- Map of the best places in the Colca Canyon
- How to see the condors in the Colca Canyon
- Miradors of the Colca Canyon
- The different villages in the Canyon
- Several hikes in the Colca Canyon
- What else to do in the Colca Canyon ?
- See the Colca Canyon with a tour from Arequipa
- Useful information about the Colca Canyon
Watch out, it’s beautiful! The Colca Canyon is one of the wonders surrounding the city of Arequipa in the south of the country. And, honestly, his reputation is not at all usurped. The canyon is really beautiful, one of the deepest in the world, super impressive.
But the question that everyone is asking (well ok, that I was asking myself), what can we do in the Colca Canyon? What should we see? Wel,l there are really a lot of things. Of course the condors, but also small villages, an archaeological site, and of course hiking.
I’ll explain it all to you below!
And don’t forget the Colca Canyon is one of the most beautiful places in Peru !
Map of the best places in the Colca Canyon
In this map, you’ll find all the places I talk about in this article. Miradors, churches and villages, hotels, anything that could be useful to you 🙂
How to see the condors in the Colca Canyon
This is THE main attraction of the Colca Canyon and the main reason to come and visit it (we’ll see, there are plenty of other reasons). There are many Andean condors, magnificent and huge birds of prey flying in the early morning.
To see these condors, it’s relatively simple, let’s see all this:
Where to see the condors in the canyon ?
Well, it’s simple because they have their nests where the Cruz del Condor mirador is. So this mirador is the best place.
Nevertheless, don’t stay with the crowds, because there is A LOT of people. Walk away to the right, there are plenty of other places a few hundred meters away and there are a lot fewer people.
Above all, you can go to the big natural platform in 15min walk, noted mirador del Cura on google maps.
But a bit to the west of the Cruz del Condor viewpoint can also be interesting, you will also see them there (for example the Granja del Colca).
Further east, before entering the area, you will have little chance of seeing them because the canyon is not super deep (well, relatively eh, that’s already very good! but not for condors). But it’s really around the Cruz del Condor that we have the best chance of seeing them, with plenty of opportunities to get away.
What is the best time to see the condors
It is said that the condors take advantage of the early morning to come out. Especially between 8am and 10am. This is also why the tours try to arrive at 8 am to stay an hour.
We arrived a bit after 8 a.m., there were the condors, but they were especially out and flying from 9 a.m. and it lasted until 11 a.m. After that it calmed down. But even from 10 to 11 a.m., they were all outside.
In the afternoon, there is much less activity. At the end of the day, while visiting the (extra!) Granja del Colca accommodation, and its crazy view of the canyon, there was a condor flying quietly above us.
So! To summarize :
- The condors are mostly visible from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m.
- tours will mostly be there from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
- It depends on the days and hours, and their mood, take your time, stay as long as you can
How much does it cost
Entrance to the condor area costs 70 soles per person. Not the whole canyon, just the approach to the watchtower. This ticket is valid for a week
Miradors of the Colca Canyon
Inevitably, when we are in a canyon, we will seek to see crazy views. And that’s good, there are plenty of them here! And from Maca, or even a little before, we’re going to have plenty of them until Cabanaconde and even after. As they are on the side of the road, I might as well tell you that they are difficult to miss! Except the one of Cabanaconde precisely. Here are the main ones :
- The mirador Cruz del Condor, we have already talked about it, is really one of the good places and not only for the condors, also for the views because it is huge. And also a nice place for sunset
- Cruz de cura, at the other side of los condores, really not bad and nobody
- The Achachihua viewpoint in Cabanaconde, perhaps the most beautiful view and the most plunging
- The Tapay viewpoint, between Cruz del Condor and Cabanaconde, quieter, not bad for seeing the condors and absolutely no one
- the Wayracpunku mirador, with a great view of the terraces
- the Antahuilque mirador, a bit like the previous one, right next to it, very nice
The different villages in the Canyon
Of course, we are in Peru, so there are small villages everywhere, and the canyon is not an exception. And as often in Peru, each village has its own identity and above all there is a rivalry. Chivay and Cabanaconde, each at one end of the canyon. Two populations which, since the dawn of time, cannot stand each other but must live together. And the funny thing is that this rivalry is mainly … in hats. In Cabanaconde, they are super proud of their hats (with good reason) which they find much more difficult to make than those of the neighbors of Chivay. But who are nice too.
