South America Travel Tips

Colca Canyon: my 4-day DIY tour of the 2nd deepest canyon in the world

Arequipa was not only my base for – finally – some great food, but also the closest place to Colca Canyon. Apparently, the third most-visited location of Peru and, also, a great destination for trekkers.

So, I packed my bag, left my suitcase in Arequipa, and took a 5 hours bus to Cabanaconde. Altitude: 3296 meters. Weather: torrential rain.

Day 1 – Arequipa to Cabanaconde

Not the best weather conditions to begin my tour alright, but I stayed positive. Thankfully my DIY trekking was only going to start the following morning.

I asked for directions for the Pachamama Hostel, basically the only recommended hostel in town, that apparently has good food, great vibe and no internet (like everywhere at Colca). A sign says something along the lines of “We have no Wi-Fi. Talk to each other!“, pretty cool. It was freezing and damp, but the vegetable soup and wood fired pizza were the best food I ate in a long time.

Day 2 – Cabanaconde to Llahuar

I went to bed at 10pm given my plan to get up at 6am. It was freezing. And I never slept with so many layers of wool – but hey, I slept pretty ok and got up with a nice surprise: the sun. Breakfast was wonderful and Mirko, one of the employees, gave me a free Colca Canyon map and showed me directions for Llahuar, my first destination.

On the way to Llahuar, and just a few minutes from Cabanaconde, I stopped at Mirador Achachihua. From here, you can apreciate in full the incredible beauty of Colca Canyon. What I could not see the day before due to heavy rain and fog, was now showing off all its majesty. Amazing snow-topped mountains, walking trails crossing the green hills and the river Colca itself, that you could barely hear from over there. Lovely clouds left over from the storm contributed to the magic. Breathtaking!

The trail to Llahuar features a steep 5 hours descend of almost 1200 meters inside the canyon. It goes across beautiful landscapes, dangerous bridges, slippery patches (I fell once) and noisy, angry rivers.

At Colca Canyon, you can only take portrait-mode photos. Yes, everything is incredibly high and it won’t fit in your horizontal camera screen 🙂

Finally, I got to Llahuar in just under 4 hours. I had no clue Llahuar has only… one building – the Llahuar Lodge. Cool, no?

The Lodge is located on the side of a hill, overlooking the canyon and the Rio Colca, and also features some artificial pools with thermal water springs, down to the river (kinda random, nothing special – but I dipped my tired feet in the water and enjoyed the sound of the angry Rio Colca).

Waiting for lunch I went for a shower in the… outdoor bathroom. And gosh – was it cold! So painful, and not sure if they ran out of hot water at that time of the day or the solar panels weren’t working 🙂

Anyway, lunch was awesome (I officially love Peruvian food), cooked on the spot, and then I dedicated my no-wifi afternoon to writing these words. Being down here in Llahuar, away from everything, in the middle of nowhere and without my laptop was wonderful. You get to appreciate life in a different, original way – like when we were kids, and you could only talk, play or draw. Didn’t think I would have gone back to that at 35, but whatever, it’s never too late!

Like clockwork, at 4pm it started to lash down. And I mean – that was proper Rain. It didn’t stop until midnight and it was so noisy that I couldn’t sleep well. And when it stopped, the river below was so noisy that I thought it was still downpouring…

Day 3 – Llahuar to Malata to Sangalle

Breakfast was excellent and, all together, 53 soles (approx €15) for a bed, lunch, dinner and breakfast wasn’t that bad!

The day’s objective was to reach Sangalle, from where the day after I could complete the loop towards Cabanaconde.

The walk on this side of the Canyon was, once again, excellent. At first, you climb 700m following a large terrain road, passing through the small settlements of Toruna and Belen. It’s hard to think people live here all year round, but the soil is great for farming and views are spectacular, so fair play to them.

My first stop was a Mirador halfway between Llahuar and Malata. I took some pictures and at a snack after walking uphill for at least 2.5 hours…

After that, finally some downhill, all the way down to Malata. I could already see the green lawns of Sangalle (and its azure swimming pools!), together with the scary, steep trail I would have had to walk the day after to reach Cabanaconde… a good 1000 meters in vertical.

Malata is a pretty cool town, with a nice church and a good amount of houses and shops. Happy I passed by here, without taking the direct shortcut to Sangalle.

From Malata, I took the trail towards Sangalle. I was starting to get a little tired (more than 10 km today) but I didn’t worry too much – landscapes were getting even more beautiful.

A good descend of 500 meters and here was Sangalle, finally. Many people didn’t recommend to pass by Sangalle and stay in here, but I wanted to. I took the wrong turn and entered a lodge instead of the “town”. Well, I found out a bed was just 15 soles, and lunch and dinner were very affordable too.

AND, there was a swimming pool. AND, hot showers. DEAL! I couldn’t say no really. I met a few people at the pool, including a guy from Rome (of course), and dived inside immediately to recharge after my long walk.

Once again, at 4 pm, it started raining. I had dinner, had a few laughs with my Italian friend, and went to bed early, ready to climb back to Cabanaconde early in the morning.

Day 4 – Sangalle to Cabanaconde

This time I had a decent, quiet sleep. I got up at 6 am, and my friend and I went for breakfast but we couldn’t find any, unlike what our host said.

Having wasted some energy and with just one bottle of water and 4 biscuits left in my bag, I started the impossible, vertical hike from Sangalle to Cabanaconde.

It was very cloudy and I couldn’t see anything but the trail. But this was a great news: I couldn’t see how high the mountain was and also it wasn’t warm, so I could breath better.

My 4 biscuits literally saved me, as halfway through the hike I started to get really tired. I stopped at least 12 times trying to catch my breath and gain some energy back. It was tougher than I thought.

Then, a mirage. I could see trees, some sort of building, a holy cross. Was that the end?

Well, yes, it was. I paid my 70 soles park entrance (I was exiting, but whatever…), walked another 20 minutes on a flat trail and finally got back to the main square of Cabanaconde.

In fact, that was one of the toughest treks I’ve ever done without having breakfast.

I went back to the Pachamama Hostel to get a hot shower for 5 soles. A great idea before hopping on a 6hrs bus back to Arequipa (imagine doing that all sweaty and wet…).

My Colca Canyon DIY adventure was almost over. I completely passed out on the bus, and only woke up when the 4pm rain started to fall down.

At night, I went back to my original AirBnB, collected my luggage, and found out they had a cancellation – so I stayed with my lovely hosts once again. And spent some other days in Arequipa to work, eat properly and chill out.

Next stop – the wonderful Cusco. And Machu Picchu!