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Colca Canyon Trek – The Essential Hiking Guide

Colca Canyon Tours

Just wait until you experience the sweeping beauty of the Colca Canyon, Peru which sits on the Colca River. The Colca Canyon trek is often viewed secondary to the famous hikes to Mach Picchu but once you have trekked with condors swooping above, you will agree that this hike is incredible in its own right. We (Gemma and Craig) opted for the 3 day guided hike but others complete it in 2 days, with the aid of a guide, or unguided, with ease. Colca Canyon tours also leave from Arequipa for those who don’t want to miss out but can’t trek due to ability or time constraints.

Colca Canyon Trek, Peru

Mirador Cruz del Condor

Like many great trips, it’s not just about the destination. Arequipa to the Colca Canyon takes around 3 hours to travel via tour bus and the start is early, 3 am to be precise. Luckily, our hiking guide, Juanito (which means little John he informs us), lays off the chat and lets us rest our heads for a few hours before we fill up on breakfast at Chivay (3,650 meters above sea level ) then on to the touristy Cruz del Condor. The viewing point, Mirador Cruz del Condor, is one of the popular stops for tours so you do need to elbow your way through crowds while staying away from the edge. The drop is 1200m deep but don’t just look down – check out the sky for the condors circling.

Note: The is an entry fee of 70 Peruvian soles each paid at the start of the canyon.

Colca Canyon Tours

Colca Canyon hike day 1

The trek for the first half of day 1 is mostly descent into the Canyon which starts at 3287 metres above sea level. To put this into perspective, the peak of the highest mountain in Great Britain (Ben Nevis) is only 1345. The landscape swallows you up and the blue, green and orange tones of the canyon are striking. The terrain is rocky, it can get tiresome of the knees but the pace is steady and the chat is electric. Juanito is honestly the best hiking guide I’ve trekked with. He shares stories of life growing up in Peru, trying to get his parents to recycle and the bad side of tourism in South America.

The Peruvian national drink, Inca Kola is consumed at the bridge before we make our ascent. Did you know that only two countries in the world where Colca Cola does not dominate supposedly – Peru (Inca Kola) and Scotland (Irn Bru, of course!) In the afternoon, going downhill niggles the knees and going arriba (up) steals my breath. If you really struggle, a taxi is on hand… as in a furry taxi donkey (which a member of our team did use on day two). Day one concludes with lunch, an unofficial walk with Juanito, dinner and a disturbed sleep in a cute cement house (damn cricket on the roof!)

Colca Canyon Peru | Hikes from Arequipa

Swimming in a Canyon

Day two of the Colca Canyon trek starts at 7am with an ascent along the water, passing interesting smelling plants (smell like weed, we’re told that it’s not marijuana). There are many ‘makeshift’ shops on the road for snacks. We spot caged guinea pigs but Juanito reassures us that they are not lunch. Cuy is not served on this Colca Canyon hike! Did you try it on your trip to Peru? Tell me in the comments below.

An easy afternoon walk takes us to our abode for the night – Paraiso Las Palmeras Lodge at Oasis Sangalle, sounds like paradise eh?

This lodge has a swimming pool and happy hour with mojitos.

Warning: Happy hour is not the best idea since you have a 5am start the next day to tackle the massive climb out and up the Canyon before the sun takes to the sky.

Colca Canyon sunrise

Trekking Out of the Colca Canyon

Day three is quite tough. It’s pretty much all up hill (you are climbing out of the Canyon) and I think Craig unofficially made this a competition as we completed it in 2 hours and 15 minutes, the second/third (debatable) couple to reach the summit. The last leg of the trek was pleasurable; food and hot baths! You’ve never seen a group of people so happy to see eggs for breakfast.

Colca Canyon Tours

You 100% can trek in/down/out/up of the Colca Canyon without a tour, however, I was thankful of joining one as our group (on the whole) was made up of funny, intelligent and inspiring travellers. 3 day/2 night hiking tours start at around £170 for 3 days hiking. This includes experienced bilingual guide, accommodation, meals and accommodation collection/drop off.

You can mostly rely on treks to meet like-minded ‘chévere’ (cool) people. We stole lots of ideas for Bolivia (next!) from Stefan, Sandy, Rose and Julien. We were also ashamed of how terrible our Spanish was so promised to sign up for  Spanish school in Cusco. But what really makes a tour is (the weather) and your guide. Juanito – I’ve honestly never met anyone like him. Craig still wakes up with ‘vámonos chicos’ (let’s go boys!) ringing in his ears. He is an asset to the company and Peru’s tourism.

