The Colca Canyon (10,725 ft or 3,270 m), is one of the deepest canyons in the world. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon (6,093 ft or 1,857 m) and was once thought to be the deepest until the nearby Cotahausi Caynon (11,595 feet or 3,535 m) was found to be slightly deeper.
After all the facts and seeing the Colca Canyon from the many different viewing points, Jacob felt that the Grand Canyon seemed deeper?! I mean, we’re sure the facts don’t lie but perhaps from where you visit the canyons can make all the difference to how deep they feel. However they’re measured, or wherever you view them from, they really are amazing. You can’t beat a view like this.
Getting to Colca Canyon
Generally, you use the town of Arequipa as the base to explore Colca Canyon which is 4 hours away. To get to Arequipa we took an overnight bus with Cruz Del Sur and it was much more pleasant than we could have expected. Cruz Del Sur is a very reputable company within Peru that makes overnight bus trips quite enjoyable with their reclining seats, blankets, pillows, a “meal” and of course a Spanish movie. After the 10.5-hour bus journey south from Cusco, we reached the city of Arequipa.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and often called the White City due to the white volcanic ashlar stone used for the buildings among other reasons. We couldn’t tell you much more about Arequipa (sorry!) as we only spent 1 day there before our overnight adventure to the famous Colca Canyon.
The Colca Canyon is one of those things that most, if not all guidebooks would recommend you visit. But do we think so? In short, yes, but after taking the trip ourselves we thought we would share our opinions/ideas & tips for the trip.
3 different ways to visit the Colca Canyon
There are 3 options for visiting the Canyon from the Arequipa and most, if not all of them will stop in the small town of Chivay.
Chivay is the town most of the treks will begin at and also the town with most of the accommodation. It’s a small town with a slightly touristy feel with super cool motor taxis (not Tuk-Tuks, they get angry if you call them that) and also full of dust.
- The best way to see the canyon – Trek. Many companies run the famous treks for 2/3/4 days. If we hadn’t had just come off the Inca trail, we would have loved to do this but our legs were speaking loudly against this.
- The conventional way – Take the bus with stops along the way in the many different villages. Spend overnight in Chivay.
- The pressed for time way – A full day trip leaving Arequipa at 2:30/3am, returning by 5 pm.
We chose the conventional way as it made the most sense for our plans. However, although we did enjoy driving through the desert, visiting the small towns, seeing the roaming alpacas & Llamas and staying in one of the most remote towns we’ve ever stayed in, we think the trip could have been done in one day or the trek as a better option.
Booking your trip to the Colca Canyon
We chose not to book our Colca Canyon trip prior to visiting Arequipa because we weren’t 100% on what we wanted to do. Usually, this would send me crazy considering I love to have things organized and planned out but this time, I wanted to make sure we didn’t jump into any decisions.
After reaching Arequipa we were overwhelmed with the number of tourist offices selling these trips. It was way more than we have seen in any country we’ve visited. After walking into a couple of them and getting a feel for the tours, we made the decision to take the 2D/1N trip to the Canyon.
We asked 3 or 4 different companies their prices and they were all very similar, however, where the priced changed was the hotel you chose to stay in, in Chivay. Considering we weren’t going for a luxury night getaway, it made it fairly easy for us to choose. We went with the most basic accommodation and the company with the cheapest price. A total of 70 Soles each ($20USD) which included transport there and back accommodation & a basic breakfast. Cheap hey? At the end of the day, all these tours drive the same route, spend the night in Chivay and finish at the Canyon.
However, if you are looking for a more sustainable company or fancier hotel choices, there are some recommended companies online if you do want to pre-arrange your trip, especially if you want to take the hike. Carlios Tours and Peru Breathtaking Day Tours both run great tours but are definitely on the pricer side. We were told that online companies will always charge 2x the amount as the walk-in offices. In fact, 2 girls on our tour booked online and paid 3x the amount we did. Doh.
At Colca Canyon: Cruz Del Condor
The highlight of visiting the Colca Canyon was the viewing point at Cruz Del Condor. This is the site where the Andean Condors (the largest bird in the Americas) fly around the canyon. If you’re lucky enough you’ll see them but they usually come only in the morning and late afternoon. We spent a good 1.5 hours at the canyon (pretending to be condors) and just as we were leaving 2 of them decided to show their face but unfortunately they were only babies so not as large as we had expected but we still captured a tiny pic!
Don’t forget the Tourist Tax
No matter which way you visit the canyon or how long you stay for, ALL visitors are legally required to purchase the Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket) for 70 soles which is a whopping $22USD. As a local, with proof of ID, it is less. When we asked why we had to pay such a high tax, our tour guide told us “It helps to maintain the park & the roads”. Well interestingly enough, right after we paid the tax, we drove along the unpaved bumpy road to reach the Canyon.. go figure ;). Some companies will include it in your guide package but make sure to check and bring cash if it isn’t included.
On either side of the Canyon, lie unspoiled Andean Villages which are inhabited by 2 distinct ethnic groups, Cabanas and Collaguas. Before the Spanish conquest, it was not permitted for the 2 cultures to intermarry and they were distinguished by creating different head shapes (deformations) to babies. (yikes!) Once this was banned, the people then distinguished themselves by how they dressed and today, you can recognize who is Cabana and who is Collaguas by the hats they wear rather than the shape of their head.
We noticed this right away when we were there. Their clothes were all colourful and somewhat similar but it was the difference in hats that we noticed first. The two groups are now able to intermarry, and the child resulting from the marriage would then be known as a Cabana or Collagua depending on what their mother is.
If you have the time, definitely make a visit to the Colca Canyon, we’ve outlined 3 different ways on 3 different schedules so hopefully one of them will fit into your travel plans! If not, then check out our photos below and you can always pretend 🙂
Married days survived: 299