The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, and it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The deepest is also in Peru but it doesn’t have safe paths the trek through. One of the most popular things to do when in the area of Arequipa is to book a trek through the incredible canyon situated about a three hour drive away. I’m not an avid trekker, and my fitness is okay, but by no means excellent. At first we were unsure if we would go on the trek or not, and I was a bit worried I wouldn’t be able to do it, as we hadn’t done any proper trekking on our trip so far. However, we’d heard that it was absolutely spectacular, and something not to miss. So I thought sod it, I’ll never know if I’ll be able to do it if I don’t just give it a go! It turns out it wasn’t beyond my abilities and it was not only rewarding but also really beautiful.
We were picked up at 3am from our hostel on the first day, and after a three hour journey and some broken mini-bus snoozing we arrived at the nearby town of Chivay for breakfast. We then stopped off at a mirador on the edge of part of the canyon which was best for seeing condors. Apparently about 30 condors live in the walls of the canyon, and if you wait at this point for a little while, you’ve got a good chance of seeing some. We saw a few condors, and although they looked pretty cool, they were quite far away, and I have to say I was a little less impressed than some of the enthusiastic birdwatchers nearby. A Yorkshire man standing behind me summed it up pretty well by saying, “I’ve seen bigger sparrows!”
Once everyone was condored-out, we went to the part of the canyon where our trek was to begin, and met the group we’d be walking with. Our guide, Roger, was a local man who did this trek through the canyon several times a week. He was late to meet us as he had just finished a trek that morning, and had made his way to us straight from there. He knew the canyon like the back of his hand, and was as fit as a butchers dog. He gave us an introductory talk about the trek, which he said was pretty easy. This didn’t set my mind at ease, however, I had a feeling that Roger’s idea of easy was very different from my own.
On the first day we walked downhill for about three hours to the bottom of the canyon. At first this was pretty easy, and we walked and chatted along the way. But after a while it began to be a bit tough on your joints, especially your knees, and it was hard not to slip on the steeper parts, where the path was made up of loose pieces of rock. But we made it to our first hostel without much difficulty, and we had the afternoon to rest and relax in the bottom of the canyon, surrounded by imposing cliffs.
The next day we woke at about 7am, ate breakfast together and began our walk at about 7.30. “We run on Inca time,” said Roger, “not Peruvian time!” This was our cue to hurry up and start walking. The second day was mainly flat, but “Peruvian flat” as Roger called it, which meant that it was certainly flat on average, but it actually went up and then down, and then up again, and then back down. Roger enjoyed running up the particularly steep sections, much to my dismay. We were given the choice of a longer uphill walk, and then a downhill walk to the second hostel we’d be staying in, or just a flat route. The group was split, and I situated myself with the flat group, and Toby (unsurprisingly) with the uphill group. My group was well aware of the fact that the next hostel had a swimming pool, and in the scorching heat we were keen to go for a dip as soon as possible. So with reassurances from Roger that there was only one path that led us to the right village, our group temporarily split in two, with Roger accompanying the uphill group. Our team had a lovely, peaceful walk through the canyon, with many opportunities for excellent photographs. We arrived at our hostel a few hours later (and the uphill group about an hour after us), and spent the afternoon swimming, reading and playing cards by the pool. Oh, and we took advantage of the hostel’s bar, and treated ourselves to cocktails – it was beginning to be my kind of trek! We then had dinner and retired to bed early, as the final day of trekking would begin at 5am (Inca time), and Roger was not willing to negotiate!
The last days of the trek was definitely the most difficult. The bad thing about the first day was that although it wasn’t too difficult walking all that way down hill, we knew we would have to walk all the way back up again on the last day. We started the walk without breakfast; “That will be your reward when you get to the top!”, Roger said chirpily. We started walking just as it was getting light, and the aim was to get to the top before the sun had come out from behind the cliffs so we were walking in the shade. It was a bit chilly so I started walking in my jumper, and within minutes I was boiling hot. It was a difficult walk. I didn’t admire the view much that morning, I was just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other, and trying not to stop. I knew as soon as I stopped I’d find it twice a hard to get going again. I found it helped to sing songs in my head, and walk keeping my footsteps going in time with the beat. You can’t stop walking half way through a song. Roger had told us it would take a maximum of three hours to get to the top, but I didn’t know if that was by his high standards, or whether I’d actually be able to do that. The fastest in our group arrived at the top in two hours, and the slowest in three hours. Toby and I made it to the top in two and a half hours (he could’ve whizzed off in front and got there first, I reckon, but he kindly walked with his sweaty, red-faced girlfriend), and I was pretty proud when I got to the top.
At the time it seemed quite difficult, but after a little bit of rest I felt absolutely fine, and I was pleased that I didn’t struggle like I thought I would. I think all the walking we’ve been doing throughout South America has made me a little bit fitter! Breakfast at the top of the canyon was great. Our spirits were high and we all ate together and chatted over scrambled eggs and coffee. We were then taken by mini bus to some natural hot springs located near Chivay, the town we had visited on day one. We all massaged our aching muscles and relaxed in the steaming hot pools for about an hour before we returned back to Arequipa.
It was great fun and a really good chance to meet and get to know fellow travellers. Anyone with a basic level of fitness could do the trek, and the hard work is definitely worth it for the beautiful views (and the breakfast at the top).