to be taken out of your hands or not. If you want the freedom to explore on your own but with the added burden of booking buses and accommodation, then do a self-guided tour. Otherwise, the guided tour is a great option.

OPTION 4: RENTING A MOPED

ADVANTAGESDISADVANTAGES
Good for avoiding big tour groupsNo local guide
Freedom to exploreCan't go down into the canyon
-Need to take public transport to the
canyon and back

This is a unique way to visit and explore the canyon at your own pace whilst avoiding the crowds that come with tours.

 

You get to discover the region by yourself, spend as long as you like at the viewpoints and sights in the canyon and not feel like you are being shuffled around all day by a tour operator.

 

Condor Cross Scooter Experience will rent out mopeds but quick disclaimer, last time we checked the website they were closed (July 2020), likely due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

You have the chance to explore more traditional villages and stop to swim in the hot springs at your leisure. The company will provide you with a map of the valley along with local tips like good places to eat to ensure a great day out on two wheels.

 

The only downside of this method is that you need to get yourself to the canyon on public transport. This isn’t too difficult but requires a bit more effort than getting picked up by a tour.

 

You will need to make your way to the public bus terminal in Arequipa and take a colectivo from Arequipa to Chivay where the company is located. Colectivos are small mini-vans that hold 8-12 people and leave once full. A ticket to Chivay should costs around S/. 15 per person with travel time around 3 hours. 

 

You will need to leave early in the morning to make sure you have a full day riding around and also leave enough time to get back, or you could stay in the town of Chivay for the night. We would suggest leaving at between 5-6 AM which will get you to Chivay for around 9. When you get off in Chivay, ask at the bus station there what time the last colectivo back to Arequipa is and then you can plan your day around those timings.

OPTION 5: MOTORBIKE TOUR

This is a bit of a random one, but we decided to throw it in anyway.

 

If you love motorbikes like  we do then a 2-day motorbike tour is a unique way visiting Colca Canyon. However, we understand most people, let alone backpackers don’t ride motorbikes so feel free to go on and skip this part!

 

A 2-day guided motorbike tour with Moto Andes entails roughly the same as the guided tour above.

 

You will visit the same spots but this time seeing it all from the back of a motorbike. Whilst we didn’t do this ourselves, but we spent a day with Moto Andes riding around the countryside of Arequipa in the shadow of Misti Volcano. We had a great day and would highly recommend them if you are interested in combining sight-seeing and motorbiking.

We hope this opens your eyes to some other ways of visiting this magical canyon. In our opinion, the most rewarding experience is to go trekking in the canyon itself as its vastness is awe-inspiring, however, we understand that hiking isn’t for everyone but don’t let that stop you visiting.

 

If you haven’t planned your stay in Arequipa yet then our city guide will help, and if you aren’t sure how many days you will need to fit in Colca Canyon then we’ve planned out three itineraries to help. 

 

Or if you are all set, then make sure to find yourself a great rooftop bar to celebrate completing the canyon when you get back to Arequipa.