The majority of treks in the Colca Canyon have as starting point the town of Cabanaconde located about 1 hour and a half away from the town of Chivay. This area has been widely traveled by locals to get to the surrounding towns or villages of San Juan de Chuccho, Malata, San Galle, Llahuar, Fure, etc. These trails are in decent conditions but there are no signs to let the traveler know where to go; therefore, it is important to have a good map, have some command of Spanish to ask for direction if locals are around (this is a recondite area), or just embark on this adventure with a tour guide.
The access to the Colca Canyon Treks haven’t been regulated by the Peruvian government yet; however, the entrance ticket to the Colca Canyon Protected Area will be needed to start the treks or to cross the bridges that gives access to the town of San Juan de Cchucho or Llahuar. Before settling in a campsite or suitable area to set a camp, monetary arrangements should be made with the local who owns the land (this applies if somebody owns the land and is around).
When hiking these routes, it is important to not leave trash behind and maintain the area as pristine as possible. Horses for rent are available in these routes, but on the way down to the river they cannot be ridden for safety reasons (too steep and slippery).
The Traditional Colca Canyon Trek (aka San Galle Oasis Trek) via San Juan de Chuccho and the long version of the trek via Llahuar and Fure take the traveler deep to the bottom of the Colca Canyon. The Oasis’ microclimate gives life to vegetation in a mainly arid area. The journey to the bottom of the Canyon will be entertained by the Andean Condors, other local birds, and the beautiful view of the Canyon and surrounding villages.
How difficult are these treks?
Both versions of the trek are difficult. The 2 day version is approximately 23 km/14.4 miles when going thru San Juan de Chuccho (shorter if starting the hike via Cejana Pata Lookout point.) The distance for the 3 day version isn’t available. The distances traveled each day are not long; however, the elevation lost and gained make of this trek a though one and travelers should be used to hiking or exercise. Also, acclimatization is needed for this hike.
Should I be in good physical shape to trek the Colca Canyon treks?
These are demanding treks thus it is important to be in good physical shape and used to the altitude of a high altitude city such as Chivay or Cabanaconde before starting it. It is recommended that you stay in Arequipa, Cabanaconde, Chivay or another high altitude city a couple of full days prior to starting the trek. In addition, you might choose to take high altitude sickness pills or chew coca leaves during the trek.
What's the most difficult section of the trek for each version?
The most difficult section of the trek is the same one in both versions. This section takes the traveler from San Galle to Cabanaconde is the hardest portion of the trek. An elevation of 3,775 feet (1,150 meters) will be gained in about 3 hours. This will be a highly demanding hike. Many travelers decide to rent a horse to be taken to Cabanaconde. For this portion of the trek expect wind and cold temperatures if departing early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Some hikers might experience symptoms of altitude sickness.
Can I bring children?
Children under 12 years old should not be at this trek. Also, children should be used to hiking long distances.
Can I hike the Colca Canyon Treks at any time?
Yes, but at some times of the year it is not recommendable. There are not legal constrains against hiking the Colca Canyon Trek at any time during the year. However, during the rainy season (from December to mid-March) it is not safe to hike the trek due to the abundant rain which can generate mud slides and the quick rising level of the Colca and Huaruro Rivers.
When is the best time to hike the Colca Canyon Treks?
The dry season is the best time to start these treks. The dry season runs from April to November, while the wet season runs from December to March. Even during the dry season some rain can be expected (rain is still possible during this season but highly unlikely to occur from May to August.) During the dry season temperatures will fall near freezing conditions at night in Cabanaconde and Chivay (wet season is a few degrees warmer). At the bottom of the canyon (San Galle Oasis), temperatures will be higher at night with hot mornings and early afternoons when sunny. April, May, and September and October offer the nicest weather but there is a chance of rain.
What is the weather like?
During the dry season, weather is not a major concern. At Chivay and Cabanaconde, temperatures can fall near freezing at night. The annual maximum temperature varies from 22° to 24° Celsius (72º to 75º Fahrenheit) and minimum temperatures range between 1° to 3° Celsius (34º to 37º Fahrenheit). The other camps are much warmer.
Keep in mind that if an overnight bus will be taken from Arequipa to Cabanaconde will be freezing and the majority of buses do not have calefaction.
What should I bring to these treks?
