One of the biggest things I missed my first couple of times around in Peru was the famed Colca Canyon. This stunning region close to Arequipa is one of the top attractions for travelers passing through Peru’s White City. It’s easy to see why, considering that Colca Canyon is the world’s third deepest canyon, offers the chance to see condors, and has no shortage of epic views throughout the beautiful trek.
Should You Do Colca Canyon With A Tour Agency?
The question isn’t whether or not you should do the Colca Canyon trek. The question is whether you should do the two day or the three-day trek offered by the tour operators. Sure, there’s also the day trip but let’s just get one thing straight. You’re going to want more time in Colca Canyon. A day trip won’t let you delve into the canyon like you actually need to to be able to grasp the magnitude of a place like this.
So, yeah, you’re down to a 2-day or a 3-day trek. Of course, if you do it without a tour operator, you can stay as long or as short as you’d like. However, the more we looked into it, the cheaper it actually would have been to go with an agency. We paid 90 soles ($26) plus the 70 soles entrance fee ($20) for our trek. It would have been 60 soles alone for roundtrip transportation to where we needed to go. So throwing in accommodation and food, we would have ended up spending more. Tour agencies also bundle the Colca Canyon trip with a bunch of other stops along the route. This includes a stop at the Cruz del Condor to try to spot the majestic condor and a detour to some thermal baths which you might deem necessary after a trek.
My verdict on this is to just do it with a tour agency. Our guide gave us a lot of information over the canyon, its flora and fauna, and more. Although you might not consider it necessary, it was a cool addition to know more about the canyon we spent hours trekking through. If you want to go alone to avoid crowds, let me just tell you this: it is hopeless. Colca Canyon’s popularity and the fact that you can get a donkey or horse when the going gets tough means that everyone and their grandma finds their way to Colca Canyon. You won’t be able to avoid crowds no matter how hard you try.
Should You Book A 2-Day or 3-Day Colca Canyon Tour?
Initially, I thought that booking a 3 day Colca Canyon trek would add more stops to the trek. I was hoping to see as much of Colca Canyon as possible, and after lounging around for weeks following my month of trekking in Huaraz, I needed to get my legs going again. At first glance, it looks like the 3 day trek would be the ideal option. More time out in the canyon, more trekking, more sights seen, and so on.
But unfortunately, both the 2-day and the 3-day Colca Canyon treks follow the same exact route. The 2-day trek is just a more accelerated version of the 3-day trek. Considering that the whole route only needs about 7 hours of trekking, there is really no need to have that third day. Let’s break it down.
The Colca Canyon 2-Day Trek
From the trailhead, you hike down about two and a half hours through the canyon before stopping for lunch. This part is downhill the entire way except for a brief 3-minute stretch back up following the entrance gate at the bridge. After lunch, you continue walking about two more hours to camp at the oasis of Sangalle. This 2-3 hour stretch involves a lot of up and down, although nothing particularly difficult. The longest stretch of steady uphill will only take you about 20 or 30 minutes and after that, it is downhill all the way down to where you will spend the night.
You’ll crash at a hostel in the oasis of Sangalle at an altitude of about 2,000 meters. The places here are actually pretty nice and most of them have a pool and a nice, spacious restaurant. The rooms are very basic but you’ll be too tired to care anyway. I fell asleep around 8 PM which was good considering we needed to be up at 4 AM to start the next morning.
On day 2, you will leave the hostel at around 4:30 AM to start the grueling 1,200 meter incline back up to the top. Our guide said his record is 50 minutes, and the fastest he’s seen a tourist do it was an American who finished it in an hour. However, that’s a bit extreme. Most people will finish it in less than 3 hours. You’ll catch some epic sunrise views over the canyon so make sure to look up and admire the scenery every once in a while.
This is by far the hardest stretch of the trek, although very doable for most people. If you don’t feel up for it, you can hire a mule to take you up to the top. I heard the cost is somewhere like 60-90 soles. I have no idea because I ain’t no weenie.
Once you make it to the top, it’s about another scenic 20-30 minutes to your breakfast stop in the village of Cabanaconde. And that’s it. You’re done.
The Colca Canyon 3-Day Trek
Read the above and then just stretch that out an extra day. Basically, after your three hours of hiking on the first day to the lunch stop, you’re done for that day. You spend the night in a family house nearby and then you’re done for the day. That means you’re done hiking at like noon after walking downhill for less than three hours. You have the rest of the day to spend in a quiet village.
On the second day, you complete the other three hours to get to the oasis of Sangalle. Then that’s it. You’re done again, probably by noon or earlier. The only reason I could think of stretching the trek out to three days would be to break up the three hour nonstop incline on the last day.
But you don’t. You have to do it in one day all at once no matter how long you want to stretch the trek out for. You can’t avoid it, so unless you’re okay with like 20 hours of downtime to do nothing, you should probably do the 2-day trek. Don’t get me wrong, Colca Canyon is beautiful and worth spending time in. However, I wouldn’t consider the views captivating enough to justify 8-10+ hours of downtime each day. It’d be better to knock out the trek in two days and then spend some more time in Arequipa or doing one of the many other treks in the area.
The Final Verdict
The two-day Colca Canyon trek is the way to go. It gets you deep into the canyon, gives you enough time to admire the scenery, and gets you out and back to Arequipa so that you can do some more of the epic treks in the area. For anyone in relatively decent physical shape, it shouldn’t be a challenge at all. The option to get a mule for the difficult second day makes it even more accessible for all sorts of travelers.
Although I love slow travel and taking my time, adding an extra day to the trek is unnecessary and can be cut off by most people traveling on a time restraint. Colca Canyon is a beautiful region of Peru and one of the many treks you can’t miss while in Peru.