Peru has many varying and absolutely stunning natural wonders, and Colca Canyon is certainly one worth visiting. There are multiple ways to see the canyon, whether you want to take in the views from the rim or are up for a trek deep into the valley below. Not only is Colca the one of the deepest canyons in the world, the rugged mountains, vast valleys, and volcanoes in the area make the journey outside of Arequipa an incredible one.
Booking a Colca Canyon Tour
If you are visiting during peak season (May to October) or don’t have a flexible itinerary, we recommend booking your tour in advance. Some tour companies have their Colca Canyon tour information and contact online. Your accommodation may also be able to organize a tour for you.
If you have a bit more flexibility or are unsure of what tour you want to take ahead of time, there are plenty of agencies to visit in Arequipa. We booked a tour when we arrived in Arequipa just two days before the tour. The few companies we visited still had open tour spots available.
As with any tour you plan to book, do some online research, read reviews, ask for recommendations from your accommodation or others, and feel free to visit and gather information and itineraries from multiple companies before making a decision. Be sure to confirm the included amenities, meals, gear, the language spoken by the guide, any other variables you may find important when booking.
Note that some agencies may only accept cash payment or may add a surcharge for credit payments. Some tours charge the 70 soles required to visit the canyon upfront and include meals, accommodation, etc., while others do not. If these aren’t included, you will need extra cash for the Colca Canyon entrance fee and extra activities and souvenir purchases during your tour. Bring some in small denominations.
What Colca Canyon Tour should you Choose?
There are many companies in Arequipa offering tours to Colca Canyon. Many offer both trekking tours and more of a driving and sightseeing tour. Those options vary highly and there are several things to consider that we’ll cover when discussing each below.
The sightseeing tour allows visitors to see Colca Canyon from the rim and additionally makes stops at various points in the towns around the canyon. These tours are generally offered as a full-day excursion or an overnight two-day trip, but the exact itineraries vary. The sightseeing tour is a great option for those limited on time, those wanting to see more of the area around Colca Canyon, or those who don’t want to or are unable to make the trek to the canyon floor.
We so badly wanted to do a trekking tour, but some food poisoning we caught somewhere between Valparaíso and Arequipa had us feeling not up for the trek. We still wanted to see the canyon, so we opted for a two-day sightseeing tour.
Our tour began before dawn and we headed out of Arequipa on a small bus with our group. We stopped at a small market where we could pick up some coca leaves and other snacks and souvenirs if desired. When we got back in the bus, the guide talked a bit more about the history of the coca leaf. The drive out of Arequipa was beautiful with views of the volcanoes and wild landscape.
Afterwards we made a couple stops in the Andean highlands where there were many alpacas and llamas hanging out and some shops to buy some woven goods. We were able to pet a few of the alpacas and snap some photos. If you want to interact with the animals and take photos, be sure to bring some pesos to tip the people who care for them.
In the afternoon, we made it to Chivay, a small town near the canyon. There was a buffet available for an extra cost where many tour companies stop for lunch. We opted to walk into town with another couple and grab some lunch at a local market instead.
Our group members were then dropped at their chosen hotel. Upon booking we were able to reserve a room at a higher-end lodge or a simpler hotel. We had the afternoon to hit the hot springs and attend a dinner show with local dishes served in the evening. Both of these activities were also not included in the tour price. Meal costs may vary depending on your tour, but are generally around 30 soles per person. The hot springs cost 15 soles per person.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and headed out of Chivay on the bus. We stopped at a couple overlooks that offered beautiful views of the valley, river, and agricultural terraces. There were some stands with snacks and souvenirs at these stops too.
Next, we made it to the Cruz del Condor. The bus parked and we had the chance to walk the paths on the rim of Colca Canyon. This was our favorite stop because the views of the snowcapped peaks and steep canyon walls were stunning and huge condors were flying over our heads as we took in the views. It was so cool to see them gliding through the canyon.
On our way back from Colca Canyon, we stopped at another small town where groups were performing a dance in bright traditional clothes and there was an old church situated on the square. After a short while here, we made our way back to Arequipa.
Thoughts on our Colca Canyon Tour
To this day, we are bummed that we weren’t feeling well enough for the Colca Canyon trek. The driving tour we took didn’t allow us to see as much of the canyon as we would have liked. But, we were glad that we had the option to see some of it.
We had already spent a few months exploring Peru and found that some of the stops on this tour were a bit of a tourist trap. Prices are still somewhat reasonable for meals, activities, and souvenirs. But food and similar souvenirs can be found cheaper in Arequipa and even the towns we visited on this tour if you venture out of the main tour stops. Card is generally not accepted, so bring plenty of extra cash in addition to the Colca Canyon fee.
