Day 1: Arequipa – Cabanaconde (drive ±6hrs)
A one-way bus ticket from Arequipa to Cabanaconde costs 17 Soles. Arriving at the Arequipa bus terminal at 10AM we were lucky to get the last two seats available on the 11AM bus which dropped us at the main plaza in Cabanaconde at 5PM. In order to avoid disappointment you may want to arrive earlier or book tickets the day before departure. Buses depart throughout the day and early morning departure times are available for those planning to begin their hike immediately upon arrival at Cabanaconde. Bear in mind that if you are heading to San Juan de Chuccho you’ll need to ask the bus driver to drop you off at Mirador San Miguel where the trail begins.
There are plenty of accommodation options available in Cabanaconde, from budget hostels to pricey hotels. For the budget conscious traveller, we would advise not booking ahead as online bookings are much more expensive than a price negotiated on arrival. Another reason not to book ahead is that booking sites fail to list many of the accommodation options. Most hostels and hotels are amenable to storing your backpacks or luggage in a secure place allowing you to hike the trails with a lighter day pack. Be sure to pack warm clothing for the evenings and a swimming costume for the springs and pools.
Hiking through Colca Canyon requires a permit. The permits are 70 Soles pp, are valid for five days and sold from an office found in the municipal building located on the main plaza. Our permits were checked by an official stationed at a check-point on the way back to Cabanaconde at the end of our hike. The permit office and various hostels will be able to provide you with a map of the area, however these maps lack detail and are not to scale. Don’t worry too much as the trails are easy to find and follow.
There are a number of restaurant options located around the plaza. Local restaurants offer delicious and inexpensive meals, alternatively there are restaurants serving menu items such as pizzas and burgers. You will also find shops stocking cool drinks, snacks and water. Be sure to stock up as these items are sold for double the price along the route.
Day 2: Cabanaconde – Llahuar Lodge (±4.5hrs)
The trail head is located at the end of Calle Simón Bolívar. If you find yourself wondering if you are hiking in the right direction ask one of the local farmers who will willingly assist you. The trail starts off gently before descending on a relatively steep gradient to the bottom of the Canyon (>3,200m). Aside from taking photos of the spectacular views and scenery, remember to keep an eye out for Andean Condors circling above. We had four close range sightings of the Andean Condor and could hear the wind over their wings as they searched for prey and landed on rocky ledges. Near the bottom of the Canyon the trail meets up with the road and river crossing. You’ll come across a sign post indicating a left turn off of the road towards Chuwirca village. After a second river crossing you’ll find yourself at Llahuar Lodge.
The lodge has prime position offering gorgeous views out over the river flowing down Colca Canyon. Private rooms, dormitories and camping sites are all available here and very comfortable. Unfortunately we had booked online and ended up paying more than hikers arriving without a reservation. Be sure to head to one of three hot springs located on the river to soothe your tired muscles and enjoy a few cold beers.
The restaurant overlooks the stunning river junction and serves tasty meals for weary hikers. There is a set menu for breakfast (8 Soles) and dinner (10 Soles). The lunch menu offers more variety and snacks, cool drinks, water and beer are also available.
Day 3: Llahuar Lodge – Fure (±4hrs)
Unfortunately there is no morning warmup for hikers as the trail begins immediately with a climb up to the village of Llatica. Just before arriving in Llatica the trail turns right, taking you down to a river crossing. Hikers then have two choices ahead of them, either to take the trail to the right which will lead you along a more gradual climb, or the trail to the left which will lead you along a shorter but steeper climb. The trail to the right joins up with the trail from Oasis de Sangalle. Not wanting to repeat any trails, we chose the trail to the left and found the trail easy to follow albeit a strenuous climb. Another bridge crossing and you’ll find yourself in Fure.
We were surprised to find that the village had been abandoned by its inhabitants who have decided to relocate closer to the main road for logistical and schooling advantages. Fortunately there is one hostel offering comfortable accommodation at 10 Soles per room that sleeps two people.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are available here as a set menu at 15 Soles pp. As all supplies have to be brought in by donkey prices are a bit more expensive than other hostels.
Fure – Waterfall – Fure (±2.5hrs)
The start of the trail to the waterfall is initially a bit tricky to find as you have to wind your way through Fure village. We recommend asking the hostel staff for assistance. The trail is absolutely beautiful as you make your way along the cliff edge looking out over the valley and the river below. As most travellers do not make the effort to come here, you will likely have the trail to yourself. Several sections of the trail have been affected by rock-falls so be sure to proceed carefully. The waterfall is a stunning sight and we were heart-sore to learn that plans are underway to dam the waterfall due to an increasing population and higher demands for water.
Day 4: Fure – Oasis de Sangalle (±4hrs)
Initially the trail is relatively easy going as it rolls up and down along the cliff side. After meeting up with the road, it veers off and begins climbing up to the mirador. Continuing on from the mirador to Oasis de Sangalle, hikers again have a choice of two possible routes. One route is to continue along the road to the village of Malata. This is a longer option but one that offers a more gradual descent down to Oasis. Moreover, restaurants and snacks are available in Malata if you are keen to stop for lunch. The alternative route is a more direct shortcut which turns off of the road and steeply descends into Oasis.
There are a number of accommodation options in Oasis and availability was not a problem for us. To ensure that you get the best rate, view a few of the resorts and negotiate directly with the owners. We paid 30 Soles for a private room at the Garden of Eden resort and spent the afternoon cooling off in the swimming pool.
Snacks, water and much needed refreshing cool drinks are sold at a kiosk located on the route down to Oasis. Unfortunately for budget travellers there are no local restaurants in Oasis, but breakfast, lunch and dinner are available at any one of the hostels for approximately 10 Soles pp.
Day 5: Oasis de Sangalle – Cabanaconde (±3hrs) – Arequipa (±6hrs)
The steep ascent from Oasis back to Cabanaconde is tough going. The trail zig-zags it’s way up the side of Colca Canyon but unfortunately there is nothing gradual about it. Our advice is to leave Oasis relatively early to avoid climbing during the heat of the day. You will also want to get ahead of the mules carrying useless tourists, luggage and supplies. Relieved to have reached the top of the climb, our permits were checked by an official before we even had time to catch our breath.
Buses back to Arequipa run throughout the day and tickets can be purchased from bus companies located at the Plaza for 17 Soles. You should be able to secure a seat shortly before departure.
General Comments on the Colca Canyon Trek:
The Colca Canyon trails are spectacular and easy to follow. While hiking remember to keep an eye out for the Andean Condor as we had 14 individual sightings on our trek. Unless it is your intention to camp, there is no need to carry your own equipment as all hostels provide warm bedding. Similarly, there is also no need to carry food as hostels serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snacks, chocolates, drinks and bottled water are also sold along the trail, unfortunately at marked up prices. Also, consider that the route can be reversed or extended to include a stay in Malata or San Juan. To avoid escalating costs and to stick within our travel sabbatical budget, we filled up our water bottles in the clear streams and didn’t have any stomach problems. However, you may want to pack water purification tablets, a steriPEN or a water filtration system.