Welcome to our guide to the best Colca Canyon trek. We know that sounds a bit boasty, but we honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing about the route we took around Colca Canyon Peru.
Unless you’ve literally just landed in Peru without having done any prior research at all, you’ll already know that to visit Colca Canyon is one of the top things to do in Peru in general. Especially if you’re into your hiking.
However, here’s the catch when it comes to this Colca Canyon guide, you need to allow yourself 5 or at a push 4 days. We understand everyone might not have that amount of time to dedicate, but if you can we promise it will be worth it.
Best Colca Canyon Trek
Now there’s a few guides to visiting Colca Canyon on your own online, but when we were planning our Colca Canyon trip we found them either lacking in useful information or far too convoluted that they left us feeling overwhelmed.
And so we’re going to do our best here to present our Colca Canyon information in the clearest way and give you exactly what you need to know without the waffle.
Independent Trek Vs Guided Tour
Okay, before we get into the nitty gritty the best Colca Canyon trekking route let’s just address why you should do this independently over a guided tour. But also reasons why it might be more appropriate for you to do a Colca Canyon tour with a guide.
Firstly, if you’re moderately fit there’s absolutely no reason you can’t trek Colca Canyon on your own. The trails are well marked (for the most part) and it’s not a technically difficult hike.
You have a lot more flexibility over your route, where you stop off and what time you start each day. Plus it’s also going to be ALOT cheaper.
However, if you’ve never done a multi day hike before, aren’t in the best shape, travelling solo and wanting to meet people, or would just prefer to have a guide with you as back up, a Colca Canyon tour is going to be more your style.
You can check out some options and compare prices here:
Just do check the exact itineraries, because some include less hiking than others.
Our Colca Canyon Hiking Route
In summary here’s the 5 day/4 night route for hiking the Colca Canyon Peru.
Cabanaconde – Llahuar – Fure – SanGalle Oasis – San Juan de Chuccho – Cabanaconde.
But here’s the route with more detail, including distances, times, recommendations on where to stay and details on the terrain.
Day 1: Cabanaconde – Llahuar
Time: 4 hours
Stay at: Casa De Virginia
The first part of the path on day one of our Colca Canyon trek was relatively smooth and there’s some glorious views straight out of the box.
Especially at Mirador Achachiwa. That’s where you get a real understanding of the Colca Canyon depth and the scale of the challenge you’re about to undertake.
And if you’re in any doubt at all starting the hike, perhaps thinking to yourself ‘is the Colca Canyon worth it?’ You’ll find your answer here with a big resounding yes.
From there the route winds downhill to a small river crossing. Then the hard work starts. Because from there it’s a long drawn out ascent for a good few kilometres. From there it’s mostly downhill, as you descend along the winding seamingling endless switchbacks.
It’s a pretty tough introduction. Not because you’ll be particularly out of breath often, just because going down on such steep trails for so long is rough on your knees. However the scenery is so stunning that’s really all you’ll be focusing on.
And it’s also broken up by another river crossing over the mighty Rio Colca and a beauty of a geyser called Geiser de Paclla.
For the last part of the day one leg of this Colca Canyon hiking route, you’ll drop down onto a larger ‘road’ and pass through a small village. Then as you get towards your last kilometre you’ll be able to spot Llahuar in the distance, crossing a final bridge over Rio Huaruro.
But with tired legs and aching knees, perhaps the best part of day one of this Colca Canyon trekking route is to come. Because waiting for you in Llahuar are the natural hot springs of Aguas Termales de Llahuar.
Unfortunately during the rainy season, as was the case for us, it’s not possible to go in the ones right next to the Rio Colca because the water is just too high. But at the place we recommend to stay at, Casa Virginia, they have their own thermal pools with epic views out over the valley.
Day 2: Llahuar – Fure
Time: 3 hours
Stay at: Fure Wassi Hostel
Day two of our epic route for hiking Colca Canyon without a guide gets off to a more difficult start as you’re straight onto a steep uphill climb.
The path then flattens out a bit but there’s a couple of sheer cliff faces you’ll pass where you need to look up and move quickly as falling rocks are common, especially in the rainy season.
We were slightly worried when we first heard about this but in reality they were small sections and we were able to pass quickly without incident.
From there you’ll pass by the village of Llatica and go down into the bottom of Colca Canyon to cross back over Rio Huaruro. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Colca Canyon trek and quite possibly our favourite part of the whole 5 days.
Then you’re back on the uphill all the way to Fure, where you’ll be staying the night.
Day two is a much shorter distance than day one. But because you’re ascending for most of it, you’ll likely need to stop often to catch your breath, drink some water and rest your calfs..