Colca Canyon hike

Colca Canyon 2 Day Trek

We opted for the 3-day tour as we were a tad concerned about the state of our fitness after quite a heavy party session which kicked off our trip! However, there is a 2 day Colca Canyon trek which follows the same route, at a faster pace.  We met lots of able backpackers who completed this with no stress, and one who was pretty sick after it!

Colca Canyon Altitude

This trek around the Colca Canyon is highly recommended for those on their way to trek to Machu Picchu. Colca Canyon elevation can reach 4800 meters (15,800 ft) so it is excellent training to help avoid altitude sickness during your next trek to the seventh modern wonder of the world as the Lares Trek reaches highs of 4650m /15,255.

The Colca Canyon trek has taught me not to create preconceptions about trips. It is up there (literally) with the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu!

Colca Canyon Weather

Visitors have more chance of sun from May-August but average temperatures stay around 15 degrees for most of the year. There is more chance of rainfall at the start from January to April. We visited in April and experienced one downfall which was during our relaxing afternoon by the swimming pool at the Colca Canyon Oasis annoyingly.

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Colca Canyon Trek Peru

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Best Hostels in Arequipa Starting at $7

Arequipa Hostels Peru

Arequipa, The White City of Peru is the gateway to the Colca Canyon, home to three volcanoes and over 50 hostels! Travellers typically spend a few days in this city before they embark on the Colca Canyon trek or move on to Puno or Cusco. Here is our guide to Arequipa hostels, thrashing out the user-friendliness against the facilities and location to help you decide where to stay in Arequipa.

Tip: don’t listen to taxi drivers who tell you that a certain hostel is full, this is a typical South American tourist scam.


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Arequipa Hostels

Party Hostels in Arequipa

There really is no shortage of party hostels in Peru and Arequipa, one comes with a swimming pool! You will see the same names pop up at each stop as these chain hostels are extremely popular with backpackers who are up for a booze.

While the term ‘party hostel’ doesn’t sound appealing to some, do not be put off entirely. We did partake, even as a couple, we just made sure our private room was far from the dance floor. There’s no denying that the atmosphere can be electric in these party hostels so never say never (saying never? Just scroll down for more options).

Wild Rover Arequipa

Atmosphere and attractions, that’s the appeal of the infamous Wild Rover Arequipa.

This is the only hostel in Arequipa with a swimming pool and facilities also include a bar, restaurant serving cheap food with big portions to feed the hangover, three patios, charging electronic lockers for phones etc.

Social events are the big deal here – staff and volunteers arrange fancy dress parties, beer pong, DJs and football games (to play and watch on TV). It’s also super cheap with dorms starting at just under $8.

  • Address:  Calle Ugarte 111
  • Location: 2 blocks from the main square, smack bang in the nightlife

Bothy Hostel

Although more social than party, Bothy Hostel Arequipa gets a great write up from guests who feel especially well looked after by Orlando and Andrea.

Breakfast is basic but the WiFi works (which is a miracle in Peruvian hostels) and the terrace social area gets a thumbs up. Dorms start at just under $8.

  • Address: Puente Grau 306
  • Cons: Breakfast is basic (this is typical in South America)

Chill Hostels in Arequipa

Just because you don’t want to party doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Peru!

Park Hostel Arequipa boasts of 180-degree views of the stunning volcanoes with access to the hostel rooftop for travellers who want to catch some rays or relax pre/post-Colca Canyon trek. It also has a kitchen and comfortable private rooms and dorms starting at just over $8 (request to pay in Soles when checking in).

  • Address: Dean Valdivia 238 A
  • Cons: Street noise

Flying Dog Arequipa is another popular chain hostel in Peru. We stayed here and also booked our Colca Canyon 2-day trek through reception.

The dorms are spacious, has lockers and two shower rooms. Breakfast is included, kitchen use available (supermarket called Super is three blocks away) and I really like the suntrap courtyard. Dorms start at just over $7, privates $30 per room.

  • Address: Calle Melgar 116
  • Cons: Not a party hostel if solo travellers are looking to make friends

Flying Dog Arequipa

Private Rooms in Arequipa

Of course, not every traveller is looking for a pool party and the good news is that there are hostels which are more like guesthouses for couples, groups or solo travellers searching for some downtime. Incredibly the
Las Torres de Ugarte receives 9/10 from over 200 reviews.

Private ensuites can be booked from $50, three and four-bed dorms are available which is ideal for groups. Las Torres de Ugarte offers free buffet breakfast, WiFi, 24/7 front desk and luggage storage. The building also has a courtyard with pet tortoises!

