The Colca Canyon, or Colca Valley, is one of the most popular destinations in Peru. Still, we initially wanted to skip this green oasis from Arequipa, but in the end we are very glad we did book that 2-day tour. There are many opportunities to visit the Colca Canyon. Alone or with an organized tour, and from 1 day to 5 days or longer. Depends on your preferences, budget and how much time you have. We opted for a 2-day (1-night) organized tour that not only showed us the classic Colca Canyon, but focused on a unique experience without mass tourism. So we went biking in the Colca Canyon, visited unusual rock formations and stayed in an abandoned village. Curious about this natural wonder in Peru and specifically this tour? Then read on quickly!
The Colca Canyon: the world’s second deepest canyon
Did you know that the Colca Canyon in Peru is as much as twice as deep as the famous Grand Canyon in the US? The Colca Valley, located 160 kilometers from Arequipa, is a walhalla of nature, culture and tradition. Locals still use the traditional agricultural terraces that are so characteristic of this valley. At one time, these were constructed by the Incas. In addition, the Colca Canyon is the habitat of the Andean Condor. From Arequipa, one road leads to the Colca Valley. This route takes you to an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters, which does crazy things to you. So a perfect place to try out coca leaves. Once over that high mountain, you’re in the Colca Canyon at about 3,500 meters above sea level.
A 2-day tour of the Colca Canyon: biking, condors, hiking, rock formations and more!
After a long search for the perfect tour for the Colca Canyon, we ended up with Colca Trek. An organization that has been around for years and has a very good reputation. When we heard the price we had to think for a while, but in retrospect it was well worth the money. Wow what a great tour, perfectly organized, small scale and also off the beaten path. Totally up our alley and highly recommended. By the way, you can read all the practical information, including costs, at the bottom of this article.
First, I’ll take you on this 2-day tour!
Colca Canyon day 1
Unlike many other tours to the Colca Valley, the one at Colca Trek “only” starts at 7 am. Very nice. We will be picked up by a small van with about 10 people. The guide Salome is a fantastically nice person who knows and tells an awful lot about where we are. On the way to the first stop, we pass high volcanoes, vast plains and many alpacas, llamas and vicuñas. We also make the occasional stop to drink coca tea. And because we are going up to 5,000 meters in altitude, we are learning how to chew coca leaves. I didn’t like it, but it was nice to try it.
Stop 1: a hike through extraordinary rock formations
The first stop is at an area of unusual rock formations within the Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve through which we drive. Here we take a one-hour walk and feast our eyes. So beautiful to see! And even better: no one else seems to stop here, so we are the only tourists.
Stop 2: the highest point on the route to the Colca Valley
After the rock formations, we drive on to the highest point at 4910 meters: Mirador del Andes. Although we are in the car and therefore not making any effort, we do feel the altitude. Fortunately, we have only a slight headache and can enjoy the insane views of the volcanoes surrounding Arequipa in this beautiful place. As you can see from the pictures, one volcano is active.
Stop 3: hiking and staying overnight in Pinchollo
We drove on to Chivay, where we were served a delicious lunch buffet. Lots of vegetarian options, wifi available and a clean restroom available. Because Colca Trek is very focused on a more unique experience and less mass tourism, we leave the busy area around Chivay and drive to Pinchollo. An authentic mini-village where we are the only tourists, with a beautiful hotel. What an amazing place to stay! Not only do we have an impressive view, but the place is quite luxurious. Absolutely highly recommended.
After resting for half an hour and unpacking gear, we make the last hike of the day before dinner: at sunset to the Colca Canyon. Armed with cameras, hats, gloves and a flashlight, we set out. It’s pretty cold here at 3,700 meters. Pinchollo turns out to be a tremendously cute and deserted village on the edge of the valley. As darkness falls, we walk back to the hotel with our flashlights for a delicious dinner. We go to bed early, because breakfast will be ready again the next morning at 6:20am.
Colca Canyon day 2
Day two starts early with breakfast and a packet of snacks. At 7 a.m. we set out for the first stop of the day: the condors. We will also go biking and hiking, eventually arriving back in Arequipa in the evening.
