Key information: Colca Canyon
- Claimed to be the second deepest canyon in the world after nearby Cotahuasi, the Colca Canyon is famous for the huge Andean condors which can be seen soaring above it.
- With the dramatic volcano Nevado Ampato towering just 24km from the deepest part of the Rio Colcas canyon, the scale and majesty of the landscape here is stunning.
- Enjoy lush greenery, wildflowers and waterfalls as well as the cacti which flourish in the arid conditions of the Andean Cordilleras rain shadow.
- Discover forgotten villages, hike along old Inca trails and visit pre-Inca ruins.
- Altitude can be a problem here ensure that you are fully acclimatized.
- Walkopedia rating90
- Natural interest17
- Human interest8
- Negative points3
- Total rating90
- Note: Negs: altitude.
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: 3,280m to 5,100m
- Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
Situated about 150km to the northwest of Arequipa, the Colca Canyon was long considered to be the worlds deepest. Although that title has now been transferred to the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon, this stunning and diverse area still pulls in many visitors.
Its not difficult to see why - the beauty and drama of Colca is hard to equal. The steep descents of the cliffs and the dangerous rapids of the river are countered by the gorgeous serenity of the oasis below Cabanaconde. Deep in the canyon, the climate is almost tropical, harbouring ferns, palm trees and even some orchids. On the plateau and higher slopes the air is cool and dry, but the depth of the chasm and frequent sunny weather creates updrafts, on which the areas famous condors soar.
It is not only modern trekkers who have been attracted to the area. In many rocky shelters within the canyon, paintings and carvings testify to nomadic hunters having passed through here 5,000 years ago, and dating from a more recent period, the Colca Canyon has some of the most extensive agricultural terracing in Peru. Although often seen as synonymous with the Incas, the Collahua people had been practicing terraced farming in the valley for many years before the arrival of the Inca empire.
From more recent history, it is possible to find impressive colonial churches, built using the proceeds of the gold and silver mines dotted around the canyon.
Some of the surrounding volcanoes have a spiritual significance for local people, including Mt Mismi (5,597m), considered to be the true source of the Amazon; Mt Coropuna, the third highest mountain in Peru, and Mt Ampato, on the high slopes of which the Inca Mummy, nicknamed Juanita, was found.
There are a wide variety of superb walks which can be done, ranging from longer 5-6 day treks to short day walks. Organized expeditions tend to take in the surrounding area as well; if you dont have long then much of the canyons splendor can be gleaned from a day walk to the oasis from Cabanaconde see Routes.
Other accounts: share your experiences
Your comments on this walk, your experiences and suggestions, and your photos are very welcome. Where appropriate, you will be credited for your contribution.
Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Trekking in the Central Andes – R. Rachowiecki, G. Dixon, G. Claire (Lonely Planet)
The Rough Guide to Peru – D. Jenkins (Rough Guide)
Peru – C. Miranda (Lonely Planet)
South American Handbook – B. Box (Footprint Handbooks)
Canyons and Gorges of Peru – Books Llc
Eyewitness Travel Guide: Peru – M. Blacker
1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die – Eds., M. Bright, J. Barrett
Peru: 100K Topographic Survey Maps – IGN (Peru Survey)
Arequipa – IGN (Peru Survey)
Rough Guide Map Peru – Reise Know-How Verlag
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
It is possible to trek all year round, as the area gets an average of 300 sunny days a year. Humidity, cloud and rain are less likely from May through to October, which often makes them a sensible time to visit. However, the rainy season does have it’s advantages – the geysers in the area are much more impressive after heavy rainfall.
The weather here is generally very dry and sunny, although humidity, cloud and rain are common between December and April. Owing to the nature of the landscape, the weather can be very variable.
The rainy season lasts throughout January, February and March, whilst temperatures do not alter much over the year. In Arequipa, daily minimums go down slightly from April to November/December, but tend to stay between around 5.5 and 8.8°C. Maximums vary between 21°C and 22°C, no huge difference. However, the ecosystem of the canyon means that temperatures can vary hugely in the area, whatever the season.
Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to Arequipa, 60 miles south of the canyon and Peru’s second largest city.
