It’s time to write about our trip into the Colca Canyon. I tell you, it was hard work, but it was more than worth it and I think it was the nicest thing we did so far. But let’s start at the beginning.
The Colca Canyon was this one thing everyone talked about and told us to do. But to be honest, neither Sergio nor me did any research on it or knew what was so special about it. So when we arrived in Arequipa, the starting point to go to the canyon, we felt overwhelmed with all the tours (1 day, 2 days or 3) and stories of people going by themselves. So we really just took a morning to sit in one of the many café’s (as you read in our last post, there’s plenty of places in Are), and read into the different options.
Finally we understood, there were following options:
Organized tour: The tours departing from Arequipa are not expensive and you can choose the length of your stay in the Colca canyon. There’s one day tours, that mainly go to the Cruz Del Condor, a spot from where you can see Condors very close and lots of them. For that you will depart at 3 am, since the best time to see the Condors is between 8 and 10 am and getting there takes 6 to 7 hours. If you didn’t know yet, Condors are some of the heaviest birds in the world. They usually wait for the air in the valley to warm up and take advantage of the hot air streams to drift in high air.
You can book also inexpensive tours of 2 or 3 days, where food and accommodation is included. Depending on how many days you choose, you will need to walk more or less per day. We don’t know exactly where those tours take you, but they all start, according to us, in Chivay, a bigger town at the start of the canyon. We have only heard good things about it, so definitely worth it, if you want to meet people and have some guidance.
DIY tour: We knew of many people that went by themselves on a 2, 3 or even 4 days trek. The trails are very clearly indicated and the hike not too hard even for not top fit people. All the treks start in Cabanaconde and from there you can choose different routes into the valley.
We eventually decided to do it by ourselves, firstly because we could choose our own pace, and because the locations we would visit seemed so nice and not at all what you will see with an organized tour. However, price wise it sums up to more or less the same.
Our 3 day tour Cabanaconde – Llahuar – Sangalle – Cabanaconde
On the day we left Arequipa, we took a taxi to the bus station an hour before the planned bus departure. The bus company Reyna takes you for 17 soles to Cabanaconde in 7 hours. Pretty cheap and easy since we bought the tickets just half an hour before leaving. Once you arrive in the small highland town of Cabanaconde at 3200m altitude, there’s a handful of hostels you can choose from. We went to Pachamama, which had been recommended to us. Since we were 3 people, we took a private room with own bathroom and 4 beds for 50$ the night (only available option, since we did not reserve in advance). They also serve dinner, which unfortunately that night was only soup or pizza, but their menu normally is bigger. Cabanaconde is very very small, with shops where you can buy water, snacks or a hat for your upcoming tour. There’s no atm, so you need to make sure to bring enough cash for the 4 to 5 days you will spend in the canyon. Our hostel was cute, they included breakfast, wifi and a free map with detailed explanations of the different tours.
We chose to take the tour which was more challenging but had less people doing it. We bought fruit and crackers and left Cabanaconde the next morning at 8am. You need to start early, since the sun shines bright and you will feel hot and get burned very fast.
The destination for day 1 was Llahuar, a spot with hot springs. The way there was basically 4 hours downhill, descending around 1000m. Of course, we got lost in the first 15 min, but luckily we found the right way again. Before really going down you pass a mirador, from where you can see exactly the way and destinations of the next two days. Pretty impressive!
There, you also have to pay a fee of 70 soles to access the area of the Colca canyon. After that, just downhill in zig zags. It was not heavy effort actually. The real struggle is in the knees and the heat. We reached the Colca river after 3 hours at a spot where you could check out a geyser. We waited a while to see when the water spring would come but there’s only vapor coming out – anyways still nice to see. From there it’s less than an hour to get to Llahuar, passing a little indigenous village with donkeys. Llahuar itself is basically two lodges for tourists, one of them having the hot springs in its area. They have private and shared bungalows which are pretty simple but cute. The 8 persons dorm costs 25 soles a night, private bungalows 25. The most important things are the pools though! Nothing feels better than chilling in the hot water relaxing your muscles. And what is even better, is that the Colca river is passing by just in front of you, while you are in the warm water. If you don’t mind freezing temperatures, you should have a dip in the river too! We stayed in there all afternoon and came right back after dinner. The nicest part of Llahuar was definitely spending some hours under the clear night sky in the hot pool, enjoying the stars, milky way and even some falling stars.
The next morning we started early again, since we had to walk up from 2000m to almost 2700m altitude. There was one particularly steep part, where we all really lost our breath, and had to stop for a break midway. We passed then little village of Belen and from there it went a bit easier, almost flat, until the next village called Malata. By then it had already gotten quite hot again and we were happy to finally walk down direction oasis Sangalle, which we could see already for a while in the depth of the valley. The way down was again a seemingly never ending zig zag way, and with the muscle pain from the day before, almost unbearable. While coming down we already saw from a far a beautiful waterfall and pools of the hostels of the oasis, which made our hearts jump higher. We finally arrived at the bottom of the valley and only a short walk away from the hostel. After the dusty roads with only cacti and stones in our way, it was such a pleasure to see green palmtrees, flowers, plants and a pool. A real oasis. We stayed in the first hostel, for 15 soles in an 8 persons dorm, including breakfast and wifi for 5 soles. We chilled again all afternoon, at the pool, sleeping and playing cards. Funny enough, throughtout the afternoon more and more people come droping in, some of who you’ve met already in the last lodge.
On the morning of day 3, we all dreaded to start the last part of our tour, which was walking up 1000m. Everyone had incredible muscle pain, we almost could not walk down the stairs anymore. But well, there is only one way back, so we better got started. The first 500m went relatively fast, Sergio’s swiss knife has an altitude meter. After that it felt harder and harder and we did more and more breaks. With the height, breathing also became harder, and there were literally maybe 4 flat meters, everything else was going up. After 2.5 hours we were at the top and felt like proper heroes 15min more to the village and we were finally at our destination.
We took the first bus back to Chivay, where we wanted to visit other hot springs and spend the night, so we could visit the Mirador Cruz del Condor the next day. Chivay is a bigger place with a busy main square. There are many tour operators, restaurants and cafés. We stayed in hostel close to the bus terminal, called Inca Wasi. Finally a proper room and shower again! Then we had late lunch and continued to the hot springs. We took a taxi (4soles total) to get there. Since it was sunday, many people from the region had come there with family, girlfriends or friends. The water was amazing and we stayed until they closed at 7.
Cruz del Condor
We went to bed early to get up at 5am the next day. We searched for a taxi at the main square and found a guy who brought us for 100 soles to the mirador, waited there and brought us back. Normally they stop at different villages and miradores on the way back too, but we had seen so much already, that we were fine. We arrived at the Cruz at 7.30 after 1 hour drive. Some tourist buses were already there and with time it filles up more and more. Unfortunately on that day we did not see that many condors and mostly far away. Still, one or two flew over us which was really nice to see!
At 11am we were already back in town and took the bus back to Arequipa. It had been a tiring but amazing 4 days!