Most tourists come to Arequipa, The White City, for the tour of the Colca Canyon, which is the second deepest Canyon in the world. If you do want to take this trip, then there are usually two options available:
2-Day 1-Night Trek into the Colca Canyon
The first option is to trek into the Canyon itself. This is the option we took. The tour cost us 100 soles and then on top of that was the entrance fee of 70 soles.
Be prepared for an early pick up. We were told that we would get picked up between 3:00-3:30am. However due to the location of our apartment we weren’t actually collected until around 4:00am. Just make sure when booking your tour that they know exactly where you are. Our tour had trouble finding us even though we had provided the full address of our apartment.
I advise grabbing a quick bite to eat before you set off as it is a 3-hour drive to Chivay. This is the town where you will have your breakfast (usually included in the price). Not such a great breakfast for vegans, however they did have fresh papaya and pineapple juice and a very welcomed cup of coffee.
Cruz Del Condor
Once you have had your fill of breakfast it is then another hour-long journey to your first stop which is Cruz Del Condor. You need to arrive early to this site as the condors usually only fly at a specific time of the day. Some days however you will not see them at all. It completely depends on the time of year and the weather conditions. We were lucky here and managed to see up to 6 condors flying past and one that swooped in low right over our heads. I was unfortunately not ready with my camera at this point. Perhaps the coffee hadn’t kicked in yet.
I later discovered that the condors being here is not actually a natural occurrence. The president decided that it would be a good idea to throw dead animals over the edge to encourage the condors to stay here. This was purely to keep tourism high. Even after several questions I wasn’t sure whether they killed the animals purposely for this or they chucked over animals that had died from natural causes. Deep down I’m pretty sure I already know the answer to this.
After checking out the condors, you will continue your bus journey to the top of the Colca Canyon. This next section will comprise a 3-hour trek, all downhill. This can be tough on the knees, if you need to get walking sticks then it is advised. There are parts of the trek downhill which are quite dangerous. The paths are made of rubble and stones which can easily shift beneath your feet. Plenty of skidding noises could be heard from the entire group. I did actually fall on my butt at one point but luckily it was just a scrapped finger. Just be careful and take your time. The guide stayed at the back of our group the whole way to make sure that nobody got left behind.
You will then come to a little village called San Juan De Chuccho. Here you will be able to have lunch which was a very nice quinoa soup followed by chips, rice, avocado and veggies (alpaca meat if you wanted or omelette if you were vegetarian). We got a bit of time to relax afterwards to let the food settle and then we were off again for the next 3-hour trek.
This part was a little more difficult as it was a lot of up and downhill involved. Our guide described it as ‘Peruvian Flat’. It was not very flat. At one of the uphill parts a snake actually jumped out at me. Although extremely harmless it was quite a surprise. Just be careful, you will come across snakes and spiders.
After your trek, totalling around 6 hours, you are met at your overnight destination of Sangalle (The Oasis). There was a swimming pool here which everyone was keen to dive in after such a long walk. Me and my partner had a room to ourselves. Don’t expect much here. It is what you expect in the middle of nowhere. I actually think I would have been more comfortable in a tent. The tiny room was home to lots of spiders, moths, ants and other creepy crawlies I am not even sure the name of. However, it was a place to get a shower and your head down for the night.
We did have our dinner here too, which was vegetable soup and spaghetti with veggies. I was actually pleasantly surprised at our guides help in making sure that we didn’t have any animal products in our food.
Some of our group had a drink but I seriously wouldn’t recommend that, I’m sure they felt it the next day. Make sure you buy some water and a snack ready for your next early morning.
What goes Down must come Up
This part was hard! We set off around 4:30am. It was still dark, so you need to make sure you carry a torch. You tour guide will set the pace and stop at certain intervals to make sure the rest of the group catch up. Keeping up with the tour guide was tough on the legs. It was really quite steep and had lots of makeshift steps which have your quads on fire. Once the sun was up, the tour guide will then let you go at your own pace while she stays back to make sure that all the group makes it ok.