  • Address: Ugarte 401 – A, Cercado
  • Location: Excellent, behind Santa Catalina Monastery
  • Cons: This is not a social hostel, best for couples, families or those travelling in groups

El Patio de Elisa is a little cheaper at $40 for a private ensuite and it also has a bar on their terrace. Reviews state that that staff are helpful, breakfast is incredible and common areas are comfortable.

  • Address: Calle Peral 206 Cercado
  • Cons: Same as above

Ärequipa Backpackers is quite a usual setup, more apartment than a hostel but reviews are really positive and guests love the calm, the large fully equipped kitchen with washing machine and friendliness of Jose. Private rooms start just under $25 but guests must book for two nights.

  • Address: Avenida Arequipa 711 B Alto Selva Alegre
  • Cons: 25 mins walk to the centre (or 8-minute bus ride)

Airbnb in Arequipa

There are a quite a few options for Airbnb in Arequipa. Some of the apartments have basic rooms, others have beautiful terraces. Prices starts at $10.

Final Words

From party to peace, this Arequipa accommodation guide has your stay in Peru’s White City covered. Don’t forget to read our guide to the Colca Canyon, my favourite hike in Peru. Are you going to Peru, tell us your plans in the comments below.

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Hostels in Arequipa Peru | Arequipa accommodation

Any questions?  Pop them in the comments below.


» Read next: how to get to Machu Picchu (14 ways)


10 Things to do in Arequipa, Peru’s White City

Things to do in Arequipa Peru

Arequipa (Are-eh-keepah), she’s a keeper. Peru’s second biggest city is part of the Southern Peru Tourist Corridor but unlike Lima (Peru’s largest city) it does not feel over populated. The population is only 1 million in comparison to Lima’s 10.5 million. The city is in good company, overlooked by three dormant volcanoes (El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu). The most famous, El Misti, is named after ‘mister’ in Spanish, according to our walking tour guide. However it was not always called this, it was nameless for 300 years after locals took the hump with it after an eruption. The White City is the gateway to trekking; one of the many things to do in Arequipa is hike.

Things to do in Arequipa

1. Free walking tour Arequipa

It is disputed why Arequipa is known as the La Ciudad Blanca/The White City and one of the hot topics discussed in detail during the city’s walking tour.  One argument is that the name comes from the buildings being made of sillar, although our tour guide said that they used to be painted so he doesn’t believe that version of events. The second is down to the European white immigrants moving to Arequipa. Answers on a smiling alpaca postcard please! Tours start at 10am and 3pm and meet next to the IPeru office (official tourist board) at Plaza de Armas. Tour guides are mostly students who live in the city and are keen to share what life is like in Arequipa with visitors. The 2.5 hours tour ends at a rooftop bar and of course, the national drink, Pisco!

  • Where: Plaza de Armas
  • When: 10am and 3pm (the afternoon tour ends at sunset which is recommended)
  • Price: Free, pay for via tips

2. Plaza de Armas

Like most South American cities, the best place to people watch is the main square and in Arequipa that is Plaza de Armas. Street performers, workers on their lunch, protesters (now banned), tour guides, backpackers, families – if it’s happening in Arequipa it’s going on here. The Plaza is surrounded by colonial buildings making it part of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List. Cafes and restaurants are tucked away amongst the arches, perfect for an afternoon coffee/Pisco.

3. Visit Mundo Alpaca

There’s two reasons to visit Mundo Alpaca. Firstly to see the local weavers threading the vibrant Andean textiles and to visit the museum and exhibitions.

Mundo Alpaca | Arequipa what to do

4. Llamas and alpacas!

The second reason is to snap a picture of a startled llama or alpaca. They’re not really startled, they tend to work this reaction often!

  • Where: San Lázaro, Arequipa
  • Price: Free of charge, tip for weavers
  • Tip: one of the best free things to do in Arequipa

Mundo Alpaca | Arequipa attractions

5.  Mercado San Camilo (market)

San Camilo Market, the so-called Witches Market is the place to go to pick up some Andean souvenirs (new bag 25 soles/£5) and a fresh fruit juice (8 soles/£2, not cheap). Legend has it that shoppers can purchase all sorts of portions at Arequipa market, the Diagon Ally of Peru. Watch out for the cattle.

  • Opening times: 6am – 6pm, 7 days a week

Mercado San Camilo

6. Museo Santuarios Andinos

What would you sacrifice for your god? Every Sunday morning? A quarter of your monthly wage? What about a pre-teenage local kid? That was the fate of Juanita, the Ice Maiden of Peru. Juanita (relatively new name) was the chosen one, selected by the Incas as an offering to the gods, never to be seen again after her death until her discovery at Ampato volcano’s summit, and the remains of this mummy, packed with ice, were found and can now be viewed at the museum as one of the top Arequipa attractions.

