Measuring more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon in Southern Peru is a magnificent natural wonder. While in nearby Arequipa, we laced up our hiking boots and booked a 3-day trek into this world-famous attraction.
We were picked up at 3:30am and made our way toward the canyon’s rim. After a quick stop for breakfast and coca tea (to help alleviate problems with altitude sickness), we arrived at Cruz del Condor. This scenic point, perched at the top of the canyon is an excellent place to observe the large majestic Condor birds up close. We spotted a couple hugging the canyon walls.
By 9:30am we were ready for the hike down to the bottom. Since it’s currently the low season, we turned out to be the only people in our group, allowing us to descend at our own speed and spend a lot of time with Pepe, our guide.
Before setting off, Pepe talked about the history of the canyon and the people that live in and around it. Shockingly, a number of traditional villages can be found right at the bottom of the canyon, where inhabitants take advantage of the warmer weather to grow fruits and vegetables along steep agricultural terraces. These remote villages have stayed pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years, since the villagers’ only access to the outside world is via the same small footpaths we would be hiking on.
Pepe instructed us to stay aware of our surroundings, walk one-by-one down the narrow trail, and yield to passing horses and mules on the inside of the mountain. Faced with the possibility of falling more than 3,000 ft over the edge, we heeded his advice and focused on keeping one foot in front of another.
Within a few hours, we’d made it to the bottom, and walked a bit further to the small village of San Juan de Chucco to grab lunch. I was offered alpaca meat, which was surprisingly delicious – it tastes very much like beef.
That afternoon, we followed the bottom of the canyon to another small village called Cosniruha. There, we met Ronald, who hosted us in his family’s house. This village only recently received electrical power, which is rapidly changing the residents’ lives. Ronald’s family now has electrical lighting and hot showers, though almost everything else is still done the old-fashioned way.
Ronald and Pepe cooked us a delicious Peruvian dinner consisting of cheesy potatoes, chaufa rice, and soup over the wood-fired stove. We enjoyed chatting about our respective home countries, lifestyles, and beliefs before calling it an early night and collapsing in bed.
The next day, we were greeted to hot pancakes and coca tea, while enjoying a beautiful sunrise over the canyon.
We walked through a few neighboring towns, stopping to greet many of the locals along the way.
In one of the towns, we stopped at a small museum, where we learned more about the native Cabona people. These people pre-date the Incas, and continue to dress and live like their ancestors have for so many years beforehand.
A couple hours later we arrived at “The Oasis” at the very bottom of the canyon. This area has been designed as something of a tourist resort, where you can take a dip in one of the many pools or swing in a hammock.
We took advantage of the facilities and enjoyed a leisurely lunch before setting off on the 1,200m hike back up to the top. Mules can be hired for those not up for the grueling ascent and Pepe had suggested we hire one. You have to make up your mind before starting the hike up and we both decided to continue on with our own two feet.
Luckily, the weather was cloudy and cool. We followed the countless switchbacks to the top over the course of three hours, making frequent rest stops. At the top we were greeted to a beautiful sunset over the canyon and a night back in civilization in the small town of Cabanaconde.
We were completely exhausted, with every muscle aching, but happy to have tackled our first major trek. With our hiking boots adequately warn in, we were ready to take on another major challenge – Salkantay.