Trekking the second deepest canyon in the whole world is no easy feat, but it is an awesome accomplishment. The views are amazing and the oasis at the bottom is well worth the hot hike it takes! We always strive to be honest about our travel experiences, so in this post we will be talking about:
- Choosing a Tour or Doing It Yourself (including cost breakdown)
- How to Get There
- What to Pack
- Where to Stay
- Where to Eat
- Our Thoughts
We’ve divided that all up for you for easy info, so scroll ahead for what info YOU need!
Choosing a Tour or DIY
We often try to tackle experiences without tours, so when we found out we could trek the canyon ourselves we immediately started researching. However, we met many travellers that took a tour to the canyon and loved it! Here is a comparison for you.
- You’ll be in charge of getting to and from Cabanaconde (the town above the canyon) and have to pay for any meals etc. by yourself. If you just want to visit Sangalle (the oasis in the bottom of the canyon) you have two options:
- Two Day: This involves a very early departure at 1:30 am or 3:30 am on a public bus from Arequipa to ensure you get to the canyon oasis (Sangalle) at a reasonable time. We took the 3:30am bus and arrived at Cabanaconde (without a stop at Cruz Del Condor) at 9:30am. We got some breakfast and then headed down the canyon at 10:30 am. After a picture-stop filled trek we make it down by 1:15pm. Spend the day enjoying the oasis pools, spend a night in a small bungalow and head back up early the next morning to beat the hot sun.
- Three Day: You can take a later departure (9am departure is the earliest we saw after 3:30am) and stay in Cabanaconde for the first night. Then hike down the next morning, enjoy a full day and night in the canyon, and hike back up the next morning to avoid the worst of the sun and heat. We wouldn’t recommend hiking down the canyon the same day as the 9am bus because you will get caught in the dark.
- If you want to stop at Cruz Del Condor (where around 9:00 am you can see the condors gliding through the canyon), you will need to get off the public bus at the Cruz Del Condor stop and then wait for another one to come by to complete the journey to Cabanaconde (the wait could take an hour or two).
- Your food will not be provided as you will be navigating yourself.
- Guiding yourself is easy! Don’t let tour agencies tell you that you can’t find the oasis on your own.
- It is very easy to find accommodation yourself at the Sangalle Oasis at the bottom of the canyon during slow season. During high season, booking ahead online or through an agency may be better for you.
- Doing it alone or with a buddy will give you freedom to choose your breaks, enjoy the trek at your own pace, not be crowded in with other people, and make your experience unique.
Cost Breakdown – Un-Guided (Per Person):
- Transportation: 44 soles – including public bus (17 soles each way) and taxi (10 soles each way) to and from bus station. We split the taxi cost between two so it was only 5 soles each way per person.
- Food: 50 soles
- Room: 30 soles (Could go as cheap as 10-15 soles in dorm)
- Tourist Ticket: 70 soles*
- Water: 15 soles (only 2.5 L…ouch)
- Total: 209 soles ($80 CAD)
- A guided tour will pick you up from your hostel around 3:00 am (so you’re not really getting much sleep either way). You will be on a private tour minibus and be able to stop at Cruz Del Condor, and get back on your own bus. The length of the stop will depend on your tour. Your meals and accommodation will be organized, but you won’t have much freedom to break or stop and take pictures whenever YOU want.
- A guided tour can be booked online, with your hostel or at a tour agency in Arequipa. Exercise caution, look up the companies online, and check a few options before deciding. Good things to ask are if your guide speaks good English, how many meals are provided and what they are like, and make sure the trek goes down into the canyon if that’s what you want to do. Some treks simply go to Cruz Del Condor and look into the canyon, without trekking down.
Guided Cost Breakdown
- $40-$100 CAD (100-260 soles) tour cost. Most include two breakfasts, one lunch and one dinner (our price breakdown includes an extra lunch). Does not include water. Does not include Tourist Ticket: 70 soles*.
*Tourist Ticket: Either way you need to pay the tourist ticket fee for the canyon. If you’re on a tour, they’ll direct you on where to buy it in Chivay, at Cruz Del Condor, or in Cabanaconde. We didn’t buy one until we were on the trail down and bumped into a woman in a marked vest collecting garbage, who politely asked us to show our tickets. Since we didn’t have them we bought them off her (if you’re going this route make sure to bring exact change).
Your proof of payment for the tourist tickets is in the form of a small verified map. The money goes towards keeping the canyon clean (which we saw with our own eyes while paying), supporting the surrounding communities and we also heard it goes towards feeding the condors to keep them close to Cruz Del Condor.