And in Chivay, there is a small superiority complex that passes average. It’s funny, it’s Desperate Housewives version Peruvian villages.
I admit that I didn’t really appreciate this little town, gateway to the canyon.
Chivay is the only place where you can trade, fill up, withdraw money, do some real shopping. So a lot of activity, trucks. Not particularly beautiful but it must be said that its main square was in total renovation, it does not help.
Chivay is also the main tourist center, meaning that a lot of excursions can be booked from there. Many hotels as well, restaurants.
In the evening, there is a market in its main square.
And I repeat, this is where you need to fill up with gas and draw cash (at Casa Andina). You will have no other choice then.
The village at the other end of the Canyon. If you are mobile, go there because it’s nice. The square is pretty, a beautiful little church (which was obviously closed when we wanted to go there), a few restaurants and inns.
But Cabanaconde also has some peculiarities. The Cabana people and their very colorful clothes, also their hats. It is not rare to see in the streets a lady dressed in this very local outfit (must be hot down there).
By the way, you can go to the local museum at the entrance of the village. You will have several models with the clothes but it is especially dedicated to Juanita, the mummy discovered not too far from here. They are super proud of this museum! You get in with the condor ticket.
But in Cabanaconde there is a great viewpoint, in one of the deepest places in the canyon. This is the Mirador de Achachihua.
Also Cabanaconde is the starting point for hikes. A small (but difficult!) road that goes to Sangalle. It’s not far eh, but a drop of 1100m.
And also a trek called “el clasico” over 2/3 days. You descend to the bottom of the canyon towards the mirador de los condores, then return to sleep in the small villages at the bottom. To finally go up abruptly the last day. It seems to be great
Where I stayed (at the Miskiwasi, great place!). Nice little village, a pretty little square and a very cute church (which was also obviously closed when I wanted to visit it).
It’s much quieter than Chivay but there are still some accommodations, a cafe, something to eat.
And great thing, even in the village you can have a magnificent starry sky, see the Milky Way without any worries!
Maca is the THE canyon’s tourist market. Well, it’s not very big, a small place and that’s it. Many tours go there to do their little shopping and there are therefore artisanal products. You will also be able to see women in local outfits from Cabanaconde, hats from Chivay as well.
But in Maca there is also (another one!) a very pretty little church that I was able to (finally!) visit. Nice interior but really nice exterior.
There is also a statue of which they are very proud, showing the Inca warrior Cahuide killing Pizarro the colonizer. Another representing a dance scene, but in a somewhat strange position, let’s say.
Just next to Maca, we will find another nice church, in Lari. On the other hand, I didn’t visit it because I didn’t know about it until after (see the smart guy) but it seems that it’s really worth it!
Several hikes in the Colca Canyon
So first of all, I would like to point out that I did not do these hikes. These are classic hikes that I found while researching and don’t seem to be out of reach.
- Cabanaconde – Sangalle
A classic hike that takes half a day (if you are athletic) or a day. Because it is a question of going down to the bottom of the canyon until the small oasis of Sangalle, a surprising place at the edge of the river. It is also a good place to sleep.
But the difficulty is to go up. Because we are on 1200m of elevation, all of a sudden. In altitude, yes. So it can be a bit difficult. Cabanaconde offers the most beautiful views of the canyon so it’s definitely one of the hikes to do if you don’t have too much time.
- El Clasico, 2/3 day trek
The idea is always somewhat the same, starting from Cabanaconde, descending by another path towards the mirador del condor. So precisely by leaving early you will be able to see the condors. Once down, there will be several villages over several kilometres, including Sangalle but not only! So you can go to San Juan de Chuccho, go up a bit to Tapay, then go to Llahuar, finish in Sangalle and go back up on the last day.
