Mon 2nd – Tue 3rd Jul
The main reason for coming to Arequipa wasn’t just to see the beautiful white city but to hike the mighty Colca Canyon….delayed slightly by finding out about and doing Chachani first.
Whilst hanging out with Kim and Amber and a tiny bit of research, we discovered that we didn’t need a tour or guide to do this hike…it seemed easy enough to do by ourselves. A quick chat with my hostel owner and I had a map, plan and one way transport booked for myself and Kim. Unfortunately, Amber has to move on.
Monday is a well early start and I really don’t want to get up with the 0230 alarm and shortly after 3, I’m collected. An hour doing the rounds of pick ups, and unfortunately for Kim, an hour later than she was told, we’re off. We doze until around 7ish when we stop for breakfast in Chivay. Despite only having a transfer (25s), this is included in our price. Good job really as it wasn’t worth the 10s they are charging if it wasn’t!
We then buy our entry tickets which cost 70s and are told to keep them safe as there are checkpoints throughout the route.
Back on the road and we make a stop at the Condor viewpoint. I wasn’t really expecting much from this – not being a huge bird fanatic but seeing these enormous birds fly through the canyon was pretty incredible. The Andean Condor typically lives about 60-70 years, and has a wingspan of about 2.1–2.7 metres
It’s another hour or so on the bus until the guides start telling some people to get off, whilst others get on. It’s all very confusing but as we’re not on a tour and not with a guide, we stay put until we reach the town of Cabanaconde like I was told.
We reach her around 10ish and a nice woman who is boarding the bus to go back gives Kim her walking pole and one of the guides gives us instructions of how to get on the trail.
We call into Pachamama hostel to check something out and are told that it would take too long to do the route we have in mind. We somehow end up being diverted and when I check Maps Me, I realise they’re sending us down the route we’ll be walking back up tomorrow. This isn’t what we want to do so with the aid of my trusty app, we start again and head back through the town in the direction we want.
On the way back up, we realise that where the people on the tours got off earlier is where we could have started and avoided heading into the town of Cabanaconde and back out. Nevermind, what’s a few more kms on a sunny day!
I will pass the info on to my hostel owner thou so she can start advising people properly!
As we start on our route, we notice how friendly the locals are…everyone stops and says hello, asking where we’re from etc. Only 10 or so mins in and a man tells us the journey is too long to do today. Both Kim and I have a stubborn streak, this is the hike we planned to do and therefore will do. We have started well over an hour later than anticipated and know we may well be walking in the dark but we’re cool with that.
We carry on and pass the San Miguel viewpoint before heading down the canyon towards the river. It’s a bloody long way down and there are some very steep switchbacks. Luckily Kim got given the walking pole as she has a bit of a dodgy knee.
We pass the mirador points of the 2 towns we will be reaching later.
The view is nothing short of spectacular although in the back of our minds we know that getting all the way to the bottom means we have to get all the way back to the top again! But that’s tomorrow’s worry. Today, the sun is shining, I’m in great company, in gorgeous surroundings and on a beautiful hike.
The river is still massively low down and in the distance we can just make out a bridge and guess that’s the one we’ll be crossing later.
As we’re not in a group, we have plenty of time to go at our own pace, stop for a drink and take in our surroundings. U don’t normally get to do this as u rush along with ur guide. We pass 2 men along the way – one a guide and the other an elder Ozzie bloke who does look like he is struggling somewhat and not enjoying it at all. We have a brief chat and head off on our merry way. Further down the canyon, we meet the Ozzie guy’s brother. We stop and chat but he too doesn’t seem to fully appreciate the beauty of where he’s at and mains about the 20 hour flight home he has!
For Kim and I, the bridge is soon within our reach so we happily carry on on this amazing hike until we reach this crossing and are now at the bottom of the canyon! Wow….it’s an impressive sight.
From here we follow the trail and signs towards San Juan de Chuccho, a small town the other side of the Colca River. A very friendly local woman greets us at the top and full of information on where to eat, visit a shop etc (the town is pretty much her whole family) she assists us on the rest of the walk into San Juan. A welcome break and relief from the sun we stop for a well earned drink, snack and toilet stop. We bump into some people off our bus who are on a 3 day trek and will be staying here tonight. It’s still early though with lots of daylight hours left so I don’t really see the attraction or point in needing to stay here.
