Peru’s Colca Canyon Trek and Birdwatching at the Cruz del Condors

I knew that the Colca Canyon trek was one of those things to do in Peru that was not to be missed. The Colca Canyon is a super deep canyon for one, but also, from the near by Cruz del Condors, even the most amateur of bird watchers can check out the resident Andean Condor population. A Colca Canyon Tour would have made sense, but I did the only thing a gal on a time and cash budget could do: I booked another night bus, leaving at 1am from Arequipa.

Right? Totally smart.

Getting to the ‘Cruz del Condor’ from Arequipa

Ok, the reason being, you need to be on this bus from Arequipa in order to get to the Colca Canyon to see the condors in their early morning peak time. Whagita what?!?! I know, it made little sense to me, like, why are a bunch of birds on such a strict time frame that you must see them between 7 and 9am in the morning. Where do they have to be?!?!?! Oh well, who am I to argue with nature. I bet it used to be even earlier but you know… #climatechange

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So I was on the local bus, which was freezing for no particular reason (this is NOT one of my dearly loved Cruz del Sur night buses, oh how I longed for my Cruz del Sur night buses), and the sun started to rise, finally. Which means we are almost to the Cruz del Condors lookout, basically a lookout etched into the side of the Colca Canyon where condors put on daily shows, gliding around on the updrafts of the canyon.

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Cruz del Condors, Canyon Colca Peru

Truth: Condors are huge.

Before you see your first condor, you think that everything is a condor, like that lame hawk over there. And while you are waiting for that first condor, if you’re me, you start getting a bit bored. Starting to think, this is why I’m not a bird watcher…

Then you see your first condor and you’re like “Holy Hannah! That’s one hell of a bird!!!” And they drift around, and swoop and glide, looking extremely majestic and beautiful in the air. Its not until you see a picture of a condor up close that you’re like “Holy Hannah! That’s the ugliest thing I’ve seen since eating my dead guinea pig.” Honestly, if condors were human, they would have a TLC reality show.

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What is the Canyon del Colca?

Fun facts: The Colca Canyon is twice as deep into the Earth as the Grand Canyon, and is even then still only the second deepest canyon in the world. Another Peruvian canyon, Cotahuasi Canyon is actually the deepest. But uniquely, the Colca has people living in it, mainly tilling the land on the incredible terraces running up and down each side of the insanely deep canyon. And with no tractors in sight, that’s putting your back into it alright! The Colca Canyon is yet another really great why anybody with a love for the outdoors needs to trek Peru!

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Classic Peru Trekking: Getting Lost…

After watching the condors take flight, it was my turn to descend into the mighty Colca Canyon. I hitched a bus to the start of an 18km hike down to the bottom of the Colca, through the river bed, and then over to what is known as the Oasis, a small area at the bottom of the canyon, about 25 meters above the river, where there are natural pools and very, very basic bungalows. So my goal is set, make it to those pools.

Unfortunately, as is the case with trekking in Peru, this was easier said than done. As you may have noticed, I prefer to do things my way, instead of taking tours.  This is great because its normally cheaper, I can go at my own pace, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t wanna do! Now, this sense of pride, independence, and bring-it-on-ness quickly disappears when I lost the trail 4 hours in and didn’t actually know where I was going. But that’s just me, it is completely possible to hike the Colca Canyon without a guide!

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Also, a startling revelation about hiking canyons: they are fundamentally different to climbing mountains in that you reach your goal by doing the easiest part of the route, the descent, first. So you are basking in your glory, which really hasn’t been attained yet. Because you will have to climb out of that bitch!

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So what happened? … I got lost, ran into two super cranky Israeli sisters, but then as the fates would have it, ran into a guided tour! With a guide! Who knew the way to the Oasis! Yay!!! My pride was shattered but my day, and life, was saved.

Ironically I ended up following a tour group anyways. Once ‘we’ got to the Oasis, I thanked my adopted guide profusely, slipped her some secret cash, and got away from the group as quick as possible, so you know, to be able to put my independent and capable mask back on.

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The Colca Canyon really is stunning, the cliff sides and the light are incredible and all kinds of fodder for my Western cowboy movie fantasies of old. Also, fitting into and making this motive even more realistic was the dust. Wow, it’s dusty in a canyon. Pretty sure my nasal passages have never recovered! It is also kind of Middle Earthy. Had I had a hiking partner there would have been Sam and Frodo references, no doubt!

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Staying in the Oasis, Colca Canyon, Peru

The Oasis was great; I stayed for two days. A very basic bungalow, two twin beds, meaning I doubled up on alpaca blankets. Another fun fact about canyons: they get super cold at night!!! The natural pool was delightful during the day, as were the lounge chairs that I moved in and out of the sun. Unfortunately there were very cold showers, so bathing only happened once. Wildlife wise, there was a very nice cat to pet as well as an extremely haggard turkey wandering around, continually startling the daylights out of me. Avian Devil.

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Trekking in Peru’s Colca Canyon

After two nights at the Oasis, I got up at 5am and followed yet another tour group out of the Oasis. As I touched on earlier, leaving the bottom of a canyon is a lot harder than getting to it. It was uphill, for 2.5 hours. They did offer the option of renting a mule to hoist you up should you feel the ascent as beyond you.

Did I consider this? Come on! Of course I didn’t, that would be even more embarrassing than getting lost and tagging along with a tour group. I mean let’s be real, I have quads and glutes that just don’t quit, I can mule my own way up that canyon.

Best Places to Stay near the Colca Canyon

Accommodation in Cabanaconde

Kuntur Wassi Colca Hotel

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Hotel Granada Cabanaconde

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La Posada del Conde

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Arum Qurpawasi Hospedaje

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Accommodation in Yanque

Colca Lodge Spa & Hot Springs

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Accommodation in Chivay

Casa Andina Standard Colca

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Facts about Hiking in Canyons

  • Very easy to get to the bottom of, very hard to come back up out of.
  • Make you feel like John Wayne due to arid desert/Western movie vistas
  • Very cold at night, very hot in day
  • Bad for sinuses
  • Mules are impressive animals, turkeys are not.

Back at the top of the canyon, I ended in Cabanaconde, where I had left my big backpack two days earlier, and took the bus out of the Canyon country. I made a connector bus and set course for the very high city of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titikaka and the famous Floating Islands.

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Colca Canyon Travel Blog Bits

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Up until this point, I had finished three books since leaving Vancouver: The Old Man and the Sea, A Confederacy of Dunces, and a Tale of Two Cities. Clearly I’m a masochist to read Dickens and Hemingway back to back, whomp whomp. I had always put off reading Dickens because I thought it would be super depressing and boring. Very glad to find out that it was only mildly depressing and not at all boring. The French Revolution was a hoot! Up next, Great Expectations!

In one day, I saw 4 different males peeing. How does that even happen? One was literally walking down the sidewalk, 5 meters in front of me and stopped suddenly, and started peeing. I only at the last second realized it. That same day I was almost peed on.

Just another day in Peru.


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Hiking in the Colca Canyon in Peru left me with new respect for huge birds and canyon life. The gorgeous oasis in the depth of the canyon was pure bliss!


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