While many of the sightseeing tours include the stops we mentioned for our tour, there are itineraries that vary slightly. For example, some focus more on bird watching or stop at different viewpoints around Colca and Arequipa.
Overall, this tour allowed us to learn a bit about the canyon, some wildlife, the towns in the area, and the people who live there, and we were able to see quite a bit of the area in limited time. But, if you’d like to visit more of the canyon and love to hike, we’d say take the trekking tour!
Trekking tours allow visitors to take in all the beauty of Colca Canyon’s landscape and have the unique experience of spending the night (or two) in one of the deepest canyons in the world. Additionally, some of these trekking tours incorporate some of the activities of the driving/sightseeing tours, such as the hot springs, Cruz del Condor, lunch in Chivay, etc.
Trekking tours are generally two days/one night or three days/two nights. If you want to spend more time within the canyon and learn about those who have lived in this area over time, the three-day trek is the best option. This is also a better option if you’d like to spread out the time between the hike in and out.
Tour companies recommend that you be at a moderate fitness level to do the trek. The trail leading into the canyon is steep, making it hard on your knees on the way down and pretty taxing on the way up. There are different trekking tours available with distances ranging from 5 to 19 miles (8 to 30 kilometers) roundtrip. Even the shortest options are rated as difficult. Additionally, some points on the rim of Colca Canyon sit at over 15,000 feet (over 4,500 meters)! So, we recommend acclimating a bit in Arequipa if coming from low elevation.
No Tour – Visit Colca on Your Own
It is possible to visit Colca Canyon on your own. If you have your own transport and are comfortable navigating the busy streets of Arequipa, it is possible to visit the rim and hit some of the viewpoints on your own.
You can also take public buses to Cabanaconde to start the trek if you’d like to hike on your own. Confirm bus schedules when you reach Arequipa because buses to and from this town are not frequent and schedules change.
There is accommodation within the canyon and in the towns along the rim that you should book in advance.
We won’t get too much into trekking the canyon on your own because we didn’t consider this much and therefore focused this post on tour options. Additionally, there are various routes to consider, a lot of additional preparation, and some trekking experience needed if you decide to go without a tour. If you’re comfortable and are willing to put in the extra effort, we think this would be an incredibly rewarding and amazing way to see the canyon in a way that best suits you!
What to Bring to Colca Canyon
What you bring will depend on what tour you choose. But, either way, you’ll want to leave large luggage or belongings you don’t need in Arequipa. Most van tours won’t have space for large bags and you don’t want to be carrying extra weight if trekking. Many hotels in Arequipa will allow you to store your bags there during your tour. We suggest bringing along your valuables. But if you must leave them behind, we recommend finding a hotel/hostel that has lockers as opposed to just a luggage room.
We packed our valuables and necessities for an overnight in a simple day pack. For treks, you may need a bit larger of a pack (around 30L). Most people don’t embark on this trek with a huge backpacking backpack.
Here are some items you should bring:
Water: Whether you are hiking or taking a van tour, bring plenty of water to stay hydrated. There are some places to buy water in the towns nearby and within the canyon.
Snacks: When trekking and driving around in the van, there will be a bit of time between meals. Bring some snacks to keep yourself fueled, especially for the trek. There are some places to buy snacks and water both on the trail and during the sightseeing tours, but we recommend coming prepared with some food.
Sun Protection: This is especially important if you are trekking. Consider sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses, even on the driving tour, because you will spend time outside at most of the stops.
Layers: Prepare for chilly mornings and nights. If you are visiting during colder parts of the year, bring a warmer jacket, gloves, and a beanie because it does get very cold, especially in the early hours of the morning when most tours begin the day. There was snow on the ground when we went!
Rain Jacket: Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, it’s always better to be prepared.
Swimsuit & towel: There are hot springs and pools in and around the canyon. If you’d like to take a dip, bring along your swimsuit and travel towel.
Comfortable Shoes: You will be walking around a bit regardless of the tour you choose. For the trek, wear sturdy hiking shoes because the trail is rocky in spots and steep.
Extra Clothing: For the trek, bring extra socks and essential layers in case things get wet or sweaty.
PJs: You might want to change out of the clothes you’ve been wearing all day before bed.
Cash: As mentioned above, you’ll likely need extra cash for the Colca Canyon fee, the hot springs, water, food, etc.
Trekking Poles: If you like to hike with poles, these may be helpful on the steep trail. Some tour companies provide poles.
Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, skin care, and other items you may need for an overnight. When trekking, try to pack light and leave out any large bottles and unnecessary items.
Bug Spray: We didn’t find the area buggy, but this may change during rainy season.
Misc. Gear: If doing the trek on your own, you will need to provide your own headlamps, first-aid, etc.
Electronics: Definitely bring your camera and/or phone to capture this beautiful place! Also bring the charging blocks, batteries, and chargers.