Stop 1: Cruz del Condor
Just a 10-minute drive from the hotel is one of the most famous spots in the Colca Canyon: Cruz del Condor. This is the place where all the tourists come to spot condors. If they are lucky. Because we are early, there is almost no one there yet, except, yes, condors! It is difficult to get them in the picture, especially when they are flying, but it actually worked. Incidentally, we saw more condors in another spot, but more on that later.
Stop 2: biking in the Colca Canyon
After Cruz del Condor, bicycles are waiting for us, with which we cycle in 1.5 hours to the village of Cabanaconde. This side of the valley was amazingly quiet: virtually no traffic and no tourists. Which made it a lot easier to cycle on the “big” road. The views were truly amazing!
Mirador de Tapay
During the bike ride, we stop at Mirador de Tapay. Like Cruz del Condor, this is a stop to watch condors, only this one is less well known. And right here we see more condors than at Cruz del Condor. What extraordinary animals they are!
Eventually we arrive at Cabanaconde, and wow what an amazing view here of the agricultural terraces. The entire route the wagon with our guide drove behind us, and here we board again to drive back to the last stop for lunch.
Stop 3: walking past cacti and eating sancayo
Before returning to the hotel for lunch, we hiked for an hour along a small lake on a trail filled with tall cacti. A beautiful route where we were introduced to the fruit that grows on the cacti: sancayo. Those are the cactus balls you see in the photos. An acidic fruit that seems to be good for lowering your cholesterol.
After this hike, we return to the hotel for lunch. We then drove to Chivay, where four people from the group transferred to another bus going to Puno. We drive on to return to Arequipa.
Colca Canyon practical
The Colca Canyon alone or with an organized tour?
As mentioned earlier, there are many ways to visit the Colca Canyon. The first thing to ask yourself is whether you want to go out on your own or join an organized tour. In any case, if you have the time and inclination to figure everything out on your own, it is perfectly doable on your own. We didn’t feel like doing that, so we booked an organized tour. A good choice for us. Still want to visit the Colca Valley by yourself? Then click here (Dutch) for very comprehensive information on trekking routes, transportation, costs, hotels and more.
Colca Trek: how was it?
We booked a tour at Colca Trek, which was featured in the Lonely Planet and has a very good review. Colca Trek is known for the alternative way of tackling things and they have years of experience with this. Because of the price, we hesitated for a while, but I thought it was worth every penny. The group was small, the car luxurious, a good driver and a very knowledgeable guide who spoke many languages. The hotel was more luxurious, the food perfect and the excursions great. The organization was also really fantastic, rarely experienced so well. Of course, we didn’t see everything of the Colca Canyon in 2 days, nor did we walk in the canyon itself, but it was definitely enough to get a good impression.
We paid over 545 soles per person (140 euros) for this 2-day tour, but for what you get, that’s actually pretty cheap. Everything is included: luxury hotel, transportation, guide, entrance to the Colca Canyon, food, packed lunch, etc. The only extra cost added was if you wanted to buy extra drinks, such as coca tea on the go, bottles of water or wine at the hotel. Because we are using a water-to-go water filter bottle we did not have any costs for water and drank from the tap everywhere. Everything else was inclusive. For us, well worth the money.
What to bring and where to leave your luggage
For the Colca Canyon, you only need to bring what you need then. We left our backpacks at the hotel and picked them up on our return. I can imagine that no hotel would have a problem with that. We only had our daypack with us that included underwear, toiletries, extra socks, slippers, a hat, gloves, a hat/cap against the sun, sunscreen, pajamas and an extra shirt for the next day. Above all, bring layers because you will be both hot and cold.
Continuing to travel through Peru after the Colca Canyon
There are several options to continue traveling through Peru after the Colca Canyon:
- Back to Arequipa to spend another day or more there.
- Further travel toward Nazca, Huacachina, Paracas or Lima.
- From the Colca Canyon directly to Puno for Lake Titicaca.
- Return to Arequipa and from there continue travel to Puno or Cusco.
We did the latter option. About 4 o’clock we were back in Arequipa and at 9 o’clock in the evening our night bus left for Cusco. This was all fine and we even had time to have a drink in Arequipa. By the way, we traveled with bus company Cruz del Sur.
The Colca Canyon in Peru is definitely one of the highlights of our trip. Don’t miss it! Click here for all articles on traveling through Peru.
This article contains affiliate links. Click here for more information. This is not a collaboration with Colca Trek, but a sincere recommendation.