The main takeaways: if you want everything taken care of for you, go with the tour. If you want a little more freedom and are willing to organize things yourself, do it alone! The cost difference is minimal. The other consideration is the stop at Cruz Del Condor. We saw the condors briefly from the window of our public bus as we passed but if you are hell bent on seeing those Condors, we’d say the guided tour would be the best!
Keep in mind, you are doing the SAME trek, same path, same weather, and staying in the same place! So if you choose to do a guided tour, make sure you aren’t getting ripped off!
How To Get There
Getting to Arequipa
*** Read this before arriving in Arequipa!***
The biggest city close to Colca Canyon is Arequipa, which has a large bus station and can be reached from many different locations. We took a night bus from Cusco with Oltursa (they were great! Stay tuned for our review of different South American bus companies). Arrive a day or two earlier than you plan on doing your trek.
Getting to Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde is the town above the canyon where you will enter. It is a six hour bus ride from Arequipa.
If you are doing an un-guided trek you will need to book your transport on a public bus to and from Cabanaconde. We assumed we would be able to find a schedule online, book online, or book in person the morning of (at around 5am).
HOWEVER, the bus schedules are not available on the internet, many travel blogs speculate but have no firm answers, and we eventually found out that the schedules change day to day. The best way to be confident about your departure time is to book a bus is in person at the bus station when you arrive to Arequipa (from wherever else you’re coming from). You’ll have to walk across the parking lot to the national terraport to see the local bus schedules and kiosks. If you don’t book it in person and in advance, you risk arriving at the bus station the morning of your trek (and that’s REALLY early) having missed your bus, or having to wait a while in the bus station for the next one.
The companies to look for are: Milagros, Andalucia and Reyna. Go to the kiosk in the national terraport and inquire what times the next buses are leaving, and book whichever one works for you.
Bus departures seem to leave between 1am-3:30am, and then the next one doesn’t leave until 9am. We’ve heard rumours of a 5/6am bus and many blogs have promised us there was one, but never gave us exact info! We are NOT going to do that to you. Here’s the truth: our very helpful hostel owner thought we were crazy when we mentioned a 5/6am bus and when we went to the station, we couldn’t find any buses with ANY companies that left at those times when we checked around.
We took Milagros there and Reyna back, and there was virtually no difference between them, except for departure times. We found both buses to be very punctual. Remember: leaving at 3:30 am gets you to Cabanaconde at 9:30 am and you will be hiking down by 10:00 ish.
The busses will drop you off in the main square of the town. There, you can book your return bus for the next day. There are signs outside of two convenience stores for Milagros and Reyna (we couldn’t find Andalucia).
Getting to The Oasis (Sangalle)
Getting to the actual canyon isn’t hard! The entrance looks like it is the entrance to a bunch of farmers’ fields but there is a very clear path down the middle. Using Maps.me is very helpful to find your route. Otherwise, you can ask a local to point you in the right direction!
The path down to Sangalle Oasis (where you will stay for a one night trek) is very clear. If you are met with a fork in the path, stay with the thicker, more well trodden path. Both will get you there, but the other paths are usually short cuts that could be dangerous. You will see the oasis at the bottom of the canyon a few minutes into your descent, so keep heading in that direction. Below is a screenshot of the Maps.me route, whenever it splits into two, stick with the route to the right.
Let’s make this simple: You will be carrying everything you bring on your back. So pack LIGHT.
- Light weight day backpack
- 2 light weight sport tank tops
- 1 light sweater
- 1 pair hiking shorts
- 1 pair hiking pants – it’s buggy but hot, so the preference is yours.
- 2 pairs of socks
- 1 pair hiking shoes
- 1 pair flip flops
- 1 bathing suit
- Trip towel (some accommodations don’t provide any)
- Rain cover for back pack
- Portable charger (not necessary but useful)
- Re-useable water bottle (filled with purchased water before the hike)
- Snacks – can also buy in Cabanaconde
- Your whole pack! You DO NOT want to be carrying anything more than you need on your hike. There are hostels in Arequipa and Cabanaconde that will store your big bags for free, but you may as well leave it all in Arequipa unless you plan on spending a while in Cabanaconde.
Where to Stay
For a one night trip, you will be staying in the Sangalle Oasis at the bottom of the canyon. Green grass, pools, palm trees and small, simple hostels with wooden bungalows will greet you. Again, for a guided tour you will have this taken care of. Whether you are guided or un-guided, you will be staying in the same places.
We found three hostels while we were down there. The names of the places aren’t really important, as they are all very similar. We will refer to them as first, second and third as this is how you will arrive to the Oasis.