When you get to Fure, your days hiking isn’t done though!
However, if you check into Furewassi Hostel first, you can leave your bags before heading up to check out Huaruro waterfall.
It’s hard to describe the scale and sheer power of Catarata Huaruro, it’s simply incredible and a must see for things to do in Colca Canyon.
It took us around 45/50 minutes to get there and 35/40 minutes on the way back. It’s an easy enough walk mainly uphill, but not too steep until you get towards the very end.
Just one thing to be aware of, because there’s so much spray coming off the tumbling water, the paths near the falls can get quite muddy. And because it’s the steepest part you should take extra care, especially on the way back.
This is the most remote part of the Colca Canyon Peru and in part is what makes this 5 day trekking route so special. The accommodation was understandably the most basic here, but the scenery around Fure in just something else.
Day 3: Fure – Sangalle Oasis
Time: 5 hours
Stay at: Paraíso los Palmeras Lodge
The first part of the route from Fure to Sangalle Oasis is fairly easy, it’s pretty much just a steady uphill winding path around the mountain side until you each a wider path.
From there you’ve got a good few kilometres on the flat until you reach the point where you need to descend down into the Colca Canyon Oasis.
The easiest way is to continue along the main path until you reach a village called Malata from which you’ll swing a right and come back on yourself to start your descent.
Another option, which is the one we choose, is to head off down one of the seriously steep smaller paths before you get to Malata.
These aren’t well worn paths and there are times when we just found ourselves surrounded by a sea of cacti. But what’s an adventure without getting lost one of twice. And you can clearly see the zigzag intersection that you need to get too – it’s just a case of getting there.
At the top of the steep downhill zigzag path into Sangalle Oasis you’ll find a beaut of a lunch stop with some shade and seating called Mirador Ccarecna. It’s a really pretty outlook and trust us you’ll need to fuel up for the downhill climb.
The good news about the descent into the Colca Canyon Oasis is that with every switch back your destination and the inviting swimming pools you can see get that little bit closer. Another thing you’ll notice on your way down is how humid it starts to feel.
And as you approach the bridge at the bottom crossing Rio Colca you’ll start to see just why this favourite spot in Colca Canyon Peru is called an Oasis. It looks like something out of the film Avatar, it’s just so beautiful.
Once over the bridge, you’ll head up a short incline and start passing the Sangalle Colca Canyon accommodation options.
It’s tempting once you get anywhere near the lush swimming pools to just jump straight in the first one, but we urge you to hold out until Paraíso los Palmeras Lodge which a little further along and down a short leafy decline.
We absolutely loved our stay there and could have easily stayed more than one night. It was of course off season so not as packed as it gets with tour groups during peak season.
We’ve heard people recommend giving this spot a miss when hiking Colca Canyon without a guide but it’s so gorgeous, you can see why it draws a crowd. And so what if you have to share it, it wouldn’t make the surroundings any less impressive.
And you might be hankering after some pals to chat to after the last few days in the more remote parts of Colca Canyon Peru.
Day 4: San Galle – San Juan de Chuccho
Time: 3 hours
Stay at: Posada Gloria
First thing on day 4 of this Colca Canyon trekking route sees you heading out from Sangalle Oasis the same you went in. Only it doesn’t seem half as hard at the start of the day and you’re at the top of the steep switchbacks before you know it.
From that point there are two paths that you can take onto your next overnight stop in San Juan de Chuccho. There’s a slightly longer route that runs through a village called Malata and then descends down into San Juan, crossing a small river by a bridge.
Your other option, instead of heading up to the main road, is to follow a smaller path directly from the top of the Sangalle point of descent.
This is the way we went and it was an adventure alright. The path is less worn and it’s easy to get lost in a few parts, which we did. Having to climb down terraces and over walls to get back on track. Make sure you have a map downloaded if you go this way.
Then there was the river crossing. We reckon throughout the dry season it’s more of a stream and isn’t as deep or fast flowing. But we had to take off our shoes and trousers to make it across without getting soaked, clinging onto a branch so as not to get washed away.
After that we got lost a few more times, again because the route isn’t so clear and GPS doesn’t always have you in the right location. But we found San Juan de Chuccho and Posada Gloria eventually and if we did, you will too.
Just maybe take the Maleta path in the rainy season if you’d prefer a little less intensity.
Day 5: San Juan de Chuccho – Cabanaconde
Time: 3.5 hours
Your last day on the Colca Canyon trek and it’s unfortunately time to head out of the Colca Canyon altogether. We’d heard that the ascent out of Colca Canyon is so hard that it makes some people cry.
But the only thing we felt like crying about was the fact that our grand adventure was over.
You’ll start the day descending down to once again cross the Rio Colca over San Juan bridge. It takes around half an hour to reach this point.
Then the climb starts and aside from a few short flatish sections, you’re on an upward switchback path for the next few hours. The thing that makes it most difficult is the altitude that you’re ascending too. You’ll notice it harder to breath even when you stop momentarily.
But looking out over the immense landscape and being able to see all the trails over the other side that you’re walked over the last few days is seriously rewarding.
Once you are at the top, you’ll pass a ticket inspector and then it’s just a short way to the main road and 15/20 minutes from there back into Cabanaconde.
We were super lucky because just as we reached the road a minivan bound for Chivay with empty seats was passing so we jumped straight on it.
There’s a section below on how to get to Colca Canyon.
Just to mention once more, if any of this doesn’t sound like something you are comfortable with, check out these guided Colca Canyon Tours.
Colca Canyon Map
You can pick up your own Colca Canyon trekking map at the tourism office in Arequipa, it’s just on the main square. But we’d also highly recommend downloading a map of Colca Canyon on Maps.Me that you can use offline with GPS in case you do get lost at all.
To make the route shorter (4 days/3 nights) you could miss out staying the night in San Juan de Chuccho on the last night & head straight through there & on up to Cabanaconde.
To make the route even shorter (3 days/2 nights) you could miss out Llahuar altogether (although why would you? There’s hot springs – duh?!) and go straight to Fure. There is an alternative slightly more direct route that’s signposted.
It will be a long day though and you’ll need to start early so travelling from elsewhere the same day won’t be possible.
Other options are to just do a loop from Cabanaconde – San Juan de Chuccho – SanGille Oasis. There’s a route back up to Cabanaconde from the Oasis.
But just be aware you’ll be missing out on the best parts of the trek which are the hikes from Llahuar to Fure and to the Huachucos waterfall. And the Paclla Geyser. Oh and the Colca Canyon hot springs – we mentioned those right?
You could also do this Colca Canyon map route in reverse, however we wouldn’t recommend it. The route between Llahuar and Cabanaconde is a long one and doing it uphill wouldn’t be fun.
Better to have that as your descent and use the shorter route from San Juan de Chuccho to Cabanaconde for your ascent.
Colca Canyon Entrance Fee
There are three entrances into Colca Canyon from Cabanaconde and at each one you’ll find a ticket seller. The entrance fee for trekking Colca Canyon with or without a guide is the same, 70 soles per person.
The Colca Canyon permits last for 5 days – which is perfect for this Colca Canyon guide. And you need to keep them as all though you’re unlikely to get asked for them on the actual trail, you will on your way out.
They also cover you for the Mirador Cruz del Condor if you choose to stop there on your way in or out of Cabanaconde.
Condors in Colca Canyon
The two times we passed the specific Condor viewing spot on our Chivay to Colca Canyon minivans they spotted momentarily here to let passengers on or off and we didn’t see any obvious condors soaring nearby.
Now of course we might not have been there at the optimum time, however what we can you is that we saw plenty of condors on our way in and out of the canyon anyway.
The main tourist buses stop here as standard – more on those below. But if you’re taking a minivan you’ll have to jump off and then wait for the next one and hope they have space.
So if you’re travelling by minivan, unless you are desperate to stop at this Colca Canyon watching spot we wouldn’t bother.
Hotels in Colca Canyon
First and foremost, you do not need a tent. In fact there are very few places that you can safely camp. Each town has at least one Colca Canyon accomodation option.
Everywhere we stayed was basic but comfortable and surprisingly had WiFi and electricity. If only for a few hours in the evening in some places. Some Colca Canyon hostels have private bathrooms as an option, some don’t.
Food wise it’s mostly veggie, there was only meat as an option at the last place we stayed at. Evening meals are a soup starter, a main and then a tea. Served at 6:30 or 7pm. The meals we had were all pretty carb heavy which was welcomed after the exertion.
Breakfast you can have when you choose between 6-8am.
You can buy drinks (water/soft drinks) at each place and most have small shops too where you can buy extra snacks. The one in Fure even had cans of Tuna and fruit while we were there.
We recommend booking your hotels in Colca Canyon in advance. In high season so you know you have a place to stay & in low season so they know to expect you, not everywhere is fully open all year round.
Just as a quick reminder here’s the places we stayed at which we recommend:
- Llahuar: Casa De Virginia
- Fure: Fure Wassi Hostel
- San Galle: Paraíso los Palmeras Lodge
- San Juan de Chuccho: Posada Gloria
Colca Canyon Cost
In total our independent 5 day Colca Canyon trek, for 2 people, minus beers (which are of course optional) cost us 556 soles (or 278 soles per person). That’s about $80 USD or £63 each.