The other possibility is to do Sangalle, Llahuar, San Juan de Chuccho, then go back up, maybe that makes more sense.
If you want to hike with other people, some companies offer 2-day tours to enjoy the canyon and hike in it, from Arequipa. It’s around a hundred euros including accommodation.
What else to do in the Colca Canyon ?
The road to the canyon via the Salinas
This road is really superb and it is worth taking your time if you have a vehicle.
First of all you will pass next to the two volcanoes Misti and Chachani. Take the 34A road, the road is good. The road that passes between the 2 volcanoes is a fairly bumpy track, so for this one you absolutely need a 4×4.
The landscapes are already magnificent once out of Arequipa. Volcanoes therefore, to the right and to the left, beautiful mountains for an hour.
Then, we really arrive in the Altiplano and its very specific landscapes. The impression of being on top of the world (we’re not there yet but it’s getting closer!), very arid, volcanoes, again. We arrive in the Salinas national park.
But above all, it is here that you will come across a lot of animals. Llamas, alpacas, lots of vicuñas. That’s why you have to take your time if you can, because you can see them quite closely all along the way, especially from Patahuasi.
Also you can stop at the mirador de los Volcanes. A superb viewpoint on the volcanoes (hence its name, thanks captain obvious), including one that smokes regularly. The view is really nice and you can walk around a bit.
On the other hand, be careful, we are almost at 5000m altitude, so it can be surprising!
Some archeological sites
Like Arequipa, it is not necessarily the region where you will find the most Inca and pre-Inca sites. However, there are a few :
- Uyo Uyo: ancient capital of the Colca Canyon, it was the center of the Collagua culture, the first enemies of the Cabana
- Kallimarca: accessible only on foot from Cabanaconde, the site offers a beautiful view of the village, the canyon and the terraces
- The fortress of Chimpal: also a Collagua site, it seems that it is a beautiful 5km hike to access the site, but it climbs! (yes I know we are in a canyon, normal),
See the Colca Canyon with a tour from Arequipa
Colca Canyon in ONE day
This is what the majority of tours will offer you from Arequipa: the visit of the Colca Canyon in one day. It’s a big day because we’re going to leave very early, the objective being to see the condors. However, as we have seen, these condors are mainly active between 8am and 10am (well they are extra until 11am) and you have to arrive in this time slot.
So the program is (roughly speaking, it varies a bit depending on the tour):
- departure around 3:30 am (uuuuh yes!)
- arrival at Chivay around 6am
- breakfast and departure for the condors (one hour drive)
- arrival around 8am, we stay a good hour at the mirador
- then visit the different villages on the way back (Yanque, Maca also for shopping…)and the other mirador (Antahuilque, Wayrapunko…)
- return with observation of animals along the road, the mirador de los volcanes, to be back in Arequipa around 5/6 p.m.
So it’s a huge day, we can enjoy of the canyon relatively well, we see the condors, the small churches, the landscapes. It’s a very good overview in my opinion, for not particularly expensive (from 25€), especially if you don’t have a vehicle.
Colca Canyon in TWO days
The 2-day Canyon version is also interesting. It has almost the same course but takes much longer. For instance :
- the first day you take the time to visit the Salinas and in particular discover its animals
- in the afternoon you go to the thermal baths
- in the evening you have a typical Chivay musical dinner
The next day you have the classic program of condors, villages and miradors. The big advantage is that you don’t have to stuff yourself all the way in the morning.
The hotel is included in the price, and after checking all offer you something very correct. 3* (local) so that’s fine.
Prices are around 80€ per head.
Interesting option, you have the option of going to Puno (Lake Titicaca) rather than returning to Arequipa.
Useful information about the Colca Canyon
Cash machine and gas station
You have to be careful, in the canyon there is ONLY ONE cash machine and only one gas station. Both are in Chivay (entrance to the canyon so you really have to plan ahead)
The ATM is at the Casa Andina hotel.
The gas station is open late, expensive, and cash only.
If ever, like me, you messed up your gas estimates, then in Cabanaconde you have someone selling gas jerrycans. It’s super expensive but it can help out.
