“Andrew I think I’m going to faint” and sure enough a few seconds later I collapse to the ground, 4 kilometers into our 18 kilometers trek to the oasis at the bottom of the world’s deepest canyon. How did we get here?
After three amazing days exploring the city of Arequipa, Peru, we’ve signed up for a two day, one night trek to an oasis at the bottom of Colca Canyon, over 4000 meters deep and Peru’s third most popular tourist destination. The day starts with a 3 am pick up at your hostel and then luckily a few hours of driving where you can hopefully catch a bit more sleep. The first stop on every tour is at the Cruz Del Condor where you can perch yourself on a ledge and watch the majestic condor birds take flight. Sightings are pretty much guaranteed although you will want a good zoom lens to capture the giant birds on camera. Afterwards it’s back into the van where you continue to wind up and over several passes over 4000 meters above sea level with amazing vistas into the lush valley below. The road is in poor condition for most of the drive with single lanes winding around the mountain corners and deadly drop offs to the sides, perhaps a candidate for the next world’s most dangerous road.
Mid-morning we reach the drop off point where the 18 kilometer hike descending over 1.2 kilometers into Colca Canyon will begin. Hiking poles are highly recommended and I very much wished I had rented a set in town before departing. The hike starts off fairly easy with a very gradual downhill slope for the first few kilometers. The decline soon starts to pick up pace with numerous switchbacks and more technical sections where there is only a narrow pathway before the mountain gives way to the valley below.
Back to the fainting part; at the four kilometer marker the group takes a short break and just as I’m about to find a place to rest my feet sleep out from under me resulting in a bad road rash down my left leg. While the cuts themselves were just superficial, the sight of blood is all it takes to put me over the edge and faint. Luckily I’m easily revived and the others members of my tour group do a great job of cleaning me up with their medical supplies. After eating a brownie and enjoying a quick rest, I’m good to continue on the rest of the way.
The hike is long and the day is hot, but the scenery is amazing. Dusty mountain slopes, homes with plantations and fruit trees and the river running through the bottom make for great photo opportunities. Around four in the afternoon we arrive at the oasis and it was all we could do to strip down into our bathing suits jump into the pool before collapsing for the night. You’ll need to rest up because the only way out of the canyon is to hike back up the next morning. Fortunately the path is more direct, but it’s a good 2-3 hour straight up climb that will test your physical endurance and all before breakfast. After you’ve successfully made it out of the canyon and enjoyed a hearty breakfast, you’ll be rewarded with a trip to the local hot springs where you can soak your tired and aching muscles for a few soles.
The drive back takes in a few more mountain passes and amazing views of the surrounding volcanoes. Be sure you’ve brought some warm clothes as the highest pass is over 6000 meters and the temperatures are quite cold. By the time you return back to Arequipa in the early evening, you’ll be thoroughly exhausted and looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed.
Overall an amazing experience and a must do for travels through Peru. Numerous tours exist with more hiking or less depending on your preference and fitness level.
Things to note:
Do bring extra snacks – the food is good, but you’ll want something to nibble on throughout the day to keep your blood sugar up.
Pack a headlamp – there is no electricity at the oasis, candles only for light in your room so bring a flashlight or headlamp for getting around at night.
Pack lightly – bring only the essentials as you will be responsible for carrying your pack for the entire hike
Rent/Buy hiking poles – you will not regret it
Cost: Around $45 per person for the two day excursion plus a $30 park entrance fee that everyone must pay, even if you are just driving through the area.