I loved Peru so much that I returned just a year later. This country is the perfect place for me due to the many adventurous activities you can find yourself in. One of the main reasons I wanted to revisit Peru was to see Arequipa and do the Colca Canyon trek.
I’m one always prefer to do any activity, especially hikes, independently and without a guide where possible. Peru makes that easy compared to some other countries in South America.
Once I found out it was easy to do a 3-day trek through Colca Canyon without a guide (similar to Quilotoa Loop), I was all in.
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What is the Colca Canyon?
Colca Canyon is the Grand Canyon of South America. It’s famous for being one of the world’s deepest canyons and being home to the largest flying bird in South America, the Condor.
The most popular way to visit this surreal area is by doing a Colca Canyon tour. These tours provide transportation from Arequipa to the canyon, some food, and a tour guide.
It’s quite expensive for my blood, especially once you know the cost of travel in Peru. These tours also stop at a lot more locations than just the canyon. So, if you’re interested in only seeing the canyon, going independently will be the best option.
Where is it Located?
Technically, the entrance to the canyon is in the town of Cabanaconde. We took a very early morning bus and started hiking almost immediately, but it’s not uncommon to stay the night here to get an early start in the morning.
Most people stay in Arequipa when doing a day tour of Colca Canyon. We stayed here before doing the 3-day trek.
You’ll also see the town Chivay come up a lot. It’s the last main stop before getting to Cabanaconde. If you’re taking collectivos, this is where the first one will go.
Colca Canyon Trek 3 Days Overview
This is the route/itinerary we chose to do. There are different options, and you can choose which path fits your Peru itinerary the best!
- Day 1: Bus from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. Hiked 6.5 miles (10.4 km) to Llahuar and stayed at Llahuar Lodge where the famous hot springs are!
- Day 2: Hiked 7.7 miles (12.4km) from Llahuar to San Juan de Chuccho and stayed at Colibri Lodge.
- Day 3: Hiked 5.4 miles (8.7km) from San Juan de Chuccho to the top of the Canyon.
Things to Know About the Colca Canyon Trek
Many people have questions about completing the Colca Canyon Trek, especially when done independently (as did I). I want to make sure you’re completely prepared for this epic adventure.
Below, I will go over everything you need to know before setting off to hike the canyon.
Can You Hike Colca Canyon Independently?
Absolutely! It’s possible and not difficult to do the Cola Canyon Trek independently. The trail is easy to follow, and you must only worry about the sun.
The hardest part for us to figure out was the transportation because we wanted to get a bus straight to Cabanaconde.
There isn’t much info online, but I’ll go over everything in detail later or simply go to the bus station and ask around.
Colca Canyon Elevation
The elevation at the Colca Canyon can vary a lot because, if you don’t know yet, it’s rather big. Chivay sits at 3,600 meters, and the canyon’s peak reaches 4,625 meters.
When arriving at Cabanaconde, you’ll be relieved to hear this town “only” sits at 3,280 meters and will go down even more the further you go into the canyon.
How Many Days?
That’s up to you! We decided on doing three days and 2-nights because it seemed like an easy enough route, and we didn’t want to miss out on anything.
Many people go the day trip route due to time constraints or not thinking it’s worth spending an entire three days here. But let me tell you that it’s totally worth it!
What is the Cost of the Colca Canyon Trek for 3 Days?
Overall, the price for three days wasn’t too expensive. In total, we spent around $92 each. This can vary depending on whether you’re alone or sharing a room and the conversion rate.
The main costs of the trek were:
- Bus ride to and from Arequipa: 50 soles or $13 USD.
- One night in Llahuar: 43 soles or $11 USD
- Dinner + Beer in Llahuar: $15
- One night in San Juan de Chuccho: $17 USD
- Dinner + Beer + Snacks in San Juan de Chuccho: $17
Other expenses include what you bring or buy for lunch and other snacks/Gatorade.
Colca Canyon Trek 3-days Details
- Distance: This hike is a 19.6-mile Loop hike. This depends on how many days you choose to hike.
- Duration: On average, it will take people 5 – 6 hours per day. This depends on your fitness level and which route you take.
- Difficulty: I’d rank this hike moderate to hard because of the elevation gain and the heat.
- Incline: The elevation for this hike is around 6,686 feet or 2038 meters. This for the total for all three days.
- Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike and is easily accessible by the public
I’d suggest either using Alltrails or downloading Mapsme for their offline maps.
The Oasis (Sangalle)
Many people we met along the trail and at the hostels were doing three days but stopping at Sangalle instead of San Juan de Chuccho. Sangalle is the Oasis, and you can see it while hiking.
If I were to do this trail again, I would plan to go down and spend the night there. I’ve heard the hike on the last day is harder than ours, but both are equally difficult.
Sangello Ciello Lodge is a top-rated oasis accommodation with a pool that will take your breath away.
Do You Need Hiking Poles?
If you have knee problems, hiking poles would be beneficial for you. The hardest day on my knees for me was the first day when it was all downhill.
Is it Colca Canyon Worth it?
The Colca Canyon Trek is totally worth it, and I highly suggest doing the three-day hike if you have time. There’s so much to see and far away that going on a day trip isn’t enough.
There are tours that have you spend a night in Chivay and then head to the Canyon the following day, but I’d still suggest going independently.
What to Bring
Below are some items I’d suggest bringing with you:
Thermal Hot Spring in Colca Canyon
The thermal hot springs are one of the most popular activities to do if you spend the night in Llahuar. The Llahuar Lodge is the one who owns them, and they exceeded my expectations.
There’s no feeling like sitting by the river in naturally heated pools after doing the Colca Canyon Trek.
Where to Stay During the Colca Canyon Trek
These are the places I stayed at during my Colca Canyon Trek.
