While we don't consider ourselves hiking pros, we like to add a hike here and there while we travel. So when we heard about Colca Canyon, one of the most recommend hikes in Peru, we added it to our list. Although this trail is super popular amongst tourists, we feel that many decide to hike it without realizing the conditions of the trail. We laugh about it now, but we were almost in tears a few hours into hiking down the canyon and we want to tell you what you should know before you get yourself in the trouble we did.
If you decide to hike the Colca Canyon your itinerary will be something like this: 3am-pick up from Arequipa. 3.5h drive-arrive in Chivay for breakfast. Stop at the view point to watch the Condors fly. Start your hike around 9am, either from Chivay or Cabanaconde. We started our hike in Chivay because we were told it's an easier hike down the canyon.
Tips: If we had to do this a second time we would want to arrive the night before our hike and stay at a guesthouse near where the trail starts because by the time we started hiking we were already awake for 6 hours and the trail ahead of us was not easy. We also didn't start hiking until almost 10am and you want to start your hike as early as possibly, due to the strong sun and no shade on the trail.
Colca Canyon is the 3rd deepest canyon in the world, so hiking down hill in one of the steepest trails is brutal. Funny enough, when we started the hike, we even said "oh this isn't so bad", only to cry a few hours after we said that. We couldn't wait for the torture to end. Yes, the first day felt like torture. Our knees were giving up and the sun was beating down, making the sandy trail very dusty. The loose gravel that covers the trail, was constantly slipping from under our shoes giving us a heart attack that we might fall off the cliff.
When we finally reached "the bottom" and the suspension bridge, about 3 hours later, we were exhausted. We know that 3 hours of hiking doesn't sound that bad, but we would take a 15 hour moderate hike over this anytime. There were some locals waiting on the bridge for the thirsty tourists, with cold drinks at a very hefty price. At that point paying triple price for ice cold water, that would prevent us from over heating and fainting didn't sound so bad.
After a short rest in the shade, we had to keep moving to find a comfortable bed for the night before everywhere got full. Not too far from the bridge, we found a nice, clean room with a bathroom and food for $18 in the small village of San Juan de Chuccho. We stayed at La Casa de Roy Colca, and we highly recommend this guesthouse. The family who runs it, is incredibly sweet and we got know a bit about them. Apparently, with the little money they earn they managed to support their daughter and her language studies. The daughter is now living and working in Germany and studying to become a doctor. Wow!
At dinner we met two German hikers, that concured how difficult the hike was. They decided to catch a local bus the next day instead of continuing with the hike. Quit honestly, this was also very temping to us.
Day 2 in the Canyon
A good night of sleep made us feel much better and despite the sore muscles and bruised toes, we decided to continue our hiking adventure. The German hikers were gone to catch the bus before we ate our breakfast. We thanked our hosts for their hospitality and started our hike at 7am. We joined another hiking couple, with whom we explored the nearby villages selling honey, regional clothes, and even a healer who treats people with herbs concoctions. The second day would have been actually very pleasant if it weren't for our sore feet and legs and our new beautiful black toenails! Yep, our nails later did come off... Luckily, the trail was a mix of flat and just small uphills.
We decided to skip Sangalle also know as "the Oasis". We've heard that the place became a sort of party town, with a bar and many backpackers, and being around loud people was the last thing we had in mind so we headed towards the Llahuar village and the hot springs.
By 3pm we reached our final destination Llahuar lodge, which was the highlight of our trip. This place had natural hot spring pools, which worked like a miracle for our tired muscles. We spent the whole afternoon soaking in the hot pools and drinking cold beers. In the evening we had a warm dinner with other fellow hikers, who told us that we could catch a bus at a nearby town if we didn't want to hike anymore. (ask for directions at the Llahuar lodge). At this point, we felt a bit defeated and we told ourselves that we had enough and wanted to get out of the hot canyon.
As planned, in the morning we hiked about 1 hour up the same hill we came from, to the nearest road to catch the bus. We waited with some locals for a while, but there was no sign of the bus. Unfortunately, the only bus that drives everyday through the canyon to Cabanaconde broke down, and nobody knew when the replacement was going to show up. We tried to stop a pick up truck, with plenty of space in the trunk, but the driver speeded up and all we saw was a cloud of dust after him. It was heartbreaking. Eventually, the replacement bus showed up, but it was going the opposite direction. We still got in, fearing that it would be totally full by the time it returned for us.
Although we technically didn't hike the full 3 days like we planned, we knew it wasn't going to be a pleasant hike out on the exposed, hot and dusty trail. We are definitely not trying to discourage anybody from hiking in Colca Canyon, but you should definitely know that there is no shade on the trial, at least hiking in and out of it, and the path is very steep. Definitely bring a hat, sunscreen, and make sure you have plenty of room in your shoes, so you toes don't get smashed like ours. Depending on your exit route there, is also the option to hire a donkey to get out of the canyon. If you take care of yourself in the beginning with these easy tips, the rest you hiking advenure in the Colca will probaly be much more pleassant that ours was.