There is an option to get a mule, however I really don’t recommend this unless it is an absolute emergency. Like a broken leg kind of emergency! These poor animals are forced to take people up the steep mountain every day. It was heart-breaking to see. There were grown men taking the trips, I seriously had to bite my tongue. I firmly believe if you are not 100% sure in your physical ability to climb the trek back up then do not go down in the first place. Ok rant over.
There was a couple in our group that found it difficult and they took nearly four hours to do the trek. However major props to them for sticking at it and not resorting to the mules. The quickest in our group completed the trek in around 2 and a half hours and me and my partner came in roughly fifteen minutes after them. It is a tough trek but doable. I always say you get the best views on the hardest treks and this was no exception. The views on the way up were simply breath-taking. Really take your time to stop and check out the views on the way up. It will give you a chance to get your breath back too.
At the top there is the option to buy a coffee or snacks while you wait for the rest of your group.
Back to Arequipa
Unfortunately you are not quite finished, as there is then a 20 minute walk to the town where you are welcomed by breakfast. Again not very much choice for vegans, but hey, there is always bread and coffee. We brought vegan snacks with us too, so we were never caught short.
Once all your group has finished and has been fed it is time to make your way back to Arequipa.
The Thermal Baths
You will however stop around 11am at the thermal baths. This will cost you 15 soles to enter and as long as you are one of the first groups to arrive I highly recommend it. It felt great to sooth your aching legs. It did however get busy very quickly. Luckily, we had already claimed our place in one of the baths. You will stay here for around and hour and then go for lunch.
After this it will be around 3-4 hours drive home arriving in Arequipa around 5pm. They do have extra stops along the way home but I think everyone was pretty tired by this point, so we were less enthusiastic on the way home.
I highly recommend this trip. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and it was all very well organised. Much better standard than the trip we took in Peru to Machu Picchu.
1-Day Tour by Bus
If you don’t fancy trekking over 2 days, then perhaps the 1-day tour to the Colca Canyon is the option for you. During this trip you will be collected at around 3:00-3:30 am and will take the 3-hour journey to Chivay for breakfast, just like on the 2-day trek. Then you will head to the Cruz Del Condor and on to the top of the Colca Canyon. The views from the top are very nice however they are not as spectacular as during your trek up and down.
The tour is roughly the same, but you miss out the trek into the Canyon itself. Once you have visited the top of the Colca Canyon you will take a trip to the thermal baths and head into Chivay for lunch. You will take the same route back to Arequipa which includes a view of the other side of the canyon, various little towns and the possibility of seeing wild vicunas and alpacas on the way back home.
You should arrive back in Arequipa around 5:00pm and will be dropped off at the Plaza Del Armes so make sure you know your way back to your hotel/hostel.
Chachani & Misti
There are also other treks available in Arequipa if you are looking for extra things to do. Misti, which is a Stratovolcano, sits at almost 6,000 meters above sea level. If you plan on climbing this wonderous volcano then you must make sure you acclimatise to Arequipa first, which is already around 2,300 meters above sea level.
Or if you wish you can climb Cahchani which is over 6,000 meters above sea level. Both trips can be purchased by tour companies in Arequipa.
There is also water rafting available on the Chili River if you fancy something with a bit more adrenaline.
Most trips can be booked through a tour agency once you are in Arequipa. However, if you do want to book ahead of time and are more comfortable with a reputable company then you can book through Viator. You are usually charged a lot more doing it this way, however it pays to check out all your options.
Time in Arequipa
I have enjoyed my time in Arequipa. It has been a bit of down time to get refreshed after a few hectic weeks. We had a kitchen in our apartment, so we were able to make plenty of lovely vegan food. There is however a great vegan sushi restaurant close to the historical city centre. The weather was amazing during our stay in June with sunshine nearly every day. Make sure you take plenty of sun cream. I was told by our guide that skin cancer is getting more common in Arequipa and the locals are having to take extreme caution. The sun is very strong here.