We bid farewell to everyone and set off for the hours walk to the next town of Cosñirhua. It’s a fairly steady hike along to here and again you have fabulous views of the valley below.
It’s only a further 15 mins walk to the next town of Malata.
Having ascended up to these towns out of the valley floor below, we can see the little town of Oasis Sangalle in the distance. It’s about another hour and a half from here to there and back down hill.
We meet a cute little boy en route whom Kim gives a little wooden car to.
He seems far more taken with the photos we take of him though! It feels as if it’s not far to go but the switchbacks heading down are quite steep. The sun sets, head torches on, we’re now walking in the dark.
We’re not far away but after crossing another bridge there are many different paths to take.
Some rocks have been painted with arrows but it’s hard to tell. Maps Me is also not functioning properly being at the bottom of the canyon! We bump into some local men who try to point us in the right direction but the path we take doesn’t appear right. We backtrack and take another. I am well out of my comfort zone now, I don’t like not knowing where I’m going, made worse by the fact it’s dark and I can barely see. Kim however is loving this part of our hike!
We pass the El Cielo hostel where the party seems to be in full swing. We both are thankful to not be staying here.
Finally we reach Paraiso las Palmeras Lodge! We are given a twin room for only 15s each and sit down ready for dinner. Some other guys from this mornings bus are here also so we chat to them whilst waiting for dinner. Having set off much earlier than us, they reached here in daylight and enjoyed the pool that is here! Dinner is promptly served – soup then pasta and starving, their eaten quick! Best after an early start, hours of trekking and another early start tomorrow, we head to bed! I think I pass out before half 8!
Our alarm sounds at 04:30 and considering where we’ve slept, neither of us want to get up but that we must and we leave by 05:00. We let the groups go by and we just take our time. It’s a long arse walk back up but not horrible. The first hour is in the dark which again I’m not a fan of but at least the sun will be up soon.
It’s mighty steep in places in places with some big boulder steps but not a huge killer. Whereas Kim’s knees hurt on the down, mine do on the up so she kindly gives me the pole which is a great help!
Many horses and their men pass us on the way up, heading to the main town of Cabanaconde. They’re all super friendly, bud us good morning and ask if we’re ok. A dog seems to befriend us and walks with us a lot of the way. He charges on ahead and waits for us at certain viewpoints it seems.
The sun rises but is luckily the other side of the canyon. The reason for the early start is to avoid walking in the string heat that will come later. Walking down the sun was lovely but it would be a killer going up!
We can see the top and think there isn’t far to go but the route is deceiving and takes much longer than anticipated….one long switchback after another. Despite it being a bloody long way up and steep, it was quite an enjoyable hike…more so by being able to set our own pace.
Finally we reach the top and a big high 5 for another top hike!
We are greeted by a woman and a stall selling drinks and snacks. With bellies rumbling, we treat ourselves to a banana. We’re now on the flat and it’s a walk through the farmland back into Cabanaconde. We buy our bus ticket back (17s) but as it doesn’t leave for a while we treat ourselves to a slap up lunch despite it being breakfast time. Both the food and hot cups of tea and coffee are heavenly – as well as taking off my hiking boots!
We soak up the sun for half hour in the plaza then it’s time for the long 6 plus hour bus journey back to Arequipa.
Everything u read about the Colca Canyon and the info from tour agencies will tell u that’s it’s twice the depth of the Grand Canyon….a pretty impressive statement and one hell of a boast to say u’ve hiked. This however didn’t seem right to me. Having never been to the Grand Canyon but having seen it loads on tv, it looks a much deeper and harder climb than what I’ve just done. Kim in her training for Kilimanjaro has done it twice too and has said it’s bloody tough and takes over 8 hours to hike out of it. I eventually Google this and find out that in using this statistic – they use the highest point of the Andes in the Colca Canyon range to the lowest point of the river. This fact therefore may reign true, but it isn’t for the hike itself!