With a depth of 10,725 ft (3,270m), the Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world & twice that of the Grand Canyon. It is commonly run as a tour from Arequipa, but the DIY way is easy, cheap, fun & adventurous.

From Arequipa, take a bus some 5.5hrs to the little town of Cabanaconde (via Chivay).

Small shops can be found around the main square, where you can buy food, drinks, snacks & amenities for your Colca Canyon trek. There are limited options in the canyon, which are obviously going to be expensive, so carry as much as possible, especially water.

thumb_file_4272x2848_068762_1024 The permit to enter the canyon & the Colca region is S/70 ($28), however we did not buy this nor were we checked for tickets. There are several trails into the canyon, leading to the oasis village of San Galle. We decided to take the long, more circular, counter-clockwise route via San Juan de Chucho, but after crossing Andean terraces, a football field, a cemetery & a rocky gorge, we found ourselves on the track leading directly down to San Galle. thumb_file_4272x2848_068765_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068766_1024 7 hours of hiking just turned into 2.5! All downhill! And the little doggy from the hostel had followed us this whole way! thumb_file_2848x4272_068832_1024 The views were spectacular: thumb_file_4272x2848_068825_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068769_1024 thumb_file_4272x2848_068768_1024 Here are a few more natural shots, showing the expanse of the reddish-brown mountains, dry plateaus, shrubby grasslands, thriving cacti and rocky path into the canyon. thumb_file_2691x4272_068824_1024 thumb_file_4272x2848_068829_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068828_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068831_1024 The zig-zag trail was sharp, sheer & steep; ruthless & relentless – and this was just going down. This map shows it better: 20120926-211901 All I could think was, What Goes Down Must Go Up – and the return trip up this wicked way was already filling me with dread. Pushing those thoughts aside, I focused on looking down & around, anywhere but up. The view below was not so bad after all, with a literal oasis of palm & palta (avocado) trees & glistening pools awaiting at the bottom of the canyon. thumb_file_4272x2848_068833_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068834_1024 At San Galle, there are around 5 different lodges side-by-side – you can check them all out as we did, comparing prices & styles. Being at the bottom of a canyon, food & drinks are more expensive than on higher ground, but a basic 2 bed hut is around S/20 ($8). Shared toilets/showers, no hot water, no electricity. thumb_file_2848x4272_068835_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068836_1024 The next morning, we left the oasis & were faced with the reality of finding a way out of the canyon. Oh, what I haven’t yet mentioned are the temperatures – while Cabanaconde can be downright chilly at an altitude of 3287m, down in the canyon on a bright sunny day, it is hot & humid. The pools aren’t just show. There was just no way we could imagine climbing out of the canyon the way we came in, up that cruel & crooked course. We decided to head deeper into the canyon and then continue west, following the Colca river, which would eventually lead to a sealed road where vehicles would we waiting to whisk us away, or so we wished. Well, with a lot of luck, dreams do come true. Not before stumbling through fields of cacti, lurching across a very recent rocky landslide, with fears & in tears, pondering quarries or quandaries, slipping & tripping, all in the midst of a majestic land. thumb_file_4272x2848_068838_1024 thumb_file_4272x2848_068840_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068841_1024 thumb_file_4272x2848_068845_1024 Still, we were tired, hungry & rueing the decision to head west & not north. We weren’t sure if we were on the right track, no proper roads were in sight & it was looking like we’d have to spend another night in the canyon – sans oasis. thumb_file_2848x4272_068843_1024 thumb_file_2848x4272_068844_1024 We were walking through a village AND… we spotted a car!!! This was our chance! We ran after it, catching up when it stopped at a house. In Spanglish, we managed to win a ride with them, all the way back to Cabanaconde. Our little doggy was STILL with us! The car was a ute/pick-up truck in fact, so there was room for all of us, creatures 2 & 4 legged, including other passengers collected along the way. The road was slow & winding, and a long one at that, some 45mins maybe. The whole way, we were feeling so thankful we had come across a ride, and for another unforgettable experience. thumb_file_4272x2848_068846_1024 thumb_file_4272x2848_068847_1024

How to get there:

From Arequipa, take a bus some 5.5hrs to the little town of Cabanaconde (via Chivay).

Buses depart Arequipa at 8am, 11:30am, 2pm, 1am & 3am.

Tickets cost S/17 soles (US$7).

Where to stay:

The bus will drop you off at the main square, from which it is a short walk to the colourful & cozy Pachamama hostel. Dorms start from S/20 ($8).

3 Shovels

Accessible DIY travel to more distant locations via multiple connections or longer forms of public transport

9 January 2014