Arequipa is reasonably easy to reach from the larger cities in Peru, with short domestic flights from Lima, Cusco, Tacna or Juliaca. Trains are available from Cusco, Juliaca or Puno, and buses run regularly from Lima and Tacna as well as from cities in Chile and Argentina. However, public transport is not necessarily quick or reliable in South America, so plan carefully.
A good base for most of the walks is Cabanaconde, which can be reached by bus (taking five or six hours) from Arequipa. Transportes Reyna (tel: 054-430 612), Transportes Andalucia (tel: 054-445 089) and Transportes Turismo Milagros (tel: 054-423 260) all run several bus services daily, departing from Terminal Terrestre, Arequipa. To return from Andagua (the ending point of the long trek), it is a nine or ten hour bus journey; try Transportes Turismo Trebol or Transportes Reyna back to Arequipa.
No permits are needed to do this walk, though you do need to pay an entrance fee to the Colca Canyon National Park.
There are many different options for routes to take in the Colca Canyon region, depending on how long you have. If you only want to spend 1-2 days in the area, then the following, all starting at Cabanaconde (3,287m), are ideal:
- A 1½-2 hour walk down a 1,300m drop to the Sangalle oasis next to the river is straightforward, and gives fine great views over the canyon. You can then decide how much time to spend relaxing here (accommodation is available, and many people spend the night here), before walking back. The return journey is harder and takes longer, normally about 3-4 hours.
- A variation on this is to descend to the river, and then climb to the villages of San Juan de Chucchu and Tapay, before descending to the oasis and taking the same route back as above. This usually takes around eight hours altogether, and can be a day or a two day walk.
- A short walk, only three hours, is from Cabanaconde to Banos del Condor and back, to see condors washing themselves (usually there between about 10am and 1pm). A guide is useful for this.
If you want to spend longer here, then there are plenty of guided walks: the best routes include:
From Cabanaconde across the canyon to Andagua and the Valley of the Volcanoes (5-6 days). On the first day, you descend to the Rio Colca and camp near Puente Colgado, a bridge that crosses it. From here, head towards Mina, an ascent followed by a long stretch alongside the river, crossing and re-crossing numerous times. In the village, you can hire a guide for the next days walk if you are travelling independently. You will probably need one, as you ascend to the 5,100m Paso Cerani, before dropping again and finding somewhere to camp in beautiful settings. You pass cacti and wildflowers on the next section of the trek, to Chachas. Here it is possible to stay in proper accommodation for a night or to camp. The next day, your last, gives a view of the fabulous Valley of the Volcanoes, before taking you across the strange landscape created by its lava, and finishing in Andagua.
From Huambo on the original Inca trail down the Huambo river canyon to Canco, from here follow the Colca river to the ‘John Paul II Falls’, and then follow the same route back. (7 days - Condor Journeys and Adventures).
Possible problems, health, other warnings
Altitude: acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year.
Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
Dangerous/harmful animals, including snakes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
This is remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Guided or independent?
Expedition organisers include:
- Terra Andina - www.peru-travels.com
- Explore! – www.explore.com - can be visited as part of one of their treks.
- Classic Journeys – www.classicjourneys.co.uk - again can be visited as part of one of their treks.
- Sherpa Expeditions – www.sherpa-walking-holidays.co.uk - again can be visited as a part of one of their tours.
- Condor Journeys – www.condorjourneys-adventures.com
Accommodation can easily be found in local towns, and if you are part of a guided walk, then they will have arranged either somewhere to stay or camping (some will drive walkers back to a base each night). If you are doing one of the longer treks independently, you will need to camp at most stops. For the shorter walks described above, there are two accommodation options at the oasis; basic huts, both with swimming pools, at a rate of about $3 per person, or camping.
Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with information on this walk. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
Other things to do in the area
- The nearby Cotahuasi Canyon, considered by many to be the deepest in the world.
- The Inca Trails, fascinating walks along old Inca trails to ancient ruins, are not far away from here.
- Many other amazing walks in Peru.
- You mustn’t miss seeing the centre of Arequipa, which is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the excellent preservation of its colonial architecture.
- Rafting in the canyon
- Mountain biking
Shopping, if you must
We are not a shopping website. But, anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out!
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.
Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
share your experiences
Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).
Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.
Responsible travel matters, a lot. How you travel will make a real difference - for better or worse. PLEASE consider this when making plans. Read more