Hiking and zip-lining in the Colca Canyon

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
8
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
6
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
9
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
10
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
3
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
8
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
87 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
South America
country
Peru
Length of time
3-4 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 150
Time of year visited
May
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
5th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 5% SUMMARY RATING: Unmissable

Summary

Visiting the Colca Canyon is a great 3/4 day trip from Arequipa – you’ll see some stunning scenery as the canyon is the second deepest in the world (twice the depth of the Grand Canyon) with majestic condors flying overhead, see plenty of traces of the old Inca construction along the valley; and end it with some adrenaline pumping zip-lining

If you’re going to hike one trek in Peru, it will very likely be the Inca trail, which is indeed stunning (see Hiking the 4 days Inca Trail for more details).  But the Colca Canyon trip is one that will cost a fraction of that, be far less busy and allow you to go at your own pace.  I really rated it

highlights

#1 Looking across the stunning chasm of the Colca Canyon. Twice the depth of the Grand Canyon

#2 Checking out the former Inca construction works that still cover large parts of the Canyon floor and are practically deserted

#4 Zip-lining through the gorgeous valley near Chivay

#4 Seeing the unusual oasis style village of Sangalle as you come to the end (or start) of your hike

#5 Being equal parts thrilled and terrified making your way up to the top of the valley for one of the big zip-lines

#6 Waking up to some beautiful, relaxed and very quiet views on the valley floor

#7 Getting lost! Don't worry it happens to all of us and the signs don't help!

#8 Finishing for sun downers in Arequipa at the end of the mini-adventure

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1 – early bus from Arequipa (see tips for here in A couple of days in Arequipa) to Chivay, and then from Chivay to Cabanaconde.  The afternoon is walking down the Colca Canyon to then spend the evening around San Juan de Chuco
  • Day 2 – early morning walk along the valley floor to Sangalle, then its a long ascent back to Cabanaconde for lunch.  Afternoon make your way back to Chivay for the night
  • Day 3 – early morning ziplining and then head back to Arequipa for sundowners

Travel Tips

  • The Colca Canyon is massive (100km / 62 miles long), so it can be a bit daunting to figure out where to start.  Unless you have a very specific hike in mind, or heaps of time, I’d recommend the El Classico Trek which is a great 2/3 day circular hike from Cabanaconde that includes the best bits of the mid-lower Colca Canyon.  You start from the San Miguel viewing platform and basically follow the path down to the river, along the river for a while to Sangalle and then back up a very steep ascent to Cabanaconde
  • Hiking routes and maps – the Along Dusty Roads guys did a great job and here is the link – https://www.alongdustyroads.com/posts/best-colca-canyon-route
  • 2 days or 3 days? It depends on your fitness level and how much time you really want to take.  We went from Arequipa in the morning of the first day (around 5 hours total) to Cabanaconde, spent the afternoon walking down the valley, stayed overnight around San Juan de Chuco, and then walked back up to Cabanaconde via Sangalle on the second day.  Although we were fairly knackered by the end due to the steep inclines, we didn’t feel at all rushed
  • How hard is it?  The first day is fairly easy as its mainly downhill (although watch out for your knees!).  The final day did feel long though, and with a brutal incline at the end – looking through my iphone, it was 34k steps and 273 flights of stairs for the final day.  When you factor in the altitude, this can be a difficult trek for those not already acclimatised or with a reasonable level of fitness
  • On your own or with a tour?  As always, it’s a more rewarding experience doing things independently and there’s no reason you can’t do this trip on your own.  There is a bit of faffing with buses (there always is in Peru) and potential to get a little lost on the second day of the hike, but they’re not in any way show stoppers – go independently if you can
  • You’ll get lost – especially from where you first cross the river to Sangalle.  And often you’ll get conflicting advice from locals, and even the local signs!  My suggestion is to download the offline map on google maps (maps.me is also great) and ask the people you stay with on the first night to give you detailed directions.  Bizarrely, the place we stayed with said there was a local dog who walks the route every day – we followed the dog and, to our surprise and gratitude, he showed us the way!
  • Colibri Lodge – we stayed here and it was perfect location wise.  The place is very basic, but more than makes up for it with the views, chilled out atmosphere and amazingly friendly hosts – really adds to the overall experience.  Unless you’re very precious about hotel luxuries, I’d very much recommend
  • Bus from Arequipa to Chivay and back (around 3.5 hours) – they left every hour or two (the times were erratic), best ask your hotel / do a bit of research because the times can change.  Getting from Chivay to Cabanaconde (around an hour) – there will be buses leaving when full, or just get a taxi with some other travellers.  For both trips – yes, its a mountain bus through the Andes, so a few moments of panic during insane overtaking and a few bumps, but the scenery is world class
  • Chivay – we stayed the second night in Chivay because we wanted to be close to the zip-lining and get our buses etc organised, but it isn’t the prettiest of small towns, so if find another cool place nearby I’d go for that
  • The zip-lining is super fun, and gives that great combo of fun and fear!  It isn’t across the actual full canyon, but is nevertheless beautiful scenery with the picturesque valley floor, the source of the Amazon not far away and the smouldering volcanoes in the distance.  If you do all of the zip-lines, it takes around 2 hours and costs around S150 / US$45
  • For those scared of heights doing the zip-lining – be warned!  Zip-lining is that great combo fun mixed in with that bit of fear.  I usually find that after a bit of nerves for the first one, I’m fine after that.  But, if you’re taking the full 6 zip-lines – there is one line that needs to be climbed up to through 3 ladders, with the last one being 15m (45 feet) that is near vertical.  It honestly honestly felt like 150m.  Its perfectly safe (you have harnesses etc), but a little bit of me died through fear that day!
  • For tips on other great experiences in Peru and for an itinerary for a trip there, see 2/3 weeks for the highlights of Peru

Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone