ways to visit Colca Canyon

How To Visit Colca Canyon [3 Great Ways For Backpackers]

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 to visit the canyon but if you don’t have the best hiking legs or you suffer from altitude sickness, then there are alternative options. Here are the 3 best ways to visit Colca Canyon that will suit every type of backpacker.

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What’s The Best Way 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.

 

There’s no single best way to visit Colca canyon as backpackers enjoy different things.

 

I’d personally recommend the guided 2-day trek as its easy and everything is organised for you. However, I understand some people prefer to avoid tours or may not enjoy hiking; or you may just not have enough time for a multi-day trek.

 

The three best ways to visit Colca Canyon are:

 

  • Guided single day tour
  • Guided Trek (2 days)
  • Self-Guided Trek (2-4 days)
ways to visit Colca Canyon

1. Guided 1-Day Tour To Colca Canyon

  • Cost – around $40
  • Timing – 1 full day
  • Advantages – cheap, perfect if you are short on time, great if you hate trekking
  • Disadvantages – a lot of time spent on transport, you don’t go into the canyon

The single day tour to Colca Canyon is perfect for backpackers who are short on time or don’t enjoy hiking.

 

It’s a long drive from Arequipa to Colca Canyon (4 hours), so the majority of tours pick you up from your accommodation between 3-4 AM so that you arrive for around 8AM. The bus will travel through the picturesque towns of the Andes and first stop is for breakfast in the pleasant town of Chivay.

 

After breakfast you will head to canyon. This the main highlight of the tour and you’ll be taken to Mirador Cruz Del Condor, a picturesque observation deck looking down into the canyon. This is one of the best views of the entire canyon and if you are lucky you will see condors floating majestically on the updrafts.

 

After the viewpoint, the tour will visit other places of interest such as the Patapampa Pass.  Patapampa is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4.879m (16,007ft) above the sea level – said to be the highest paved pass in the Americas.

 

You will also stop off at another viewpoint where you can see all the famous volcanoes of the region such as the peaks of the Misti, Chachani, Pichu Pichu, and Ampato.

 

The last stop is for lunch in the town of Chivay again before returning to Arequipa. Tours should return to Arequipa and drop you off at your accommodation for around 5-6 PM.

For more backpacker guides on Arequipa, head to the post below:

 

 

Is A 2-Day Colca Canyon Tour Worth It?

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 guided trek.

 

Here’s an example of a 2-day guided tour for you to have a look at:

 

 

 

The price of the above tour is just a guideline to give you an idea of what to expect. As always, when booking tours in South America, I recommend booking them in person rather than online as prices are far cheaper and you can haggle to get a better deal. 

how to visit colca canyon

2. Guided Trek To Colca Canyon

  • Cost – around $60
  • Timing – 2 full day, 1 night
  • Advantages – you go into the canyon, stay overnight at the oasis, and have a much more immersive experience
  • Disadvantages – the trek is difficult, with an ascent of c.1,000m on the final day, not as much freedom as a self-guided trek

The giant fissure of Colca Canyon cuts across the Andes mountain range and is popular among backpackers and hikers for its endless trekking options and sublime nature.

 

The 2-day guided trek is perfect for backpackers who love adventure and want to do some hiking whilst in Arequipa.

 

Trekking Colca Canyon is the only way to get to the bottom of the canyon and going into the canyon is beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, the sights along the route are stunning . The canyons beautiful green slopes are dotted with remote traditional villages and terraced farms, all of which are home to a great diversity of flora and fauna, most famously the giant Andean condor, with a wingspan of up to 3m.

 

Secondly, once you reach the bottom, you will be able to enjoy the oasis.

 

Nothing felt better than relaxing at the pool filled by waterfalls at the end of a hard day of trekking. Then as the sun sets,  you can sit and watch the stars in all their glory. At night, the canyon becomes pitch black and you’ll have one of the best views of the night sky

 

Similarly, to the tours above, the benefit of doing a guided trek is that your life will be made easy. You’ll be picked up in Arequipa between 3-4 AM. The early start is required to complete a long first day of hiking.

 

This first day is spent walking down into the canyon. 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.

 

On the second day, 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 route back to Arequipa, stopping off at some hot springs and a viewpoint looking out onto the epic volcanoes surrounding Arequipa.

 

The tour should cost between $30-40 when booked in town. You’ll also need to pay an extra 70 soles ($20) park entrance fee. The best place to book the tour is in the Plaza de Armas and there won’t be much difference between the numerous tour companies but make sure you haggle on price to get the best deal.

