Advanced Level Hiking in the Stunning Colca Canyon

Cabanaconde was a small town with little more than the main square and some residential streets. It had a nice, calm vibe to it and gave you views of the mountains around from wherever you stood. The bus had taken six hours from Arequipa and left us wanting dinner and an early night to prepare for our hike the next day.

The Colca Canyon has the option of 1, 2 or 3 day hikes either through tour agencies or independently. We elected to go on our own, choosing to save our money and follow our own route.

Day one, Sunday, held our descent into the canyon which was tough on the feet and knees and hot once the sun came out. Finding shade allowed us a few well deserved rest breaks for snacks and water and gave our legs a small chance to recover. The path was steep and narrow and was made more difficult by the loose rock cover, threatening to trip us up as our feet slid down without proper grip. The views down into the canyon and above us as we continued further were incredible but could only be taken in when we paused to admire them, unable to look away from the difficult path while walking. They made the hike worthwhile and I was excited to see what the next two days held for us.

Our first night was spent in the town of Llahuar in a lodge with a dining area looking over the centre of the canyon and up at the mountains around us. The guest huts were down a brutal path and a lengthy set of stairs, something that felt even more difficult considering the condition of our legs already. Unfortunately the night turned out to be worse than my experience in the Amazon when we found more than five huge spiders in our room which neither of us could handle, forcing us to ask to be relocated to a room that seemed more satisfactory but didn’t quite give us the restful sleep we hoped for.

Having survived the night in the hut – possibly hitting the lifetime quota of ingesting eight spiders while you sleep all in one night – we indulged in the pancakes we received for breakfast before heading off. We were expecting a flat walk along the bottom of the canyon to get to the next town but found the path to take us uphill, across and back down which seemed completely unnecessary. The uphill was tough but only took its toll once the sun was out in full, and made the experience of carrying a backpack a rather wet one.

Thankfully it was worth it once we hit Sangalle, the oasis within the canyon and our destination for the second night. The lodges all looked like resorts with fancy pools and beautiful sitting areas to enjoy the sun and stretch out our painful legs. The warmth quickly disappeared as the sun dipped behind the mountain at around 3pm, casting a shadow over the bottom of the canyon and encouraging us to fetch our discarded jackets and long pants which unfortunately for me were in quite a state after packing very minimally in order to fit within my little backpack.

On the last day the alarm went off at 4am and we headed off at 5, expecting a torturous trek back out of the canyon with an uphill stretch of 4km with only one downhill break for no more than four – glorious – meters. In three hours we climbed 1000 vertical metres and thankfully only experienced the last half hour in the scorching hot sun thanks to our early wake up. The progressive sunrise was beautiful from within the canyon, watching the sky as it changed from the sun that we couldn’t yet see over the mountains. Luckily it made the pain worth it or I would have struggled for motivation. Walking back to Cabanaconde from the top felt like a success, especially considering there was an option to ride a mule up which many choose to do, and I battled to decline as some passed us with their guide ready to help us up.

The hike was hard but was an incredible experience, giving me views I’ve never had the privilege to witness before and providing me with a good warmup before the hike to Machu Picchu begins on Sunday. The disconnection from wifi was also very welcome and gave me a chance to start a new book and spend some time not planning the days ahead and instead enjoy the beautiful, yet painful, moment I was in.