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The Colca Canyon in southern Peru has become more popular over the years. Whilst it’s still nowhere near as well known as Cusco and Machu Picchu, many travellers to South America have it on their lists.
At a depth of over 11,000ft it’s often said that the Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! If you’ve hiked into the Grand Canyon and are wondering whether you can face doing twice that, then don’t worry! The depth of the Colca Canyon is based on measuring from the top of one of the Andean peaks, whereas the Grand Canyon is measured from the rim. The treks you can do in the Colca Canyon usually start much lower down than 11,000ft!
You can visit the Colca Canyon both on your own and with a guide. We visited on an overnight tour as part of our Peru Hop bus ticket. This was as we were a little short on time but still wanted to see and do as much as possible! Whether you’re visiting as a tour or not there are several things you should know about the Colca Canyon to help you enjoy your trip.
What are the tours in the Colca Canyon like?
Most tours to the Colca Canyon leave and return to Arequipa. There are countless companies offering tours everyday and they vary in price, duration and style.
The price usually relates to the standard of hotel you’ll stay in. Duration typically ranges from day trip to 3 days and the style can be categorised as hiking vs bus tour.
On most Colca Canyon tours you’ll stay in the town of Chivay which is about an hour from the actual Colca Canyon itself.
Typically you’ll spend part of the first day driving from Arequipa to Chivay via the Salinas National Reserve. This reserve is full of with Vicunas and has great views of volcanoes. Then you’ll head to Chivay, perhaps visit the hot springs and head out for dinner. On our tour we went to Cruz del Condor where we saw several massive condors swooping into the canyon and putting on a show.
What should you pack for a Colca Canyon tour?
If you’re heading off on a tour of the Colca Canyon, you’re not going to need (or want) your massive backpack that you’re carrying around with you for your whole trip in South America. You can usually leave your big back pack at whichever hostel/hotel you stayed at in Arequipa. We did this even though we weren’t staying at a hostel in Arequipa as Peru Hop had a good relationship with them.
You will want to back the following items for sure:
- A headlamp: many hostels have limited electricity and might not have power overnight
- Swimsuit: for the hot springs!
- A jumper: it gets very cold at night in the Colca Canyon
- Cash: for restaurants & hot springs
- Sun cream
- Your camera
- Hiking boots: you’ll probably do some walking about the canyon rim on a tour
- Alarm clock/watch with alarm
- Your ‘boleto turistico’ which is a ticket you must buy to enter the Colca Canyon area
What can I expect to see in the Colca Canyon?
You can expect to see llamas, alpacas, condors, volcanoes and real local culture!
What else should I know about the Colca Canyon?
The following is important to know before your Colca Cayon trip.
The Colca Canyon reaches altitudes of almost 3500m above sea level. If you don’t take things slow you’re likely to feel the effects. Whilst symptoms of altitude sickness range in seriousness, even a headache can stop you from really appreciating the trip.
Before you travel to the Colca Canyon give yourself a few days to get used to increasing altitudes. Spending a few days at Arequipa (2,328m above sea level) will help your body to adjust.
Main rules when dealing with altitude are:
- Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol which can dehydrate you.
- Eat little and sleep alone
- Climb high, sleep low. Do not ascend more than 300m in one day once you’ve gone above 3000m.
- Take it easy, don’t overexert yourself. Even climbing a few stairs will be harder at altitude.
Pack warm clothes
The Colca Canyon is cold, very cold. You’ll need hats and gloves, jumpers and coats to fully enjoy the experience. Should you forget to pack some warm clothes you’ll find plenty of roadside stalls along the way selling alpaca goods. Don’t underestimate how cold it is, especially at night!
Take your hiking boots (hiking tour or not)
This is clearly an obvious one if you’ve booked the hiking/camping option, but even if you’ve chosen the bus tour you’ll want to, and you will be, walking for some of the trip.
Whilst you can get a good insight to the beauty of the Colca Canyon from the bus, you’ll only truly appreciate it on foot.
A two-three hour walk through some of the mountainside where you’ll come across condors, indigenous plants and villagers is the best way to get to know the Colca Canyon. Oh, and the walk on the first day ends with time to bathe in the hot springs – what gets better than that?
Empty memory card & a good camera
At some point on the tour, whichever option you choose, you’ll be taken up to ‘Cruz del condor’. This is a lookout point that gives you spectacular views of the condors as they leave their nests in the canyon and fly out to catch food. Take a camera with a good zoom and a memory card with lots of space. You’ll want to take plenty of snaps of these huge birds as they swoop between the canyon walls.
Aside from the condors, there’s plenty of beautiful scenery. If your tour group stays in Chivay then chances are you’ll be taken to a restaurant in the town that performs a traditional Andean dance after dinner. The dance shows a young boy courting a girl but evolves in to them each whipping the other. Odd maybe, but fun nonetheless.
Prepare for early wake ups
Not a morning person? Then a tour to the Colca Canyon probably isn’t for you. In order to see as much as possible you’ll be waking up early. The condors put on their best show in the morning and you really won’t want to miss it!
Want more Bolivia travel ideas?
- Everything you need to know about the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia
- República, Santa Cruz Bolivia
- Travel Diary: Cycling Death Road in Bolivia
- Travel Diary: A tour of the Salt Flats in Bolivia
- Travel Diary: Eating in La Paz, Bolivia
- Welcome To Bolivia
- A guide to Lake Titicaca & the floating islands of Uros
- Travel Diary: Exploring the La Paz Witches’ Market