I don`t think I have ever felt so much pain in my life. Every step I took up the steep incline in the dark was like torture and I knew that it would be a very long morning before I would be relieved and finally reach the summit. The Colca Canyon trek in Peru was certainly not an easy stroll in the park. Despite having trekked in difficult circumstances before, i.e. during my Everest Base Camp trek and whilst climbing Cotopaxi in Ecuador, the Colca Canyon trek proved to be a challenge, even though I wasn`t suffering from altitude sickness for once.

The tour started at 3am when we got picked up from our hotel in Arequipa. We drove to a small town called Chivay where we had a proper trekker`s breakfast. The Colca Canyon is famous for the condors and so after breakfast we drove to a view point from where we could marvel at some of these magestic creatures. You never know if condors are going to show their faces, but we were extremely lucky and saw about 10 condors. I loved them. They can live for more than 100 years and once they choose a partner they will stay with that partner for the rest of their lives. They even go as far as when their partner dies they commit suicide. Apparently they just stop moving their wings and plummet down to the ground. While this is certainly very dramatic, I find it incredibly romantic as well.

colca canyon trek condor

colca canyon trek condor landing

colca canyon trek condors

colca canyon trek condor flying

After admiring the condors for a while it was time to start our actual 7-hour Colca Canyon trek from a village called Cabanaconde to the bottom of the canyon, where we also spent the night. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and with a depth of 4,160 m it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States, so we had a looong way to go down and of of course up again the next morning. We started trekking around 9:00 and the beginning of the trek was beautiful and mostly level. We could see down the whole canyon and it was such a stunning landscape.

colca canyon trek scenery

colca canyon trek path

colca canyon trek trekkers

colca canyon trek stream and waterfall

After about an hour the hike began to be just downhill and we had to hike downhill for about 6 more hours. It was extremely steep and slippery and the sun was intensifying throughout the day. It was ridiculously hot and there was no shade whatsover, so I was glad I had my geeky looking explorer hat with me. However, while I did have my geeky hat with me, I stupidly forgot my trekking poles. They are usually my trusted companion for every hike as they ease the pressure on my poor old knees. This was mistake number 1!

After a couple of hours I started feeling a slight pain on both of my small toes, but I thought it was just because they were pushing against my boots because of the intense decline. When we stopped for lunch in a small village I took my boots off as the pain was getting more and more intense. When I pulled my socks off I couldn`t believe my eyes. I had blisters, the size of my entire toes on FOUR different toes, and I have big German toes! I had huge blisters on top of both of my little toes and underneath both of my big toes, so whichever way I tried to walk was painful. I usually always wear a pair of lining socks and some trekking socks on top as this reduces the risk of blisters, but I bought some fancy looking Northface trekking socks in Chile a few weeks earlier which had some padding, so I thought I didn`t need an extra pair of lining socks. Mistake number 2! I luckily had some special blister plasters with me which I put on and which initially eased the pain, but by the time we reached our guest house for the night another three hours later I was in so much pain that I could hardly walk.

colca canyon trek tammy

Me and my geeky hat soldiering on…

colca canyon trek path and waterfall

The steep path down to the valley, which was a looooong way down

My guide was quite concerned about the state of my feet. He said he has seen lots of blisters in his life but never blisters as huge as mine. At one stage I had about 5 guides staring at my toes, which was a bit embarrassing as it certainly wasn’t a pretty sight, but they meant well of course. They discussed whether it might be better to burst the blisters, but they all agreed in the end that it was better to leave them as they are and suggested that I take a mule to reach the summit the next morning. It was a nice thought and a lot of tourists take mules, but I have been on a mule in Ecuador before and it terrified the poo out of me. The ascent is extremely steep with sheer drops, so going on a temperamental mule wasn`t an option for me. Plus I was far too stubborn and didn`t want to be one of those lazy tourists that took the easy option. I am a trekker god damn it! I had to reach the summit with my own two feet no matter how painful it would be. My guide recommended that I started the hike an hour earlier than the rest of my group, so that I wouldn`t lag too far behind everybody, so at 4 `o clock in the morning, me, Kate – a Taiwanese girl who busted her knee, and her friend Emma – who struggled with the altitude, started the trek of the invalids, as we called it. It was nice walking in a group of people that all walked at the same pace, and we all encouraged each other, but none of us were really enjoying the gruelling hike up-hill.

Emma kindly gave me one of her walking poles so I could lean onto it for the hike, which actually helped ease the pain a little bit. Every step was still like torture though. The majority of the hike was in the dark as well, but even though I had a head-torch, I had to really concentrate where to step as any false step would have had me in excruciating pain. I walked like a tortoise, flinching in pain with every step I took. The high altitude also made it very difficult to breath, so neither my toes nor my lungs were particulalry happy. I actually felt like crying at one stage, but I had no choice but to keep going.

colca canyon trek path up

This zig zag path is only the first quarter of the gruelling ascent

colca canyon trek mules

I was so proud not to have taken a mule to the summit

After a while I split up from the Taiwanese girls who said they would catch me up later but never did. I am not sure what happened, but I just wanted to get up that mountain, so my body must have mustered up some energy I didn`t think I had. Walking alone in the dark for a couple of hours put me in some kind of meditative state. I started forgetting about the pain and was able to just focus on getting up that damn mountain. The only way was up and so I kept on walking, and walking, and walking. As it was getting lighter I even managed to to appreciate my beautiful surroundings.