The first hostel you see when you arrive is the one we stayed at. It has arguably the coolest pool (with a waterfall!). It looked as though it was busy once upon a time with a small hut advertising a happy hour, but that hut was deserted and the “shop” sold 2.5 litre water bottles for 15 soles (expensive) and large beers, Fanta, coke and sprite for 10 soles when we were there in October. The dinner we bought there was 15 soles, and had we chose to have breakfast, it would have been 10 soles. The room cost us 60 soles after bargaining, had an ensuite bathroom, a bed and a table.
The cabins for all hostels were similar. All very simple and we’re not completely sealed, meaning the walls were either sticks thatched together or the tin roofs didn’t connect with the walls of the cabin leaving space in between. We were not bothered by bugs so it was okay!
The second hostel also had a nice pool, and we were greeted with a small common area where they sold drinks (beer and happy hour cocktails), and fruit juices.
The third hostel had two pools, both built into rock faces. This seemed the most popular, but perhaps only because the guided tour takes you to this one. We had a lunch there for 10 soles. Dorm style rooms could be found here for 10-20 soles.
Honestly, all hostels are comparable, so choose the one with the least amount of people for a quiet stay, or with the most amount of people if you want to make friends! The only one we could find listed online is Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge, you can check it out and book online ahead of time here.
Cabanaconde can definitely be described as a one horse town, especially in off/shoulder season. If you are staying in Cabanaconde for one night before trekking down the next morning. We suggest the following two options!
Casa de Santiago was the only place we found with wifi. Wonderful owners and a very clean and spacious common area. We did not stay there (looked fairly expensive) but would definitely trust it! If you’re up for a splurge you can book online here.
Pachamama Homestay is the one our friends told us to stay at if we needed to. Caters to a backpacker crowd and seems friendly and cheap. No wifi and only set meals at meal times (I.e. No lunch until 12:30 etc). You can book online here.
Where to Eat
At the top of the canyon (in Cabanaconde), food was hard to find. Many places were closed, and many places that advertised a menu of sandwiches, burgers, pastas and salads didn’t actually have anything but the meal of the day.
The one place we found with a food menu was “International Cabanaconde”. It’s clean looking and has a glass door framed in black. It is located on a street just off the main square where the bus drops you off, on the side closest to the actual canyon. If you ask any locals to point you to the canyon, they’ll send you down that street (and it will be on the right). Food was simple but good, at around 10-15 soles.
If you need some wifi after your time in the canyon go by Casa de Santiago. As said above, it was clean, and had great wifi and wonderful owners. They only seemed to serve rather expensive coffees and water when we went. We get the impression they might make food at some point! If you don’t mind buying a 6 soles coffee or 8 soles cappuccino for wifi, go visit! Located right at the entrance to the canyon path. Any local can point you in this direction.
Once you’re in the canyon, food is decided for you whether you’re guided or un-guided. Every hostel simply had one fixed dish for each meal, cooked by the owners. You can’t be picky, though you can go visit other hostels if you’re not feeling what your hostel is cooking. The food was mostly vegetarian as bringing meat down there seems difficult.
Our lunch at the third hostel for 10 soles was noodle soup followed by rice, avocado, tomatoes, and what we thought to be potatos, pumpkin and perhaps a few other vegetables? Regardless, it was tasty and filling!
Our dinner at the first hostel where we stayed was noodle soup, delicious spaghetti and tomato sauce, and lemon tea for 15 soles. Served to us by the owner!
We opted to eat granola bars for our breakfast on the morning of walking back up the canyon.
Our other two meals (1st day breakfast, 2nd day lunch) were eaten at the top of the canyon at International Cabanaconde.
What We Really Thought About the Hike
Alex loved it, Devon thought it was hard and truly tested her. She also had to hike back up the canyon with a bad chest cold so she’s definitely a little biased.
Real talk though, unless you’re walking up or down in the early early hours of the morning (unlikely), you will spend most if not ALL of your hike in the sun. There is barely any shade on the entire path to Sangalle Oasis. It is hot, sandy, dusty, and tough. It is an entire kilometre from the top to the oasis, meaning you’re actual trek is about five kilometres up or down. It took us two hours and forty five minutes to reach the bottom, and three hours to make it to the top. Both days, there was not a cloud in sight and we found ourselves fading about two thirds of the way through.
This is not to discourage you from doing the hike! The oasis at the bottom is beautiful and it’s surreal to spend your day and night at the bottom of the second largest canyon in the world. The accomplishment itself is an amazing feeling as well. AND if you have the time, you can hike through the canyon to other villages and truly enhance your experience by meeting locals, finding amazing views and seeing some awesome waterfalls! Honestly, it was hard and Devon hated the hike in the moment, but she would one hundred percent do it again!!!