Colca Canyon, Peru – Our Two Day Trek Into the Unknown
It’s 3:00 a.m. and the van picks us up in front of our hostel in Arequipa, Peru. Ten of us are setting out on an adventure, which will test our strength and perseverance. We were about to trek the Colca Canyon for two days.
A Four Hour Drive
Being so early, almost everyone slept on our four hour journey to the Colca Canyon area. Sleep eluded me though, as I was too busy freezing to death, even in my down jacket. Plus, the driver was playing 80’s music, so I kept getting tunes stuck in my head.
After three hours, we stopped at the town of Chivay for a basic breakfast of tea, bread and jam. It gave us a few minutes to chat and introduce ourselves with the rest of the people in our group. The crowd was very diverse; two couples from France, a couple from Australia, a young woman from Germany and a Peruvian man. Most of them were long term travelers of six months or more.
Mirador del Condor
After one more hour of driving the winding roads with fallen rocks and debris, we arrived at the Mirador del Condor. This viewpoint sits at the edge of the Colca Canyon and is a popular spot to see the Andean Condors in the morning hours. The elevation was about 12,000 feet and we were feeling the slight shortness of breath from it. We were able to spot a couple of condors down below in the canyon. Their wingspan can be as great as 10 feet! Unfortunately, we haven’t invested in a good camera yet, and our iPhones weren’t capable of getting a decent picture of the condors.
After a short drive, we were at the beginning location to start our trek. Our guide, David, explained how we would walk down the canyon together as a group for several miles. He stopped to tell us about the pre-Inca terraces we could see throughout the canyon. The local villagers still farm them to this day.
David explained how after walking a while, we would all separate and walk at our own pace until we arrived at the bridge crossing the river at the bottom of the canyon.
Scott and I had done minimal research on the canyon tour and thought we were hiking down to the small town oasis at the bottom of the canyon, where we would spend the night and hike back out the next day.
The Downhill Trek
A black, fluffy dog kept us company as we made our way down the rocky, canyon trail. Scott and I were at the back of the group and walked with a woman named Jackie. The terrain was steep and we needed to keep our eyes on our footing. It was beautiful landscape with butterflies everywhere and cactus and wildflowers dotting the hillside. The side of the canyon was very exposed and we walked in full sun.
At this high altitude our bodies needed more water and we were going through ours at an alarming rate.
Finally, we made it to the bottom! We were so hot and overheated. After three hours of hiking downhill in the hot sun, people were beginning to break down. One young lady was crying at the bottom and was saying she was done. Another woman fainted, and the guides from another group, rushed to help her.
David encouraged us to rest and enjoy a snack. Scott was getting nervous about our water supply, as we were at the bottom and the village oasis was nowhere in sight. We were limiting ourselves and Scott was very thirsty. Luckily, David said we only had a short hike to our lunch spot and we could purchase more water there.
Next, David led our group on a trail heading up the other side of the canyon. We walked for another half hour until arriving at a tiny village set above some terraced farmland.
At this point, Scott and I were wondering where the oasis was and how much longer we would be hiking.
We settled into our lunch with the group and began with a soup of clear broth with corn and potatoes. Next, came alpaca stir-fry and rice. I thought it was beef and that’s what it tasted like, until I found out otherwise later.
Our lunch break was very long, and having a full stomach and then resting only made us more tired.
David explained to us that after lunch we would hike two more hours uphill and then one hour downhill to the oasis. Scott and I were shocked. As we kept going up and up, we could see the trail we had hiked down on the other side of the river. It felt like we were doing a rim to rim hike. We climbed higher and higher until we arrived at a plateau.
Finally, down below we could see the oasis! It was a spot of green with palm trees along the river with bungalows and built in pools.
We felt such relief to be getting closer to our final destination. I was in no way mentally prepared for this strenuous hike.
The Final Downhill
Our legs and feet were so sore on the final downhill. We were so over it. It felt as if we had done all of the trekking I had expected in two days, all rolled into one.
We kept getting closer and closer as we hiked down switchbacks, sometimes spotting a waterfall coming from the side of the cliff.