Entrance fee to the canyon
The canyon is free but not the condors section. A little before the mirador de la Cruz del Condor, we arrive at a sort of checkpoint where tickets are sold. It’s 70 soles per person and it’s valid for a week.
It’s not pricy, but it goes to the communities and the maintenance of the site (one of the most touristic in Peru). You cannot buy online and you only pay in cash.
When to come to the Colca Canyon
There are two seasons in the Colca Canyon:
- the dry season: from April to November (be careful, in these two months it can still rain a little)
- the rainy season: from December to March
You can come all year round to the Canyon, but if you want to hike, then I think you will have to avoid the rainy season. Because we will have rock falls, impassable paths, it will become much more dangerous.
On the other hand, just after the rainy season, April / May, it seems that it is the most beautiful because everything is green. The locals’ favorite season.
How long to stay
It will mainly depend on one thing: whether you want to hike or not. There are hikes of several days, so it will greatly influence the duration of your stay.
But let’s assume you’re not hiking. In this case, I advise to do 2 days and 1 night. We can do it in 1 day, the tours do it. If you don’t drive then yes you can do it in a day with a tour.
But in 2 days you can take your time to see the animals in the Salinas. Arrive in the afternoon and take a drive through the canyon.
The next day, you can therefore leave early to see the condors, then go to Cabanaconde, do the various watchtowers (there are quite a few), buy small things in Maca and leave quietly in the early afternoon.
Concretely, you can stay longer too because you feel really good there. We did 2 nights, I admit that a little more would have been great!
How to go to the Colca Canyon ?
From Arequipa, by car it is quite simple. And besides, it’s beautiful.
Well, you have to get out of the city, it takes about 45min, and then above all you will go through the Salinas, arrive in the Altiplano and meet lots of animals! So it will take you time because you will stop to see the vicuñas, alpacas, llamas.
Then we arrive in a more mountainous region, we see the volcanoes smoking, the viewpoint of Patapampa, at 4900m. And the descent that begins in the Canyon.
Normally it takes 3h15 to come to Chivay. Normally. With the stops, easily count an hour more.
If you want to rent a car, I recommend this section in my article on Arequipa, with the rental numbers
You have to go to the bus terminal (located 2km south of plaza de armas) if you want to go with a collectivo (public bus). Several companies offer their services, but from what I’ve read (I haven’t tested them), you should take either Reyna or Andalucia. Because the others would really not be crazy (a canyon and Peruvian driving, it can be a tad dangerous).
The journey costs between 15 and 20 soles, lasts 3h15. The bus does not stop to take pictures, it really is a direct bus.
With a tour
Clearly, we talked about it previously, going to the canyon with a tour is the simplest thing without necessarily being expensive. Having seen several along the way, they stop to see the animals in the Salinas, and that’s cool.
We are not managing our time but we don’t do anything, the tour handles everything, so why not !
Where to sleep in the Colca Canyon
There are mainly 3 places to sleep in the Canyon (and also a great fourth one!) :
- Chivay : I didn’t really enjoyed that city but it’s a really practical one, with most of the hotels. Everything goes from Chivay, it gives a lot of possibilities and it’s not expensive. We can find :
- Yanque : a nice small village a bit further, quiet and with a nice plaza de armas
- I stayed in the Miskiwasi Bed & Breakfast, such a great place for only 40$, owned by a really nice family
- Cabanaconde : the village at the end of the canyon, ideal if you want to hike as most of the hikes starts from here or ends here. There are many nice small lodges
- My favorite accomodation. The most beautiful view, the best location. You’re absolutely alone in the canyon here, you can see the condors in a fantastic landscape.
- La Granja del Colca for less than 60$ !
There you go, you know almost everything about the Colca Canyon! We obviously think of condors and it is true that it is a magnificent spectacle (especially if we move away a bit from the crowd). But we also have crazy views, we have magnificent hikes that will put your calves to the test, pretty villages. No really, I hope you can stay more than a day, but in any case you will be amazed!
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