Colca Canyon in Peru is the second deepest on Earth and a wonderful place to get your solo hike on.
Hiking alone is not recommended as a general rule, but if you have some experience and a sense of adventure, you can do this trek alone!
This is an account of my own experiences, as always, you hike at your own risk. Be sure to tell someone where you’re going!
Most people do this trek with a tour company, but this dame hates paying for things she can do herself.
Instead, while I was in Arequipa I went to a couple agencies to learn more about the canyon and get a map.
I had no intention of taking a tour but I didn’t tell the agencies that. ::smirk::
With my basic knowledge of the canyon and rudimentary maps, I caught a 2 PM bus to Cabanaconde and arrived at night. The views on the bus were nothing special until we were dropping down to Chivay. I jumped off the bus to pee and so missed buying the tourist ticket. Opps…
You definitely need to get a tourist ticket…
and it’s not a scam although definitely costs more than a traveler would like! You can also buy them once you reach Cabanaconde if you also happen to miss it in Chivay.
I loved doing this hike alone because I was able to take my time and really enjoy being in an incredible place in Peru. I took 5 nights to do everything I wanted, even adding an extra day at the bottom of the canyon.
You could do the hike in Colca Canyon in one day, but why rush?
I stayed at PachaMama Hostel as they were meant to have a good maps and advice. It was all right, nothing more informative than I learned in Arequipa, but the staff was amazingly friendly and definitely wanted to help.
I decided to go to Cruz del Condor in the morning before hiking into the canyon. DO NOT MISS THIS. Seeing the condors is ridiculously cool, I don’t care how jaded you are. Or if you’re not a “bird person”. Neither am I, but you’ll never get this close to these majestic creatures as you will here. There are buses that leave early from town.
They asked for my tourist ticket here which I did not have BUT a Canadian man had given me a stub from part of his ticket.
So using this, Spanish and a smile I managed to pay 20 Soles instead of 70 which is awesome. Peru is definitely more expensive as they are aware of how beautiful their country is and charge tourists accordingly.
Imagine dangling your feet over a cliff, and suddenly BAM a condor flies underneath you. As the temperature rises, they get higher in the air until they are soaring over your head to close you could touch them.
They are so incredible in flight, I wish I could have stayed longer but there are limited buses back to Cabanaconde.
If I did this again…
I would have planned to start my trek into Colca Canyon the next day, not the same day as visiting Cruz del Condor. It was wonderful to watch them ride the thermals over this beautiful canyon.
Into Colca Canyon, Day 1
I took the bus back into town and started my hike down to Llahuar from the town center. Not best to hike at 10 AM alone in the heat. But the path was easy to follow.
Most people hike the other direction, down to San Juan but I had heard awesome things about Llahuar, and it was supposed to be the less popular route (which I prefer).
I definitely didn’t bring enough water and my toes were sore from going downhill after two hours and it was at least five hours to Llahuar.
BRING LOTS OF WATER AND HAVE GOOD SHOES.
About halfway down Colca Canyon, a local man passed me. He was friendly, although seemed confused why this gringa lady was alone and then he took off like a bolt. In sandals. Made me feel pretty pathetic but determined. I saw him hop over a rock at one point and practically run straight down the canyon.
Just as I crossed the river at the bottom of the canyon, a man in a truck picked me up and drove me to the entrance of Llahuar. I know, I was down there to hike, but I was hot and thirsty so I wasn’t too proud.
Speaking Spanish definitely helps in situations like this. Along the way, he picked up a Peruvian man on the way to his village as well. Traveling alone often means being able to read people and situations quickly, and I did not feel uncomfortable getting a ride.
I made my way further down Colca Canyon from where he dropped me off, where there is one place to stay in the village of Llahuar.
Off the main road, where the road starts to climb up again, there is a path on the left that goes further down towards the river at the bottom of canyon, where I planned to stay the night.
The path basically leads you directly to the entrance of the only accommodation in Llahuar. I managed to make it in about 4 and a half hours, so I felt good about myself.
It’s not really a hostel, but a bunch of cabins owned and operated by a family. It sits right on the river and they have a place to soak in the hot springs, which is the best reason to stay here.
I spoke to a lot of other travelers on this path and I am really glad I went to Llahuar and not San Juan.
There are more tours that go that direction, and so by going the opposite way, I had more time to myself. I did see other hikers though, if you’re worried about getting lost.
There were plenty of times on this hike when I didn’t know if I was going the right way, but then there would be a friendly lady selling water who always confirmed that yes, I was going the right way. There are also other people and villagers, and even without Spanish, if you can remember the names of the villages, they can point you in the right direction.
Basically, go down.
The canyon is amazingly gorgeous at the bottom. I went and sat in the hot springs on the river for a few hours and chatted with other hikers who were slowly trickling in throughout the day.
It was surprisingly crowded my first day, maybe 20 people, considering how few I saw on the trail. It was nice to have a conversation with someone besides myself ::hehe::
A few of us tried to go net fishing in the afternoon with Marcel, a local fisherman who worked at the cabins, but it mostly consisted of us chasing him down the river. I threw the net once and got it caught under a rock. Awesome. Trout dinner was delicious though!