Here’s a complete Colca Canyon cost breakdown:
- Colca Canyon hiking permit which lasts 5 days = 70 soles each.
- Colca Canyon accommodation for 4 nights = 130 soles for double private rooms.
- 3 x breakfasts that weren’t included in accommodation cost = 30 soles each.
- 1 x lunch on 4th day = 20 soles each.
- 4 x evening meals = 58 soles each.
Aside from that our only other cost was our lunches and snacks that we bought at the market in Arequipa before the trek. We spent 70 soles on that. Details of exactly what we took are down below.
If you do fancy a beer or two of an evening, all the places we stayed at in the Colca Canyon had them available. Of course they’re more expensive than outside the canyon because a donkey has had to yank them in, but they’re not ridiculous.
Prices ranged from 9-12 soles for a large bottle of Arequipeña.
Colca Canyon Packing List
- Head torch
- Portable powerbank
- Cash – there’s no ATM’s
- Water filter bottle
- Plus 1-2 litre flask for extra
- Warm clothes for evenings
- Quick-dry towel
- Raincoat [Women|Men]
- Waterproof bag cover
- Dry bags
- Bug spray
- Antibacterial hand gel
- Flip flops
- First aid kit
- Toilet roll – most hostels don’t provide this.
- Multi-plug adaptor
- Maps.Me downloaded
And then obviously soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush & all that jazz.
For the evenings don’t forget something to do either, especially in low season when there’s not many other tourists around to chat too. We took our kindles and a pack of cards.
Footwear wise we always hike in trainers, they’ve never let us down so far and they didn’t on the Colca Canyon trek. If you do have and prefer to wear hiking boots obviously do. This is just a note to stay they’re not necessary.
Lunch and snack wise we went with the following and it was the perfect amount:
- 3 x cans of tuna, bread and a small packet of mayonnaise for the first 3 days.
- Roasted corn, plantain chips, raisins, almonds and cashews.
- Box of granola bars.
- 2 x oranges and 2 x small mangos.
Our backpacks weighed 12 kilo and 6 kilo. Obviously they got less throughout hiking Colca Canyon as we ate our lunches and snacks up.
Colca Canyon Weather
Hands down you’ll have better weather in Colca Canyon during the dry season (May-October). But by better weather we also mean hot weather, because there will be little cloud coverage and pretty much all the paths are completely exposed.
Also because you’re hiking at altitude you’re also closer to the sun so even the Colca Canyon temperature doesn’t feel so hot, it is.
You won’t have the scorching sun during the rainy season (November- April) but what you will have is rain and lots of it. While we were hiking the Colca Canyon during February the rain started each day around 2pm and then just kept going until about 5am the next morning.
Which although sounds pretty dismal was completely fine because by setting off early on the Colca Canyon route we did, we were pretty much done each day by the time the rain started rolling in.
Another perk of doing the Colca Canyon hike during off season is that it is way less busy. We didn’t see anyone except the odd local farmer for hours on end on the trails. And the places to stay in Colca Canyon are not only cheaper but also quieter.
Especially SanGalle Oasis, which is the most popular place that tour groups visit.
But what you do have to be careful of during Colca Canyon rainy season, particularly along the route from Llahuar to Fure and the ascent from San Juan de Chuccho is falling rocks. You need to look up & go quick in a few sections.
So in either season there’s pros and cons, but you can definitely hike Colca Canyon all year round.
Colca Canyon Altitude
If you’ve just arrived in this part of Peru of haven’t spent much time at altitude directly before it’s a good idea to take a couple of days to acclimatise. Because even though at its deepest point the Colca Canyon depth is 3,270m/10,730ft, the altitude there is still 1,066m/3,497ft.
And actually on this route, the lowest altitude you’ll be at is 1,900m/6,232ft in Sangalle Oasis.
Llahuar is at 2,020m/6,627ft, Fure at 2,900m/9,514ft and San Juan de Chuccho 2,439m/8,002ft.
Yep, the altitude in Colca Canyon is serious.
And Cabanaconde, where you’ll be starting and ending is at a whopping 3,287m/10,784ft.
The only real cure for Colca Canyon altitude sickness is to get to a lower altitude, but coca leaves either chewed or in tea will help. As well as staying well hydrated, avoiding alcohol and getting enough sleep.
Colca Canyon Trek Difficulty
If you’re moderately fit, the only real difficulty you should experience is the altitude in Colca Canyon. That is if you haven’t taken time to get used to it.