- Llahuar: We stayed at Llahuar Lodge on night one. This is where the thermal baths are located.
- Sangalle (Oasis): I didn’t stay here, but we heard much about the Sangalle Cielo Lodge.
- San Juan de Chuccho: We stayed at the Colibri Lodge, one of the nicest places I’ve stayed there—fantastic rooms for the price.
- Arequipa: When arriving back in Arequipa, we decided to stay at the Selina. It’s not always the most friendly vibes, but it was still nice.
How to Get to Colca Canyon
Figuring out how to get from Arequipa to Colca Canyon was more difficult than I thought it would be. Redbus barely had any bus options, and I was getting different information online.
Below, I will review the two main ways to arrive at Colca Canyon independently.
Arequipa to Colca Canyon
There are two main types of public transportation options when traveling through Peru. They are the buses and colectivos. Buses are best for long distances and colectivos for shorter distances.
But in this instance, colectivos are a great way to get to the starting point for the Colca Canyon trek.
We wanted to take the bus because we didn’t want to switch at all. There are a few options when taking the bus, but if you want to hike that day, they’ll leave around 3:30 in the morning.
We took the company Andalucia, but there are a few. I suggest going to the bus terminal a day before and securing your ticket so you know exactly what time they leave.
When you leave the taxi and walk towards the entrance, go to the left building. This is where all the buses leave that head North/East outside of Arequipa.
The cost for us was 25 soles and took around six hours.
Taking a colectivo is a popular option, but it can also be useful for travelers, especially in this case. This route is slightly more expensive than taking the bus, but it’s faster and leaves at a more respectable time in the morning.
You’ll want to head to Av. Andrés Avelino Cáceres 310 is next to the bus terminal shown above. Look for the colectivos going to Chivay. This will cost 20 soles, and you’ll want to buy your ticket beforehand.
Note: one of the biggest issues with relying on colectivos is that they don’t leave until it’s full. So this could become an issue for some if you leave early in the morning.
You’ll arrive in Chivay around three and a half hours.
Once you arrive in Chivay, people will yell out Cabanaconde or Colca Canyon. They’ll throw your bag on top, hop in, and get ready for a two-hour ride.
This colectivo could once again take a while to depart. So, it’s a good time to go to the bathroom, grab snacks, and do anything else you need to do.
The cost from Chivay to Cabanaconde is 10 soles.
This option isn’t as popular, and I only learned about it while writing this article. There are shuttle services that I’ve heard are pretty decent.
Your hostel might know more about them than me, but you can check out your options with the link above.
My Experience on the Colca Canyon Trek
The adventure started early in the morning. My alarm went off at 2:40 a.m. I was tired, to say the least. But I knew there was an epic adventure on the horizon.
We headed to the bus terminal at 3:00 a.m. and got ready. Thankfully, I was able to get some much-needed shut-eye on the bus, which is always nice.
The whole goal of taking the bus straight to Cabanaconde was to be able to get as much sleep as possible, but the views after Chivay are breathtaking.
This trip took us around six hours before we arrived in Cabanaconde at 9:30 a.m.
There was a town meeting going on in the center, but we managed to get some breakfast before starting the hike.
The trek started easy and flat. We didn’t have to pay the entrance fee until we got to this small hut at an overview. The price was 70 soles, which I believe lasts a week but was good for three days at the minimum.
The trail begins to ease down slightly but is not too aggressive initially. It was insane walking along a trail next to a cliff as we gradually dove deeper into the canyon.
After around an hour or two, the trail begins to go straight down. This was the hardest part on my knees, but you’ll be fine if you take it slow.
Shortly after hiking down, you can start to see where you’ll be going for the night as you’ll cross a bridge, hook a left, and you’ll basically be at the hostal.
It’s an easy day, but the sun can be brutal. Put the sunscreen on!
Night one is where the thermal baths are, and they were simply amazing. It was nice to get to the hostal early and relax.
Overall, day 2 was long but super easy. The first hour or two of the day was uphill and difficult, but after that, we mainly hiked along a road.
The views were spectacular on this day. Halfway along the main road, you’ll see the pathway down to the Sangello (oasis). It seemed like a pretty steep decline straight down.
We took a break at a shaded bench for a few minutes until we continued along the road. You’ll pass the towns of Malata and Cosñinhua before heading down into the canyon more.
It took us around four or five hours on day two, and this was with us taking our time. Enjoy the views on this day!
The hostal we stayed at was perfect, there seemed to be a tour group there when we arrived around lunch, but after they left, it seemed we were the only ones at this accommodation.
This was the hardest day physically by far. Besides the first 30 to 45 minutes, it’s all uphill. I suggest getting started as early as possible so the sun will be less of an issue.
We woke up, had breakfast at 6 a.m., and started hiking at seven. The views in the morning on the Colca Canyon trek were something I could have only dreamed of.
Take your time hiking up as you’re gaining altitude and will be in the sun the entire time. Nobody was hiking up with us, but we ran into a few groups hiking down.
I can see taking the opposite route as we did to be enjoyable so you can enjoy the thermal baths on the last day, but I can imagine going up on the day one trail to be even harder.
Follow the trail until you reach the bridge, and then it’s an obvious path all the way up out of the canyon.
Final Thoughts on the Colca Canyon Trek 3 Days
We came back to Peru in 2023 for the sole purpose of doing this hike, and I’m so glad that we did. I haven’t had the chance to climb into the Grand Canyon and camp yet, so this experience was welcomed. I loved every second of it. My favorite activities are these multi-day treks while staying at comfortable yet affordable accommodations. If you have the chance to visit this part of Peru, then you can’t miss it!
Thank you for reading my guide on the Colca Canyon Trek! I hope this has helped to answer any questions you have before setting out on your own to hike this beaut.