Colca Canyon is an enormous hole in the ground situated 6 hours from Arequipa in Peru, famous for being home to the phenomenal condor. It’s hiked by an awful lot of visitors to Peru but many will visit for just a day or two. We decided to make the most of our time in the area and had an absolutely brilliant 4 day backpacking trip.
The name Colca Canyon is quite often followed by “it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon”, whatever you do don’t let this put you off. What people don’t mention is that in Colca you don’t hike from the very top of the canyon rims so the hiking itself is actually about 4000ft less vertical decent and 2000ft less vertical ascent than the Grand Canyon. It’s very doable and there were people of all ages hiking it when we were there. I’m a firm believer that with canyons you have to hike even just slightly below the rims to actually appreciate them, you just don’t get the same perspective peeking over the edge.
Most folks either visit for 1-2 days and head straight down to San Galle, an oasis at the bottom of the canyon, or take a longer route via San Juan de Chuccho and spend 2 nights in the canyon. These are very popular routes and as a result are extremely busy. Since we had plenty of time to spare we decided to spend 3 nights in the canyon and walk to the less frequented spots of Llahuar and Fure, if you have time to spare I would highly recommend this. On day 2 during our walk to Fure we didn’t see any other hikers, the only people we saw on the trail were locals with horses and donkeys doing supply runs to nearby towns.
Day 1 – 6.2 miles, 5.5 hours
Our first day was probably the most difficult. It’s odd that I normally struggle with going uphill but whenever we hike canyons I can’t wait for the downhill sections to be over. Leaving the town of Cabanaconde we were to descend into the canyon on a trail of 6.2 miles. The trail to Llahuar was steep switchbacks with very loose gravel and provided us with quite a challenge. My knees and toes were crying out by the end of the day but the scenery was completely worth it. As we were walking across the plateau at the top of the trail in the morning we were incredibly lucky to have a condor soar right above our heads, this was the first of 20 of these amazing creatures that we would see during the journey.
In early afternoon we made it to the bottom, crossed the Rio Colca and spent the night at Llahuar Lodge, a small hostel perched on the side on the canyon that offered a bed for the night and most importantly, natural hot springs. This was such a great incentive for hiking and really eased our aching muscles.
Day 2 – 5 miles, 6 hours
The night before in Llahuar Lodge we’d met another British couple that were hiking the same route as us but they were leaving around an hour earlier every morning to escape the heat of the sun. Although we didn’t see anyone else on the trail we knew they would be hanging out in the tiny village of Fure that evening with us.
Day 2 involved climbing out of the opposite rim that we hiked down the day before and the scenery this day was absolutely breathtaking. We steadily climbed a very narrow trail, carefully picking our way across very recent landslides on a number of occasions. Sections were challenging but it was great fun and best of all it was completely silent to appreciate the views.
After arriving at Fure and finding a room for the night we had a big carb filled lunch and headed out to explore some waterfalls for another 2 hour hike. This was a little more challenging and obviously not used very often but it was good fun and the waterfall at the end of the trail is enormous and very beautiful.
The best part about Fure is that we were sleeping high up in a huge gorge, surrounded by beautiful waterfalls and in absolute peace. Tucked up in our mud house for the night under a huge mound of blankets to keep out the cold we were truly satisfied by our day’s effort.
Day 3 – 6 miles, 5 hours
We rose early on day 3 as we had a double descent to do. We had to gradually climb down from Fure and once we’d reached the plateau below we would descend again to the oasis of San Galle on the canyon floor. It was hot and some of the trails were tough but I knew we had a filling lunch and a blissfully cool swimming pool waiting for us at the end.
We arrived at San Galle for lunch and spent the afternoon swimming, napping and sharing a few beers. I have to say for a multi-day trip the lodges and amenities were very welcome at the end of each hiking day.
Day 4 – 3 miles , 3 hours
On day 4 we simply had to get ourselves out of the canyon back to where we had started. The trail is fairly steep and you climb nearly 4000ft but we didn’t actually find it that difficult. The most important thing is to try to avoid the sun as the heat from around 8am is brutal. We set off just before 5am with our head torches lighting the way, the dawn broke after 15 minutes of hiking and for the 3 hours it took us to hike out we were in the shade.
For a steep uphill trail it was surprisingly good fun and to watch the sun creep around the canyon was beautiful. Colca is full of gorgeous little hummingbirds so we shared the trail with these lovely little guys going about their morning business. We made it to the top by 8am on the dot and made a quick exit to our hostel to enjoy the first shower in 4 days!
DIY Colca Canyon
Our number one tip for Colca Canyon is that you don’t need a guide and we did wonder how guides justify people paying for their services. Once you’re in the canyon it’s very hard to get lost and without a guide and other members of a group you can go at your own pace. We are indebted to some fantastic bloggers for great information on hiking the canyon on your own.
For the most up to date information on hiking Colca Canyon without a guide, please check out this post at Where is Your Toothbrush from April 2017.
- For the original overall breakdown and very useful information check out The Parallel Life.
- For anyone keen on heading out to Llahuar on the first day this guide from Ephemerratic was invaluable.
- I don’t often recommend hostels but there is one place in Cabanaconde where the rooms are modern and clean, the water is hot, they do incredible food and are very keen to help you with advice and maps. Pachamama is highly recommended!
- Finally, thanks to our wonderful friends Edgar and Verena who brought all of their Colca maps to meet us in Cusco and helped us plan our itinerary. You saved us a huge amount of time!
A 4 day trip is a great experience and more of a physical challenge, in effect you actually hike in and out of the canyon twice in different locations so you can really appreciate the whole area. You don’t need to be super hikers to do this, even if you were going slowly every day you would still reach camp by mid afternoon at the very latest. We hiked at an average pace and were done by lunch every day. It’s some of the best scenery we’ve seen in Peru and worth every effort to get there.
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