Colca Canyon Oasis

Into the Depths: Hiking the Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

“…And this is a plant used by the local people to dilate the cervix to aid in birth…and in larger doses, to bring on abortion.”

People are amazing…

I was thinking, as I peered at the innocent-seeming little plant.

…who was the poor eight-month pregnant lady who one day thought she might try a bit of that delightful-looking flower growing on the mountain side, and then promptly found she was giving birth there in the dust, with ease, but without enough time to knit her bub a pair of alpaca booties?

I sighed, chastising modern society for not being so resourceful, and mentally categorised the little bud alongside several others already shown to us that morning; plants serving such a motley of purposes as insect repellents, lipsticks and moisturisers.

The Colca Canyon (Cañón del Colca) was, essentially, a sweet-smelling woman’s pretty little toiletries case.  Which we were rifling through with a muscular Peruvian man.

Colca Canyon
Pepe, striding ever steadfastly forward in the unrelenting heat…

Exploring the Colca Canyon

Pepe was that man, and he was leading a chattery Max and me down the Cañón del Colca outside Arequipa:  A dry crack in the earth’s supple butt cheek (ohhh, a bit graphic there, sorry guys) leading to a dewy oasis at the bottom (shite, ok…serious apologies now).

Before finding ourselves here, Max and I had been jolted to bits on a 100%-suspension-free-mini-bus ride from Arequipa, and stuffed to the gunnels with a sturdy breakfast (thankfully in that order).  But now here we were, walking to the oasis itself via a gravely path clinging often precariously to the hillsides forming this great cavernous canyon – wrongly famed as being the deepest in the world.  (Different sources will tell you a variety of things about which canyon this salubrious claim rightfully belongs to:  Either Peru’s Cañón de Cotahuasi, or, apparently some canyon in Japan whose name even the scarily all-mighty Google was reluctant to provide me with.)

Cruz del Condor
This pic should be dotted with a million condors ducking haphazardly across the skies. *Sighhh* They were too lazy to grace us with their presence that day.

So while not the deepest in the world, the Cañón del Colca has gained fame for being located near some great condor-spotting patches (though they were comically inactive the day we were there) and for the soap opera like Ciro Castillo murder-mystery which had had Peruvians the country over plastered to their televisions in recent months.

Colca Canyon

Beautiful with a touch of challenging

Done in two or three days, a jaunt through the canyon is a non-technical, but delicious little way to see one of Peru’s most famous natural wonders.  While the landscape doesn’t change dramatically throughout, the constant descent will have you on your toes, before its devil twin (the constant ascent) will have you wishing you’d worked harder at those beep tests in high school Phys. Ed. class.  But before this long-haul ascent…along you’ll go, stopping often to eat amazing meals, go “Wowwwww” at the gorgeousness of what’s before you, and later, rest up in the pools at the oasis.

Of course, if you are not fit enough to haul ass up the canyon on exit day, or manage to twist an ankle or suffer some such medical calamity sliding down it on the first, mules are available to lug you out.  But please (and I mean this nicely and in the spirit of animal rights), if you are more than somewhat large, consider how much YOU would like to carry YOU out.  We saw some truly exhausted mules wheezing by their spherical charges at the finish point.

Colca Canyon Flora

Colca CanyonBut do go…and enjoy.  It’s a truly beautiful sight.

(And of course, the major bonus:  Afterwards, you’ll be skilled in the art of painting your lips using only cactus fungus!)


  • If you want to contract a guide, head to Calle Santa Catalina off Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas and shop around its myriad of travel agencies.  For three days; transport, food, accommodation and the guide itself will set you back from S/.130 per person (about USD$50), until whatever obscene amount you are willing to pay.
  • Paying more gives “better” food (read, more meat, maybe some wine thrown in) and slightly more comfortable accommodation.  That being said, the comfort/warmth level on the budget options was perfect.  We went with Mundo Andino, and found them to be excellent value for money.
  • If you choose to do it alone, your costs over three days will end up at S/.120 without even trying.  Transport will set you back S/.30, accommodation each night S/.20, meals S/.15 a pop.   Basically, deciding to go it alone should be because you have an aversion to being in any sort of group, and not be thought of as an ingenious money-saving venture.
  • The path is always exposed, though not always signed.  If going alone, an intermediate level of Spanish would be beneficial to be able to ask the locals for directions throughout.
  • Bring good shoes and a small backpack.  While it’s not a technical sort of walk, it is almost 100% downhill the first day and 100% uphill the last.  Your ankles will need support and the momentum from a big pack will not be your friend.
  • Mules, if you require them, will be a mean S/.60 or so each.  Tell your guide on Day Two if you think your feet or heart won’t carry you back up.


Colca Canyon, track
The track is easy to follow, but gravely as all hell…
Colca Canyon, San Juan
Day One’s pit stop at San Juan…
Food Colca Canyon
Max, looking suspicious about her soup, before trying it and realising it was the best thing to have ever come out of a saucepan.
Colca Canyon
Walking, walking…
Accommodation Colca Canyon
Our room at the oasis – verrry warm, given its grassy aspect.
Colca Canyon Oasis
The oasis as seen from above…and the last day’s route out as well.

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