  • Address: Calle la Merced 110, Arequipa, Peru

7. Santa Catalina Monastery

Take a guided or a self-guided tour of Arequipa’s monastery made up of cloisters, a plaza and gallery, once home to nuns in the 16th-18th century (and now a small religious group). 

Address: Santa Catalina 301, Arequipa, Peru

8. Get high

Always one of my favourite things to do in any city is to find a view point or rooftop bar for sunset and there’s plenty of choice in Arequipa. The free afternoon walking tour (tip 1) ends at around sun down and conveniently concludes at a rooftop bar with a Pisco to warm up with (it gets chilly, remember a sweater).  Rooftop bars in Arequipa that come recommended by visitors include Katari Hotel at Plaza de Armas and Mirador Misti. 

Sunset in Arequipa

9. Party

Many visitors to Arequipa might not make it out of the hostel to see any of the above advice because Arequipa is quite the hub for the party hostel. Like La Paz, Wild Rover is the merry magnet, especially when the sun is out – the main attraction? Its pool.

10. Hike

What to do in Arequipa? Leave! The final tip is to get out of the city. Take group hiking trip to the glorious Colca Canyon which was my favourite hike in Peru (sorry Machu Picchu). Colca Canyon treks can be completed in two or three days depending on time constraints.

Colca Canyon Peru | Hikes from Arequipa

Arequipa accommodation

Hotels in Arequipa

There are over 150 hotels in Arequipa ranging from £20-£160. The elegant  La Hosteria is located in a renovated Colonial house 5 mins from the historic centre. Continental breakfast is offered daily and rooms have TVs. Click here to check availability.

Katari Hotel boasts of panoramic views from its rooftop. This hotel is situated Plaza de Armas. Rooms are elegant and breakfast is included in the price. Prices start at £77. Click here to check availability.

Arequipa hostels

The Flying Dog was out hostel of choice. It’s quiet, breakfast is included. You can also book your Colca Canyon tour guide there. It is on the quiet side so if you are looking for a party hostel I’d veer towards Wild Rover which has a bar and outdoor pool. Breakfast is also included. Arequipa is a big city, there are over 50 hostels so do check out which suits your needs and budget in this guide.

Getting to Arequipa

We arrived at 05:30 on the overnight Peru Hop bus from the magical Huacachina (this is where revellers go sandboarding, we went skiing! Highly recommend) Public bus is also an option from Lima (17 hours) or if not on budget or on a tight timescale, a short flight arriving at Rodríguez Ballón International Airport.

How many days in Arequipa?

You could comfortably visit the main attractions in one or two days but the real star of the show, the Colca Canyon, requires a further two-three. You may find after a few days in Lima, two in Paracas, and two-three in Huacachina that you are ready to pause by the swimming pool by the time you get to Arequipa. Avoid travel burnout where possible.

Mundo Alpaca Arequipa

Altitude in Arequipa

Although not the highest or lowest city altitude wise, some visitors may feel the impact of altitude sickness. Personally, we did not. This was our second week in Peru.

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Things to do in Arequipia Peru | South America | Peru travel

 

Any questions? Ask in the comments below.

Sandboarding Peru, Huacachina

We always try to avoid the tourist traps where possible, so when we stumbled across Sandboarding Peru during our South America itinerary search, we were praising Pachamama for this gem of a find. Sandboarding Peru, Huacachina are professionals, educators, and world-class competitors in the sport they love – sandboarding. Heading to Huacachina or just mad for adventure sports? Read on…

Sandboarding Peru

Did you miss our last article on Huacachina? Let me describe this area for you. Huacachina is a town with a desert lake which is surrounded by sand dunes. It’s home to lots of hostels for travellers to stay in. At the weekend it is a party town for locals, this changes during the week. You are not seeing a mirage, this is what Huacachina looks like. Restaurants, bars and accommodation surround the lake which is used by locals while cooling off and by kids who play in it.

Huacachina | Sandboardng PeruHuacachina – this is not a mirage!

Sandboarding in Huacachina Peru

Every hostel (and bus company) in Huacachina will offer you a sandboarding experience – if you want the ‘real deal’ don’t choose them. Make your way to Sanboarding Peru next to Hostel Del Barco. If Alejo is there, tell him Two Scots Abroad sent you and you want the ‘same same but different’ from snow, sandboarding experience!