Day 2 in the Canyon
I decided to stay another day/night and I’m so glad I did. I had the place to myself in the morning, all 20 hikers continued their trek early in the AM towards the oasis.
Reading overlooking the river (a crappy romance novel I found here as my Kindle died) and sitting by the river in the sun for a few hours is a great way to spend an afternoon!
I got so overwhelmed by the world that I cried. And laughed. I don’t want to get old and die, there’s so much beauty in the world. But I will, so I’m happy to be healthy and doing this now. Which is why I knew I needed to keep hiking this canyon even though I will probably hate it tomorrow. Plus, I didn’t have a choice ::sigh::
Challenging yourself is important.
Being down in that canyon is an interesting perspective on life. I can go missing and might never be found. It’s weird but also makes me glad I’m alone. I feel grateful for the people in my life who care about me. I really didn’t feel like the same person I was when I started this solo hike.
More myself? More aware? I suppose if I could answer that I know the meaning of life.
The walk was not as bad as I expected but I’m still proud of myself for doing it. Especially after the first day on the way down when I thought my toes were going to fall off. I thought no f*cking way. But it’s important to discover what you’re capable of!
Up is better than down for sure (for me), even though it makes your heart race. I feel less in control when hiking down. Slow and steady always wins.
To the Oasis, Day 3
After two nights in Llahuar, I started my trek to Sangalle, or the oasis. I started hiking at 7 AM to beat the sun a bit and keep a good pace all day. Turns out I’m a really slow hiker. And I’m OK with that. At least I’m doing it!
For awhile, there was no one to listen to but the birds. However, they’re building a road into the canyon (which makes me a little sad) and I so while I was looking for peace and birdsong it was unfortunately interrupted by machinery.
I one point I walked through a tunnel of yellow rock that smells like sulfur.
The way down past the terraces had had rockslides and at the first one I thought there was no way to pass BUT people have stomped a path into the slide.
Of course I could imagine all I could imagine was the sliding starting again and someone having to call my mother and they found me under a pile of rocks…
Once I came around one of the peaks though I couldn’t hear it anymore. Lovely silence and birds, wind and bugs. The view was amazing, the peaks of the canyon just carried onto the distance.
Great place to pee too! No better view ::wink::
The trek to Sangalle Oasis was up for about two hours, across and down into the oasis.
You will be able to see the oasis as you’re hiking and it’s easy to navigate to, turning right just before the village of Malata. Most of this day is hiking on an actual road as well, not a path, so easier to follow in general.
I stayed at hostel Paraiso which was full of backpackers on tours. I mingled and chatted but mostly just had a quick swim and dinner before bed. I woke at 5 AM, breakfast at 5:30 and started hiking out at 6 AM on the nose.
Hiking out of the Canyon, Day 4
I was so nervous about the hike out of Colca Canyon as it’s four hours straight up. Out of the second deepest canyon on earth. Plus there’s more people here and I just wanted to go by slow and steady pace.
But I know need to reflect internally and forget others.
I will make it. I will do it.
A thousand meters up is intimidating but I did it in under three hours no stops! Well… Slight pauses, here in there, you know… It’s always great to find out what your mind is capable of, because it can try to trick you into thinking you can’t. You CAN! To think I was going to hire a donkey…
It was good to hike alone, I hate making people wait and then I go to fast and I hate everything. It’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. Pushing yourself to accept and complete challenges is so good for your brain.Pushing yourself to accept and complete challenges is so good for your brain. Click To Tweet
You also have so much time to reflect and think about where you want to be. Colca Canyon was a perfect place to spend some time only and be grateful that I have two legs that carry me on amazing adventures.
When you reach the top of the canyon, you follow the path back into town. At some points you’re basically walking through a cow field, but you’ll see the town in the distance.
I had about two hours in town so I took a long shower back at Pachamama Hostel (thank you!) in Cabanaconde and then sat in the plaza waiting for my ride back to Arequipa.
If you are there during busy season, you might want to buy your bus ticket before you hike down into the canyon so you don’t get stuck in Cabanaconde for an extra night.
Other Tips for Hiking Colca Canyon Alone:
- Bring plenty of water with you.
- It costs a lot to buy anything in the canyon, so make sure to have sufficient cash on you as well.
- Having one of the rudimentary maps from tour agencies can help you remember names of towns, and basic directions. They are NOT to scale though!
- Leave early morning to avoid the heat, ESPECIALLY hiking OUT of the canyon. There is no shade anywhere. Bring sunscreen too.
- Make sure to have a headlamp, there is very little electricity in the canyon.
For 6 hours on the bus back to Arequipa, I thought about how amazing the trek was and how much I accomplished alone. We have a tendency to think we can’t do something alone. All the tour companies tried to convince me that I HAD to take a tour.
You do not need a tour guide in Colca Canyon! Go hike alone or with a friend, and enjoy the views and take the time to reflect. Give yourself a high five when you climb your way out of the second deepest canyon on earth because you’re a badass.
What’s your favorite solo hike?
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