Some people like to go on guided tours and some don’t. I am in the latter group. It can be quite challenging to find information online about hiking trails and things to do for this must-see Peruvian attraction. The Colca Canyon is definitely one of the spots in Peru that you can visit on your own. You really don’t need a tour company. I’ll give you some information about how to visit Colca Canyon on your own.
Is it worth to visit Colca Canyon on your own?
Yes, yes, and another yes! It is a wonderful place with spectacular views. However, it is a very well-known place. Many tourist buses go there and lots of people visit Colca Canyon, especially in the dry season. If you don’t have enough time to go to Cotahuasi Canyon, I highly recommend Colca Canyon.
How to get from Arequipa to Colca Canyon on your own
It is fairly easy: Go to the Terminal Terreste in Arequipa (preferably one day before you want to leave) and buy a bus ticket. There are some very early busses so that you arrive before noon. We were too lazy to get up in the middle of the night. So, we picked the 9:30 am bus, which arrived in Cabanaconde at around 4 pm.
You can find the bus schedule here.
The bus costs 20 Soles (around 6 USD) and takes at least 6.5 hours. Don’t assume that you will be on time. We have been delayed both ways. So, plan accordingly.
If you are traveling from Puno or Cusco, you have to use one of the tour companies that bring you to Chivay.
The bus ticket is the first step to visit Colca Canyon on your own. The next step would be finding accommodation.
Where to stay in Colca Canyon?
If you visit Colca Canyon to go hiking or trekking, Cabanaconde will be the best choice. It is the center of all trails. So it will be easy to do day hikes from here or start your trekking route.
I love the small village of Cabanaconde because it has a lot of charm and it was easy to meet other travelers/hikers.
Some people stay in Chivay, which is still 2 hours away from trailheads and viewpoints.
There are plenty of hostels and B&Bs in Cabanaconde. We stayed for two nights at the Casa de Santiago (click here to book a room). It had a spectacular view of the mountains and fields. The owner only speaks Spanish. So, exercise your rusty Spanish beforehand. 😉 The room was nice and had a private bathroom with a hot shower.
Another place I can highly recommend is the Pachamama (click here to book a room). We ate dinner and had drinks there twice. The owner is super friendly and knows a lot about the area. The food was on point and it was a great place to meet some other hiking lovers.
If you don’t stay at Pachamama but want to go trekking, buy their trekking map for 10 Soles. I found it very accurate and helpful because all trails are described on the back. Guests of the Pachamama get it for free.
I recommend staying at least one night in Cabanaconde to get a map, find the trailheads and get used to the area in general.
How many days should you visit Colca Canyon on your own
We stayed three nights in total (2 in Cabanaconde, 1 in Llahuar) and I felt like it was too short. It is a great place to go trekking because there are a few basic lodges in the canyon, where you can stay for relatively cheap.
As we started in Arequipa at 9:30 in the morning, the first day was basically for transportation only. The last day was also just about taking the bus back. If you want to save some time, you can certainly take the earlier bus to Cabanaconde so that you can hit some viewpoints on the first day. You can also take a night bus back to Arequipa but it won’t be a pleasant night.
A common route for trekking is Cabanaconde to Llahuar (4-6 hrs), continue to Sangalle (1 day) and then back to Cabanaconde (3 hrs) or the other way. If you want to visit the waterfall close to Fure, you may want to plan a day more in the valley or you will hike around 8 hrs or more on one day.
So basically, it depends on what you want to do and how much time you can spare.
How to pay the tourist ticket
They will find you, don’t worry. Each person has to pay 70 Soles for visiting Colca Canyon. It is valid for 5 days. They are waiting for you at the viewpoints and in the towns. You don’t have to go anywhere specific to purchase the ticket. So just wait until you see/meet one of the ticket controllers.
Visiting the viewpoints of Colca Canyon without a tourism bus
You can take the normal buses to the viewpoints, for example, to Cruz del Condor or Tapay. It is only 2 Soles. The earliest leaves Cabanaconde at 7 am. This will bring you to the viewpoint just in time to get a glimpse of the condors.
Some viewpoints are accessible by foot from Cabanaconde, e.g. San Miguel (25 min) and Achachihua (20 min). Casa de Santiago gave us little map about these as well.
Best trail at Colca Canyon for people who are short on time & not that fit
We hiked down into the canyon on one day and took a local bus back the next day to catch the afternoon bus to Arequipa.
The trail to Llahuar Lodge is 98% downhill. Although it was hard on the knees and toes, I still found it easy. However, I didn’t want to go the other way because it’s about 3000 feet uphill.
The local bus reaches the junction of Turouna around 11:30 am to noon. It costs 10 Soles to get to Cabanaconde and it takes almost 2 hours. We made it to the 2 pm bus for Arequipa (but don’t count on it – you never really know).
Another short hike is the Kallimarka Ruins trail, which took us around 3 hours. It offers amazing views as well.
Things to know before you go to Cabanaconde
- Bring sufficient cash: There is no ATM in Cabanaconde, only in Chivay
- Pack light: Leave the stuff you don’t need in Arequipa or in Cabanaconde if you want to go trekking. The less weight the better. Lodges and hostels generally offer snacks, drinks and food (the necessary things).
- Bring a water filter or tablets, if you don’t want to buy plastic bottles all the time. You will need a lot of water.
- Get used to the altitude before you go. It is relatively hard to breathe in 6000 feet high mountains.
- Best time to visit: The dry season is from April to November. More visitors are coming during this time. We visited Colca Canyon in the rainy season (mid-February) and I didn’t regret it. The mornings were sunny, and it only rained in the afternoon. Everything was green, so it was a great view. The only downside was that we couldn’t use the hotter hot springs at the Llahuar Lodge because it was literally in the river. Two were still open though (64 and 75°F).
- Don’t forget sunblock and a sun hat. The sun is very powerful, even with clouds.
- Depending on where you stay, WiFi might not be the greatest. So plan on being off the grid before you go.
- Things move slower here – so bring patience.
- If your Spanish isn’t good, download Google Translate App and the Spanish-English Dictionary. This way you can use it offline in case you have difficulties to understand.