Sandboardng Peru
Huacachina is tiny – you can’t miss Sandboarding Peru

Boarding Peru v Sandboarding Companies

Both Sandboarding Peru and the generic sandboarding tours offer a dune buggy ride, which is a lot of fun! This bumpy ride up and down the dunes, makes you lose your stomach to the hills. It’s excellent for those with GoPros/X-Sports action cams. The main difference between the two is in the equipment and action.

The generic companies mostly provide you with a low quality board, sometimes the boards will have socks / ‘boots’ attached. This type of sandboarding is ideal for those who simply want to tackle the dunes sitting on the boards, so using it like a sledge. It might be of use for travellers who want to try boarding for the first time, albeit accidents can happen. I wouldn’t recommend this unless instructed well. I know our bus tour guides at Peru Hop advise you not to stand up!

Sandboarding Peru will measure and kit you out with boards with boots and depending on your package, skis.

Sandboardng Peru | Ica

Taking on the Dunes

Alejo, us Two Scots, and one of the kids from the club, Jhonny, trekked up the side of a dune (this was quite tough, the hardest part of the day). Alejo then taught us how to use the sandboard facing away from the dunes, using our heels to stop. The first time I tried boarding on the sand it was tense! I fell a lot, my body refusing to relax. The second and third time, we flew down, still falling! Falling on sand is not the same as falling on snow, much softer and no freeze burn.

Alejo also instructed us on how to use the board facing the dunes, using our toes to stop. I found this more difficult but Craig was a natural.

Sandboardng Peru | Ica

Dune Buggy Rides

A dune buggy (with another group completing the ‘normal’ experience) collected us and this is where we experienced the fairground style driving! All you can hear on the dunes is joyful screams (there are heaps of touristy style companies out at the same time).

Dune Buggy | Sandboardng Peru

Sand – Skiing in Peru

Next stop – skiing! I could tell Alejo was a bit unsure about me skiing since I have only skied once before on snow (Craig is a bit of a pro). Not to worry, once I remembered how to actually get into the skis I slowly (very slowly) made my way diagonally down the dune using the ‘French fries’ (horizontal legs) not ‘pizza’ (crossing the skies into themselves) method. The coolest part was skiing towards the end of the dune – as the wax wears off towards the end of every ride (you need to replenish) it naturally stops you so I could ‘bomb it’ (as Craig calls it), without fear, down the dune.

Looking back up at the dune I thought to myself, it’s a mystery we made it down. One of the most surprising parts of the trip was the amount of time we spent on the slopes. Quite a few fellow travellers were jealous of our ‘real’ sandboard and ski experience.

Sandboarding Peru + the Local Community

Sandboarding Peru have three areas to their business model

  • The first is the tourist side of sandboarding (be that tourist!)
  • The second is educating the local young people (of Ica)
  • Finally, the competitive element

As a teacher, it was encouraging to see the work the team do with the local children. There were young kids in the office, helping with the equipment. They normally hit the dunes at the weekends, which we missed unfortunately. Alejo says it’s mostly boys who participate and commit, a couple of girls join them less frequently. He reckons it’s mainly down to stereotypes, which he’d like to see change. The competitive part sets them aside from other companies too. Part of the team is Victor ‘Dito’ Chavez, the only Peruvian pro – snowboarder!

Sandboarding Peru also puts on competitions for kids and adults to participate in; they want to get them hooked with their young and develop that passion as they grow up. It was a privilege to listen to Alejo speak about the school in this way. Regardless of (around about) 28 degrees heat in Huacachina, they still took part in World Snow Day! Sand and snow boarding – same same but different!

Dune Buggy | Sandboardng Peru

Dune Buggy | Sandboardng Peru Check out Sandboarding Peru on Facebook and give them a like.

Sandboarding in Peru – What to Pack

  • Suntan lotion
  • Sunglasses (it’s dusty)
  • Water
  • Camera
  • Action cam (like GoPro)
  • Wear trainers (sand can be hot)

Sandboarding (or sand skiing Peru) is one of the ‘must do’ things to do during your travels around Peru. For more details on Peru tips, itineraries, transport, accommodation, and culture see this Peru travel guide. We get asked often – is Huacachina worth visiting, and I say yes (we actually stayed for three nights!)

Sandboarding Peru, Huacachina

    • Sandboarding Peru: Website
    • Contact: +51 986 986 188
    • Address: next to Hostel Del Barco
    • Price: $49 per person (equipment included)

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Sandboarding in Peru | Huacachina sand dunes.

 

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Disclaimer – Craig and I would like to offer our gratitude to Alejo and the team, as well as Jhonny who helped a sister out on the dunes! As always an honest review, we even paid above the discounted rate as we felt we were robbing them after such a great day on the sandy slopes!