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Colca Canyon in southern Peru is supposedly the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States and it's certainly not hard to believe as you stand on the edge of a precipice a kilometre above the canyon floor. As you drive along the road from Chivay, you witness the canyon slowly sink further and further away from the road, and the roads being as narrow as they are gives you plenty of opportunities to look straight down the sheer cliff faces.
There is more to Colca Canyon than vertiginous drops however, the most famous being the the condor viewpoint. This viewpoint perches on the edge of a spur overlooking the canyon where numerous condors soar on the rising thermals - caused by the sun on the canyon walls - before swooping past the viewpoint almost within touching distance.
Going on a two day trek involves leaving Arequipa at 3 am. The first stop is the Condor look out, this is very touristy and can often be a waste of time if the condors are not flying. However, when you do see the condors, they are truly spectacular. After this you will start your trek after another short drive from Chivay, a pretty hillside town which offers accommodation and food to passersby. Here you can also stock up on coca leaves, if you are prone to altitude sickness. Water is cheaper here than in the bottom of the canyon.
The trek itself is absolutely breathtaking and for many is a defining moment on a trip to Peru. From walking through a sea of yellow corn fields at the start, to then hiking down the rocky hillsides along the edge of the drop, you'll be amazed at the views and literally stunned by the scenery and surroundings. Many of the villagers whose homes are situated in the canyon area can make this journey up to five times a week in order to go to Chivay and beyond to sell their fruit and veg for their livelihood. While navigating your way up or down via the narrow pathways, you really get a feel for life in the canyon and are often left struck in awe. As the centuries old traditions that work every day have gone into maintaining it and building a life there. You bear witness to this and see it in action still continuing to this day.
Most hikes stop for lunch down at the bottom of the canyon and whether you're doing a three day or two day hike, you will stop here. The two day hike usually stops at the bottom and stays in a local hotel or guest house that tends to be very basic. They get up early the next morning and hike up to catch a mid afternoon bus. The more intense versions of the 2-day hike are basically accelerated 3-day hikes. On the climb out is up a different trail then the one down. It takes you up the other side and the along the cliffs passing hillside villages. This really is spectacular and one of the main highlights of Peru. The final day is very strenuous but is definitely well worth it.
The 3-day hikes split off from the two day hike at lunch. Some have lunch in Chivay or another hill top village, others have lunch at the bottom of the canyon then stop for the day there. Similar to the 2-day hike you stay in the bottom of the canyon then hike up slower, stopping at the oasis for a few hours to wait till the mid afternoon heat drops. After reaching the top most groups spend a night at a hotel in town with nice hot showers and go out for a good dinner. The next day you will go for a short hike out to the canyon rim that is very nice. On the drive back a trip to the natural hot springs to massage those swollen feet and help soothe tired legs, an excellent way to relax and reflect.
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There is a small charge payable by tourists at Chivay for entry to Colca Canyon and this also includes entry to the hot springs just outside Chivay. However transport between Chivay and the canyon may be more dificult if you are not part of an organised tour.
A 2 day tour organised in Arequipa travelling to Chivay and accommodation there for one night and travelling the following day to the condor viewpoint before returning to Arequipa costs less than $30 (US).
You can easily follow the road from Chivay to the condor viewpoint, however the road past that point is often impassable in the rainy season. The road itself is a decent dirt track and wouldn't require a 4x4.
There are not many villages along the Colca Canyon road, so it may be tricky finding buses, the closest village of any size before the condor viewpoint is Maca. The road past there is used mainly by the tourist transport.
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It is possible to buy snacks from women along the road and at the condor viewpoint, anything more substantial would mean visiting one of the larger villages such as Maca or Chivay.
Non-alcoholic drinks are available from women along the road.
There were no hotels specifically in the canyon, however most people choose to stay in Chivay where there are a range of basic hotels.
|Kollawas Home Inn||siglo xx Chivay Arequipa Caño del Colca||Hostel||86|
|Tambo Hostal||Av. San Antonio No602 - Yanque town||GUESTHOUSE||66|
|La Casa de Roy Colca||San Juan de Chuccho s/n, provincia de Caylloma, De||HOTEL||-|
|Tradicion Colca||Avenida Colca 119 Yanque||HOTEL||-|
|La Posada del Conde||Calle San Pedro s/n Cabanaconde||HOTEL||-|
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