Peru's Colca Canyon Is Twice As Deep As the Grand Canyon — How to Visit the Breathtaking Destination

This is one trek you shouldn't miss.

Panoramic view in the deep Colca Canyon, Peru

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While it's true the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu might be the most famous trek in Peru, Cañon del Colca (or Colca Canyon) is another you need to add to your list. Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world — nearly 14,000 feet from its highest point to its lowest — and it's home to the Andean condor, a sacred bird in Incan culture. If you're looking to plan a trip to this must-see destination, here's what you need to know.

What to Know About Peru's Colca Canyon

Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), one of the largest flying birds in the world, flying over the Colca Canyon in Peru

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Colca Canyon cuts through Peru's Andes mountains for some 60 miles, carved out by the Río Colca as it makes its way to the Pacific Ocean. It's lined with picturesque mountain villages and agricultural terraces established by Spanish conquistadors, though the communities here predate the Inca civilization. The nearest major city is Arequipa, also known as the White City for its buildings made from the white volcanic sillar stone. It's the second-largest city in Peru and about a three- to four-hour drive to the canyon.

There are two ways to experience Colca Canyon: from its rim or on a trek to its floor. The former is, of course, the easier method, and you can still see the condors from the Mirador Cruz del Cóndor lookout. But for those looking for a challenge, trekking the Colca Canyon — which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon — is an adventure, and you'll be rewarded with impressive vistas everywhere you look.

Best Time to Visit Colca Canyon

Peru, Andes, Chivay, Colca Canyon, view from observation point Cruz del Condor

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You can trek Colca Canyon year-round, but the most popular time to visit is during the dry season, which runs from approximately April through October. As peak season is June through August, we recommend traveling in May and September, when crowds are thinner. That said, Colca Canyon is not nearly as busy as Peru's Sacred Valley, where you'll find Machu Picchu.

You can also visit during the rainy season, but beware that trail conditions might become dangerous during particularly wet spells.

How to Get to Colca Canyon

Arequipa sunset in front of Misti volcano in Peru

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Most visitors to Colca Canyon come from Arequipa. Numerous tour operators run trips from here, from multiday guided treks to single-day bus tours to the rim, and all include transportation. But if you're doing a DIY trip, you can either take a public bus or shuttle or drive yourself to the popular base villages of Cabanaconde or Chivay.

Colca Canyon Treks

Colca Canyon comprises a network of trails, so there isn't a single trek to tackle, as there is with the Inca Trail. Instead, you can start your trip from any number of villages along the canyon, though the most popular is Cabanaconde — this is where several tour operators from Arequipa kick off their journeys. Many of the treks include an overnight in the oasis of Sangalle on the canyon floor.

Most treks are multiday endeavors, given the difficulty of the terrain. This is not a beginner hike by any means, with thousands of feet in elevation changes on steep paths. And it's done at elevation, which requires acclimation time. As such, guided treks are recommended, especially for those who are not advanced multiday trekkers. If you decide to do it alone, be sure to plan your route in advance, download maps for offline use (and pick up a paper one as a backup), and take all provisions with you.

Colca Canyon Tours

Entrance gate of Chivay city, southern Peru

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If an advanced trek isn't in the cards for your trip to Colca Canyon, you can still book tours to the rim, which will allow you to peer down into the canyon, experience mountain villages, visit the hot springs near Chivay, and see the condors from the Mirador Cruz del Cóndor lookout. Some of these tours are single-day excursions from Arequipa, but you can also book two-day trips with an overnight stay in a hotel.

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