There are a couple of useful blog posts about how to hike in Colca Canyon without a guide. I wanted to add one more as most of them cover 2-3 days route (I spent 4 days there) and some information needs an update. The route covers Cabanaconde, Sangalle (Oasis), Malata, Paclla, Llahuar, Llatica, Fure, the waterfall and the geysers while excludes San Juan de Chuccho and Cosnirhua. If you only want to see the pictures then scroll to the bottom. If you need tips keep reading. The following information is from October 2015.
There are both public and tourist bus services from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. The best way is to go there early. You can book a tourist bus service which leaves at 3AM from Arequipa. It costs around 30 Soles and they pick you up from the hostel / hotel. It’s the same bus service for organized tours but you can buy only the transfer. The public bus service costs 17 soles and leaves from the bus station. Unless your accommodation is close to the bus station and you don’t need to catch a taxi at 3AM I would recommend the tourist bus service. It’s a 6 hours bus ride with a stop at Chivay for breakfast (5 soles).
In a 4 day long hike in the Canyon I managed to cover many of the villages and stations around. I didn’t go to San Juan de Chuccho. If you are interested to visit you can read about it at The Parallel Life or Where is your toothbrush for example. I would say day 3 is optional as it’s a demanding 10 hour trek to the waterfall. Here is the description of the route I did:
Day 1 – Arriving to Cabanaconde and going to Sangalle (Oasis)
If you go with the tourist bus service then probably the group’s hike will start before Cabanaconde. Just ask them and they will take you to Cabanaconde. You can start the trekking there as well and you can avoid the crowd. The bus will drop you at the main square at Cabanaconde around 9:30AM. If you want you can buy some food, fruits and water here. From the square head north towards the canyon on the street Grau, you will find the trail.
The way down to Sangalle is a 1100 meters descend which will take around 3 hours. Close to the bottom take a left from the trail. Sangalle is truly an oasis with palm trees, pools (not hot springs), basic accommodation, food and cocktails. In case you do the trip the other way around you can rent a mule from here to Cabanaconde. Private accommodation costs 20 Soles, lunch / dinner is 15, breakfast is around 8-10, happy hour cocktails 2×15 soles. 2.5 liter water is 10 soles, quite a margin. There is no electricity in the rooms so take a torch or a headlamp.
Day 2 – From Sangalle to Llahuar, touching Malata and Paclla
It’s advised to leave relatively early from Sangalle so you can avoid trekking long in the heat. Go down on the track to the bridge and continue up. Here you have a couple of options. You can visit Malata as there is a shop where you can resupply cheaper and make a couple pictures on the main square. Optionally you can take a detour to Cosnirhua and San Juan de Chuccho here but only the way there and back will take extra 3 hours. Another route could be to Tapay. I only went to Malata and from there to Paclla and Llahuar.
There is a trail till Malata. From there you will need to continue the walk on the dirt road till Paclla. There isn’t much going on in here as only a few families live among many other abandoned building. At the time I visited there was a lady selling drinks, chocolate and other stuff cheaper than in Llahuar. Her shop is on the main road, there are no signs so keep your eye open. A couple of hundred meters before Paclla you can leave the road and do shortcuts on the trails. There is no lodge in Paclla. Llahuar is anyway an hour more from here and they have hot springs! Just continue the way down to the bridge and then up again for 20 or so more minutes.
From Sangalle to Llahuar with a stop at Malata is 10 kms, approximately 4-5 hours. Prices at Llahuar are the same as in Sangalle. There are 2 lodges here. Llahuar lodge is the bigger one with nice view from the dining room and hot springs. If you have tents there is a possibility to camp here. The other option is Cabana de Colca (if I remember well) which might be a bit cheaper.
The hot spring is included if you stay here. They have 4 pools, the warm ones are the two right next to the river. You can dip in the cold river and then in the hot pool to have a nice sensation. The food is vegetarian, the breakfast is banana pancake for 8 soles. Accommodation is basic, they have hot shower but limited lights as they use solar power.
Day 3 – Up to the waterfall Catarata de Fure and back (optional)
I would only recommend this day if you are really fit and able to do 10 hours in one day. I couldn’t find accommodation in Llatica and Fure was completely abandoned when I was there. Leave early enough around 6AM or even earlier if you wish. You can grab those banana pancakes around 6:30AM but then you need to hurry a bit later.
The trek starts at the only path leading up from Llahuar right at the entrance of the lodge. The route is relatively easy however at one point rockfalls destroyed the path. Cross carefully! You may encounter locals with mules and sheeps on the way to Llatica. The bridge is right before the village. There is a community hall before you enter the village and a tap with drinking water here. You can look around in Llatica if you wish. I haven’t found any shop here. From the village you can go down to the river. It’s an excellent spot for a quick snack and a dip if you fancy.
After crossing the bridge you need to turn left towards Fure. It’s the path which leads to the plantation. Someone painted a big black NO on the rock which shows the direction to Fure in white. I missed it, went around another path and lost half an hour. Only found it the way back.
Fure is basically empty. There was a hostel there once which is locked now just like the building around. Seems like it has been a bigger village earlier. There is a recently built school too which stands out from its’ environment. From here to the waterfall it’s 1.5 hour more. The hike is a bit more difficult. There are red marks (“H” + a decreasing number) painted on the rocks along the path. The last point I found was H2 in the bushes. The path is not easy to follow at the end and there are free range cows here too. You may need to climb a bit here and there if you want to go closer to the waterfall. But the view it offers worth it.
From here it’s the same way back to Llahuar. Keep track of the duration of your track and count with the sunset as well. Make sure you take headlamps if you hike the whole route. If you arrive to Fure later than 1PM then consider skipping the waterfall if you want to make it back to Llahuar in daylight.
Day 4 – From Llahuar to Cabanaconde and bus to Arequipa
From Llahuar you can go back to Cabanaconde by bus as well. There is a public bus which stops at Paclla around 12:00PM (might be late) and goes to Cabanaconde.
If trek is your choice then you have to go back to Paclla and take a right after Paclla on the dirt road. Follow the road towards the river. There are two bridges here: one for cars and the other for trekkers. The geysers are down at the river after the second bridge. You can approach the geysers from both sides of the river however the southern side is more impressive and a bit more difficult to reach too. You can smell the sulfuric gases around here.
From the geysers you can either follow the dirt road up to Cabanaconde (easier but longer) or continue with the trail. The trail takes around 4 hours and has an elevetaion of 1100-1200 meters. Closer to Cabanaconde you can find the lookout point of Achachihua, a simple wooden hut on a cliff. It’s on the left side of the trail. From here it’s approximately 15 minutes more to the bullfights arena which is at the edge of Cabanaconde.
Buses leave from Cabanaconde in every 1-2 hours however the smaller ones can get sold out. Buy your ticket in advance. The schedule I’m aware of: 9:30AM, 10AM, 11:00 AM, 1PM and 2PM. You can kill some time in the restaurants around the square.
The overall trek covers around 35 kms in four days. I tried to provide a detailed description. If you need anything else feel free to leave a comment. Enjoy the trip! 🙂
You can find more pictures of the route here.