Visiting Colca Canyon is one of our many reasons to visit Peru. For more great reasons, check out the post below:

 

 

how to visit colca canyon

3. Self-Guided Trek To Colca Canyon

  • Cost – around $80+
  • Timing – 2-3 days
  • Advantages – freedom to dictate your schedule including spending more time in the canyon
  • Disadvantages – more admin trying to organise buses and hostels

This third option is ideal for backpackers who want even more of an adventure, hate guided tours and love to dictate their own schedule.

 

You will get all the benefits of staying in the canyon at the oasis and seeing the stars, but you can go at your own pace and stay longer in the canyon if you wish or stay at some of the other small villages in the area.

 

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.

 

The trek is the same as described above (for the guided tour), although there are other options for starting points and extending the trip by an extra day. The main difference is getting to and from the Canyon. 

 

I’d recommend making the trip in 3 days as it gives you more time to enjoy the Canyon.

How To Get To Colca Canyon By Yourself

Firstly, you will need to make your way to the public bus terminal in Arequipa and take a colectivo from Arequipa to Cabanaconde.

 

Colectivos are small mini-vans that hold 8-12 people and leave once full. A ticket should costs around S/. 15 per person with travel time around 3-4 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 Cabanaconde for the night when you arrive. I would suggest leaving at between 5-6 AM which will get you there for around 9.

 

From Cabanaconde there are several trek routes you can take depending on what you’d like to see.

 

There are two main routes within the Canyon. The eastern or western route, both can be hiked in two or three days depending on what you prefer:

 

 

  • Eastern route: Cabanconde > San Juan de Cuccho (stay) > Sangalle (stay) > Cabanconde
  • Western route: Cabanaconde > Llahuar (stay) > Sangalle (stay) > Cabanaconde

 

However, you may want to do something different, and there are a host of options. I would recommend speaking with your hostel in Cabanaconde who will be able to provide you with a trekking map and recommendations.

 

After the hike, you’ll take the bus back to Arequipa from Cabanaconde. All in all, the cost will likely be $20-30 more if doing it on your own due to extra accommodation and lost discounts you receive on group bookings.

Where To Stay In Colca Canyon

If you prefer to book in advance, then go ahead; however, there’s no reason why you can’t turn up and find accommodation. There is enough on offer, and you may get a better price.

 

  • Cabanaconde – A double room costs between $20-25 per night. We’d recommend staying at Homestay Pachamama who have breakfast included and provide maps to guests.
  • Llahuar – Stay at Llahuar lodge costing c.$17 per night. Chilling in the thermal baths with the vast Canyon surrounding you is some experience. 
  • San Juan de Cuccho – There are two options both costing around $18 per night: Posada Gloria which is more simplistic or Hospedaje Victor which is more luxury
  • Sangalle – Stay at Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge, which has a great outdoor pool and includes free breakfast. Double rooms cost c—$ 25 per night.
Mirador de la Cruz del Cóndor, Colca Canyon (Arequipa, Peru)

4. Renting A Moped At Colca Canyon

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 I checked the website they were closed (July 2022), 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.

Llamas and Alpacas at Colca Canyon, Arequipa (Peru)

5. Motorbike Tour Around Colca Canyon

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

 

If you love motorbikes like  I do then a 2-day motorbike tour is a unique way visiting Colca Canyon. However, I 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.

 

I had a great day and would highly recommend them if you are interested in combining sight-seeing and motorbiking.

Misti Volcano (Arequipa, Peru)

How Many Days Do You Need In Arequipa?

Arequipa is a beautiful town that should be explored alongside visiting Colca canyon. I recommend 3-4 days in total which includes 2 days to visit Colca Canyon.

 

This should you give one full day in Arequipa to visit the many great rooftop bars to take in the incredible views of Misti Volcano, and eat at one of the many great cafes or restaurants as well. You may also potentially want one rest day after you return from the canyon.

 

For more detailed information on how to plan your days in Arequipa alongside a trip to Colca Canyon, then head to the post below:

 

 

Is Arequipa Worth A visit?

Where Should I Visit Next After Arequipa?

You have a couple of options for places to visit next after Arequipa. If you are heading south then the next stop is Puno where you can find Lake Titicaca.

 

Most people recommend visiting Lake Titicaca in Bolivia as the town of Copacabana is much nicer compared to Puno. But if you aren’t heading to Bolivia then definitely visit it as its an incredible natural wonder.

 

For more on Puno to help you decide whether you should go:

 

If you don’t fancy Puno, then most people will take an overnight bus and head straight to Cusco. Cusco is the most popular town to visit in Peru and backpackers will flock there.

 

Check out the backpacker guides below for all the information you need on Cusco:

 

 

If you are heading north from Arequipa, then you can stop at Nazca if you wish or you can carry on through to Huacachina or Paracas.

 

Again, our backpacker guides have everything you need to know to help you plan your next stop in Peru:

 

 

For more on backpacking in Peru, check out our itineraries and travel routes:

 

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