Hiking One of the Deepest Canyons in the World – Colca Canyon, Peru

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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.

Cruz del Condor lookout point, Colca CanyonCruz del Condor lookout point, Colca Canyon
Cruz del Condor lookout point, Colca Canyon10-Nov-2010 08:57
 

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.

Pepe talking about the CanyonPepe talking about the Canyon
Pepe talking about the Canyon10-Nov-2010 10:06
 

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.

Erik on the trail down.  In the distance you can see some of the villages and agricultural terraces.Erik on the trail down. In the distance you can see some of the villages and agricultural terraces.
Erik on the trail down. In the distance you can see some of the villages and agricultural terraces.10-Nov-2010 11:07
 

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.

Lomo Saltado made with AlpalcaLomo Saltado made with Alpalca
Lomo Saltado made with Alpalca10-Nov-2010 14:26
 

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.

Pepe making dinnerPepe making dinner
Pepe making dinner10-Nov-2010 18:41
 

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.

Abandoned houses in a small canyon villageAbandoned houses in a small canyon village
Abandoned houses in a small canyon village11-Nov-2010 09:24
 

We walked through a few neighboring towns, stopping to greet many of the locals along the way.

Two little sistersTwo little sisters
Two little sisters11-Nov-2010 10:17
 

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.

Local tools and products used by the Cabana people.Local tools and products used by the Cabana people.
Local tools and products used by the Cabana people.11-Nov-2010 10:35
 

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.

The "Oasis" at the bottom of the Colca CanyonThe “Oasis” at the bottom of the Colca Canyon
The "Oasis" at the bottom of the Colca Canyon11-Nov-2010 12:15
 

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.

Heather's trusty hiking bootsHeather’s trusty hiking boots
Heather's trusty hiking boots11-Nov-2010 16:10
 

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.

A gorgeous sunset over the canyonA gorgeous sunset over the canyon
A gorgeous sunset over the canyon11-Nov-2010 17:56
 

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.

2 thoughts on “Hiking One of the Deepest Canyons in the World – Colca Canyon, Peru

  1. Justin G.

    This is a great write-up! We’re a couple of NYers planning a trip to Colca (part of our honeymoon), and your itinerary is exactly what we’re looking for. Who did you book your trip with? Thanks!

    jg

    Reply
    1. Erik Post author

      Hi Justin! We used Land Adventures; they are a little more expensive than most of the other tour agencies, but don’t exchange tourists with other tour operators (many of them will “sell” people to other agencies if it’s a small tour). Enjoy your honeymoon and the Colca Canyon and feel free to get in touch with any questions!

      Reply

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