Just 99 miles northwest of Arequipa, Southern Peru’s Colca Canyon is one the deepest canyons in the world and the third most visited destination in Peru.
Home to the legendary Andean condor, quaint pueblo towns, and well-preserved indigenous cultures, a trip to Colca is about more than just the geographic formation.
Apart from the national park itself, all trips departing from Arequipa pass fuming volcanos, dreamy desert-scapes, and grazing packs of llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas along the way.
8 Things to Expect from a Trip to Colca
(1) To Tour or Not to Tour?
While it is possible to do Colca independently by taking a bus (s/15) from Arequipa’s main bus terminal to Chivay, the gateway to Colca, you would need to sort out your own transport from there, which can be tricky.
Apart from being less hassle, the tour works out to be the same cost or even cheaper than visiting independently once you factor in round-trip transport, accommodations, and other costs.
(2) But Which Tour?
You can choose between a trekking tour or a standard tour, which involves being shuttled between sites in a bus or a van.
Of course, the trekking tour makes sense if you are physically fit and want to really get immersed in nature, but all trekking tours depart from Arequipa at 3 AM, which was a deal-breaker for me.
You must all choose between a 1-day tour or a 2-day tour.
If you opt for a a 1-day tour, you will cover the same distance and sites as the 2-say tour, but in a single day.
One-day standard tours also depart at 3:00 AM, so I chose the 2-day standard tour.
(3) Tour Prices
To book a tour, approach any of the tour offices in Arequipa’s center the day before you wish to leave.
If you book at an office directly on the Plaza de Armas, it will cost s/60 for a one-day tour or s/100 for a two-day tour.
If you book at an office not directly on the plaza, you can bargain down the price to as little as s/35 for a one-day tour or s/70 for a two-day tour.
The more expensive tours may include one lunch, but there is little difference aside from that.
No tours include dinner, national park fees, or admission to the thermal baths.
(4) The National Park Fees
Upon entering Chivay, all visitors to Colca will be made to pay a nationa park fee that comes out to s/20 for Peruvians, s/40 for Latinos, and s/70 for other foreigners.
Technically, this is mandatory, and I read online that they check tickets at some points, but nobody checked mine.
The foreigner fee can really hurt if you are backpacking on a tight budget, but note that you don’t have to present your ID when buying the ticket, so you can pretend to be Peruvian or Latino if you can feasibly pass as such.
Alternatively, you can send a local friend to buy the ticket for you.
Otherwise, pay up!
(15) Is Visiting Colca Worth it?
I have a feeling “it depends” is not the answer you’re looking for.
As for me, I would say no, not really. I wasn’t exactly carried away by the arid, brown lanscapes, the pueblito tourist traps, or the distant condors, which look like those of my hometown.
That being said, I’m pretty jaded from all my traveling. Also, I hate the sun.
Don’t write Colca off because of me. Take a look at the photos and if they excite you, then you’d probably enjoy the trip more than I did. After all, there must be a reason so many people make the trip to Colca.