Eventually, our group made it to our small compound of bungalows. The rooms were as basic as could be and Scott and I were fortunate to be the only ones with a bathroom in our room. Luckily, Scott had thought ahead when he booked our room for the tour.
Most of our group quickly changed into swimsuits and met up at the pool. It was cold, refreshing and much needed after our long day. It felt good on our sore, dusty bodies.
Later, some of our group met at the outdoor patio for “Happy Hour.” I use the term loosely, as it usually requires a bartender to make drinks. Our bartender had other plans, as he was busy playing football on the lawn with some of the other guides.
It was fun exchanging travel stories with the other members of our group as we waited for dinner.
The black dog who we had seen all through the day on the trail, joined us and slept by our feet under the table.
David worked in the kitchen with the chef, and we began our traditional meal with a delicious vegetable soup. For our main course we enjoyed spaghetti with tomato sauce. It was filling and basic, which was good fuel for the next day. We relaxed and drank tea for a while before we all wandered off to our beds.
At this point I had a decision to make. I could hike several hours out of the canyon at 5:00 a.m, or ride a mule out of the canyon beginning at 5:45 a.m.
Scott decided to hike out with most of the people in our group.
I woke up very early and went to meet the group for our 5:00 a.m. start time.
As we started our hike out of the canyon in the dark, I was reminded how much I enjoy hiking in the dark with my headlamp guiding the way.
From the very beginning, the climb was steep and rocky. I broke into a good sweat right away. The steepness combined with the high altitude made for a very tough hike. My legs were burning, but I felt good and strong. My goal was to get as far up the mountain as I could before the mules passed by.
Jackie and I both choose to ride out of the canyon by mule.
It was still dark as we set out, with the sun just beginning to peek into the valley.
We mounted our mules and our guide gave us instructions. Then we were on our way. At first, we were both terrified. The mules had a mind of their own and there were a lot of rocks to climb over. The trail was very steep and narrow. After a while I began to relax and trust the mule. Although, most of the time I did hang on for dear life.
It was a breathtaking climb out of the valley and we really enjoyed the stunning views. There really aren’t words to describe the beauty.
Our small group passed many hikers on the way up. The mule guides brought extra mules and some of the hikers decided to ride the mule out instead of hiking. The biggest surprise was when we passed by the black fluffy dog! He was quite a hiker.
Jackie’s husband and Scott kicked butt and were very strong on the trail. Scott was mainly with the young, German woman, and they finished the hike in about 2.5 hours. It would have taken me twice that long!
After meeting at the top of the canyon we all hiked to a small village and enjoyed a nice breakfast of eggs and bread. I was so glad I had ridden the mule, or I would have still been hiking.
After eating, our group piled into the van and off we went.
As we passed by the Mirador del Condors, we saw several of them soaring above us. It was really something majestic to see.
David explained our next stop would be for a soak at the hot springs right along the river. We were all excited about this, as we needed rest and to recharge.
We drove on a dirt road in the Yanque area. As we parked by the river, I was so excited. This was exactly what our sore, tired bodies needed.
The hot springs were in a beautiful setting, and it reminded me so much of the Saklikent Gorge in Turkey.
Our group walked across a suspension bridge and paid the fee to use the hot springs. We changed into our suits and began soaking in the coolest of five hot springs. Each pool gradually increased in temperature, so we had plenty of options for all of our comfort levels. Later, I went back to the coolest bath, while Scott and the other guys jumped in the river.
We definitely enjoyed this much needed soak!
Later, we still had a three hour drive back to the city of Arequipa. David stopped the van so we could get out at the view point for the highest point on the pass. It was 16,000 feet in elevation. There were hundreds of stacked rock cairns, as well as signs for several volcanos that we could see in the area.
Our final stop was to see llamas and alpacas grazing along the highway. It was a protected area and David said if the driver hit one, he could go to jail!
Colca Canyon, Peru – Our Two Day Trek Into the Unknown
Overall, Scott and I had an amazing time on the trek. It was much harder mentally and physically than we had expected, but we were so glad we went and would like to encourage others to do so as well.
We don’t have the information for which tour company we went with because the hotel booked it and we never ended up with the paperwork.
To read more about our time in Peru, please click here.