Comfortable waterproof hiking shoes, long sleeve shirts, t-shirts, a good waterproof jacket, scarf, gloves, raincoat, hat, thermal pants and warming socks (if taking an overnight bus from Arequipa), hiking socks, sunglasses, a sleeping bag and a tent (if not staying at one of the lodges), mosquito repellent, sunscreen, water purification pills, toilet paper, flashlight, hand sanitizer, a small first aid kit, bathing suit and off course a camera.
Note: Lodges along the way offer very basic accommodations and spiders are usually in rooms with beds with dirty sheets and blankets.
Is altitude sickness a possibility in the Colca Canyon Treks?
These treks start at Cabanaconde Town where symptoms of altitude sickness can show if coming from sea level on the same day. If altitude sickness strikes you, the symptoms should start to go away as the trail progresses and takes you to the bottom of the Canyon. When returning to Cabanaconde, altitude sickness can show again. Symptoms will probably come back as soon as elevation is gained on the way back to cabanaconde.
What should I do to avoid altitude sickness?
To avoid altitude sickness, give yourself time to acclimatize to the change in altitude. (Two days minimum is recommended in Arequipa City). Try to avoid alcohol, and make sure you eat lightly and drink plenty of water. Make sure to stay hydrated, walk slowly and take frequent breaks. Drinking coca leaf tea always helps. It is widely available, and your hotel in Arequipa will probably offer it as well.
What should I do if I get altitude sickness?
Drink plenty of liquids, (coca leaf tea will definitely help), take a nap and try to rest. If you are in the middle of the trail and start feeling dizzy, extremely tired, nauseated, and have a headache, ask for advice from your guide. Guides have plenty of experience in this matter.
Is water available along the trail?
Yes. On the way, there will be some areas with small water channels, natural deposits of water and the river. This water should not be drunk before filtering it with a reliable water filter. Also, in the small villages along the way, locals will sell bottles of water and other liquids but prices are higher in these remote areas.
Are there bathrooms during these treks?
Some of the small villages along the way will offer basic restrooms. For instance, San Juan de Cchucho, Llahuar, and the lodges at the San Galle Oasis offer basic bathrooms.
Are there small shops along the trail?
San Juan de Cchucho, Llahuar, and the lodges at the San Galle Oasis sell small items such as beverages, cookies, candies, among other similar items. Cabanaconde has several of stores selling a big variety of items including camping equipment.
Are mosquitos and flies an issue in these treks?
There will be mosquitoes at the Oasis, therefore it is important to regularly apply insect repellent (preferable a repellent containing DEET between 15% and 25%).
Are there thermal pools along these treks?
In Llahuar there are hot springs and the water is very comfortable during the day and night. At San Galle, there are pools but these are not natural hot springs. Water is warm during the day due to the heat at the bottom of the canyon. Also, the hot springs of La Calera can be visited in the town of Chivay which is on the way to Arequipa from Cabanaconde. Some tour operators schedule a visit to the hot springs and some others include an overnight at a hotel with private hot springs.
Do all the tour operators provide the same service?
No. The common tour operator selling this tour offers a very basic tour including poor meals, bad transportation means, and the cheapest lodges where rooms are in bad conditions with the same boring itinerary. If you see prices that are too low, be careful! Some companies have hidden extra charges or fees. Many companies won’t provide all the services they advertise!
Only a selected group of professionally run tour companies offer a quality service and truly once in a lifetime experiences with interesting itineraries.
Can I trek these routes by myself?
Yes, but a basic command of the Spanish language will be needed to ask for direction to the locals since the route is not clearly defined in a few areas. Also, it is important to have a well-designed map. During the busy season it is important to make accommodation arrangements with the lodges in advance in case a tent is not brought to the trek. For the long version of the trek including a visit to Llahuar and Fure, it is recommended to hire a tour company or a tour guide who is familiar with the area.
Below there is a suggested checking list for the Colca Canyon Trek:
Note: if you have not hired the service of a tour operator or a mule to carry part of your belongings, you should have in consideration that you will be carrying all the items listed above so watch out the weight!
This is a recommended check list for booking the Colca Canyon Treks (aka San Galle Oasis Treks):
This adventure to the bottom of the second deepest canyon in the world starts in the Colonial city of Arequipa. Travelers will visit a few Andean communities, enjoy a local Pachamanca dinner, the hot spring pools at the bottom of the Canyon, and the flight of the Andean Condor. This strenuous trek will provide you a magical experience. Extension Available!
For prices, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.