Sure there are a few really steep sections and a few sections that seem to go on forever when you’re in them, but with a positive attitude, some grit and determination you won’t struggle.
We didn’t hike the Colca Canyon with walking poles but that’s not to stay they wouldn’t help and that you shouldn’t use them if you have them. I don’t have the strongest knees so I normally use KT tape which personally helps me.
But yeah, especially following our 5/4 day Colca Canyon trek, we’d say overall you’re looking at a 7/10 Colca Canyon trek difficulty.
If you do get injured there is a bus that runs along the road through Malata and near Llahuar to and from Cabanaconde. And you can also rent mules from any of the villages.
How to get to Colca Canyon Peru
Arequipa to Colca Canyon
So the big buses that you can take, which go directly from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, Cabanaconde and stop at Mirador Cruz del Condor only leave at 3am.
Don’t ask us why there’s no other times, it doesn’t make sense to us either. But don’t worry there is another way, if you’re not a fan of 3am alarms and have seen condors before like us.
Outside the main bus terminal in Arequipa, Terminal Terrestre, there are private minivans that run to Chivay, a town on route to Cabanaconde.
They start at 4am, run every 50 minutes or as soon as they are full and cost 15 soles each. So get there so early in the morning, the best thing to do is jump in a cab, they’ll know where to drop you if you ask for the minivans to Chivay.
We got an Uber at 5:45am, it cost 8 soles and took 15 minutes. There were also plenty of normal cabs knocking about also.
It’s a busy route, Arequipa to Chivay and the minivans fill up quickly so don’t get there 10 mins before & expect to get a space – you’ll likely be waiting for the next one.
We arrived at 6am, got spaces on the 6:50am departure and got breakfast outside at one of the food stalls. There’s also a few shops of you’ve forgotten to pick anything up food wise.
You’ll need your passport so don’t forget that.
It’s exactly a 3 hour journey from Arequipa to Chivay, we arrived at Chivay bus station at 9:50am. You need to then go out of the bus station and across the road to another private minivan place to get a ride from Chivay to Cabanaconde.
We thought we were going to be waiting a while when they told us the next departure was 11am but the spaces filled up real quick and we left at 10:20am.
The cost is 10 soles each and the journey time is an hour and 15/20 minutes. If you can try and sit on the right hand side because the scenery from Chivay to Cabanaconde is stunning.
We arrived in Cabanaconde at 11:40am, just in time for an early lunch. But because we’d packed our lunches for our days hiking we chose to head off straight away. Which we recommend so that you allow yourself more time to get to your first stop.
We think this is absolutely the best way to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa.
To get from Colca Canyon to Arequipa it’s a similar ridiculous situation with the big buses because they all leave at 11am which doesn’t give you much time to get out of the Colca Canyon on your last day. If you don’t want a very early start that is. Again, not for us.
So we just did the same route via Chivay in reverse. The minivans run all day so it’s a much more flexible option. You’ll buy your ticket from Chivay to Arequipa inside the bus terminal, there’s a few different minivan companies with varying times.
Puno to Colca Canyon
As far as we are aware (please correct us in the comments if we are wrong) there isn’t a direct bus from Puno to Colca Canyon, Cabanaconde. You will need to first travel to Chivay and then onto Cabanaconde from there.
There’s a tourist bus company running the route from Puno to Chivay called 4M Express. Although this is considerably more expensive than local minivans and we believe only one departure per day at around 6am.
So your best option will be to check this out locally in Puno. Please do let us know in the comments if you find a minivan option from Puno to Chivay so we can update this Colca Canyon information for other travellers.
You’re going to want to leave what you need for your Colca Canyon hike at a hostel/hotel. So if you’re not returning to either Arequipa or Puno you’ll need to pop it on a hostel in Cabanaconde.
We didn’t do this as we were heading back to Arequipa so had left our stuff there but we heard good things about Homestay Pachamama and Hotel Kuntur Wassi. Although if you aren’t staying over there you’ll need to pay a small storage fee.
Travel Insurance For Hiking
As with any trip abroad, especially when it includes an adventure such as the Colca Canyon trek you need to have solid travel insurance. Our go to is World Nomads for their no bullshit policy and standard cover of lots of activities, such as hiking.
And what’s more they’ll give you cover even if you forgot before you left home and are already travelling.
You can get a quick no obligation quote right here:
We hope if you weren’t aware that trekking Colca Canyon by yourself was an option that you’re now at least considering it. Or that if you were just researching the best route that we’ve now convinced you that the best way to see Colca Canyon is on a 4 or 5 day independent hike.
And guys if you have any unanswered questions about planning your Colca Canyon trip please drop us a note in the comments and we’ll do our very best to help.