Every now and then a trekker from other groups would overtake me, but to my surprise it weren`t actually that many. I think a lot of people underestimated how difficult the trek was, so many other people were hiking very slowly too. When I finally saw the summit I felt such a sense of relief and managed to muster one last bit of energy until I finally and triumphantly reached the top, even before most of the non-injured trekkers in my group and certainly before any of the people who took mules. The hike up to the summit usually takes at least 3 hours or 1.5 hrs if you are a hardcore Peruvian mountain guide. It took me 3.5 hrs. I was ecstatic to have made it. The Colca Canyon trek is very challenging for anybody, but for someone with four monstrous blisters it was actually a very challenging hike. But I made it, without a mule, and that`s the main thing. 🙂

colca canyon trek summit

Me and my Taiwanese friends were clearly the most ecstatic out of our group to have reached the summit

So this is how not to trek the Colca Canyon. What was your toughest hike and did you ever have to hike with an injury or blisters before?

Practical information

  • Costs: I paid 120 Soles for a 2-day Colca Canyon trek, plus 70 Soles entrance to the National Park and 20 Soles optional if you want to visit some hot springs after the trek
  • Tour agency: The Colca Canyon trek can be done alone or through one of the many tour agencies in Arequipa. Agencies work together to fill their buses, so it doesn`t really matter who you book with.
  • Duration: The trek can be done in 2 or 3 days, the 3-day trek being the same as the 2-day trek, just much slower and with more free time
  • Walking distance: 16km on day one and 6km on day two
  • What to bring: sun hat; high energy snacks as you won’t get breakfast on the second day until you reach the summit; plenty of water; walking poles; good hiking boots; wear two pairs of hiking socks; blister plasters; sun cream; and swim wear for the hot springs and for the hostels in the oasis, the bottom of the canyon, who have swimming pools

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

19 Thoughts on “How not to do the Colca Canyon Trek

  1. Aloke Surin on October 1, 2014 at 10:36 am said:

    Very nice! It is rare that someone writes about hiking downhill…. in so many ways it is so much more painful on your knees and toes and ankles and is hugely under rated! Thank you for sharing this experience, I could almost feel your pain having had similar experiences. Also very interesting to know that the canyon is the second deepest in the world! By the way, which is the deepest?

    • Tammyonthemove on October 1, 2014 at 9:23 pm said:

      Yes, a lot of people underestimate downhill trekking. The deepest canyon is also in Peru and is called Cotohuasi.

  2. I hiked the Colca Canyon in 2010 and it was HARD! Hats off for making it with blisters. I have asthma and it was a challenge, but I am glad I made it. BTW you took amazing pictures of the condors 🙂

    • Tammyonthemove on October 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm said:

      Wow, I can’t imagine what it is like with asthma at this altitude and with that steep incline. Well done Claudia!

  3. We didn’t appreciate our toughest hike until we were stopped by a parked car as we made the ascent from Tasartico on Gran Canaria. We noticed that we’d begun to sweat profusely. The driver provided the reason. “You do know it’s 50 degrees, do you?”, he enquired.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted…Hotel MadridMy Profile

  4. It is definitely one of the toughest I have done. We did it independantly and did 3 days. I think it took us 2 hours 40 minutes if I remember correctly to hike out. The toughest hike I have ever done was the Inca trail – but only because I had altitude sickness and was so weak because I couldn’t eat anything
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted…Sydney Walks: Hiking from Manly to Spit BridgeMy Profile

  5. Tammy, Wow! It sounds excrutiating…and not very fun…but a huge accomplishment. I’m impressed! Love those condors!
    Corinne recently posted…Rendezvous with the Fabulous Phoebe!My Profile

  6. I was just in Bolivia a couple of months ago and we really wanted to make it to Colca canyon. Alas, we didn’t have enough time, but it is definitely on my list of places to see in South America. You took some great photos of the condors, by the way. They are really cool creatures and I had no idea that they lived to be 100!
    Andrew recently posted…How to conquer the death road (and live to tell the tale)My Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on October 2, 2014 at 8:05 am said:

      What a shame Andrew. The trek is definitely worth it. Just don’t make the same mistakes I made and you should be fine. 😉

  7. Hiking with those blisters sounds pretty brutal. I’ve heard that the trek is super challenging so congratulations on getting up to the summit without a mule. Blisters aside, I bet that was a great feeling! And I agree that your photos of the condors are fantastic 🙂
    Justine recently posted…My Love-Hate Relationship with El Nido, PhilippinesMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on October 8, 2014 at 11:54 am said:

      Thank you! 🙂 It is not really advertised as a tricky hike by the numerous tour agencies, but it is certainly one of the most challenging hikes I have done so far, and I have done a few.

  8. Well done for making it with your toes in that state! That’s amazing. I did the exact same tour back in 2009 and loved every minute of it. One of my favourite hikes so far. That hike out of the canyon was certainly a challenge though! 🙂

    Cheers
    Neil

    • Tammyonthemove on October 8, 2014 at 11:52 am said:

      Thanks Neil. Yeah that second day was tough, but nothing beats the feeling when you have finally made it to the top, right?

  9. Hi Tammy
    Those photos of condors … the only condors I saw were in my mind. Some people saw them circling overhead kilometers away. I couldn’t see them.
    thought I’d also share my trip to the Colca with you and my photos
    Trekking the Colca Canyon of Peru – photos and …

    The Drama in Malata- Colca Canyon Peru (where we lost our guide to drunkness and navigated the canyon on our own) hope you enjoy. cheers!

    • Tammyonthemove on April 7, 2016 at 2:39 pm said:

      Oh no, what a shame you didn’t see any. I was told that I was extremely lucky. Usually there aren’t as many condors. Oh well, it gives you a good excuse to return one day. 😉

  10. Thanks for sharing your experience of trekking at COLCA CANYON. For those who plan to do trekking there, then this article is recommended.

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