I had vowed after the mountain- bike tour of the Carretera de la Muerte in La Paz, that I would stop with extreme activities, even for a very practical reason: my travel insurance was expired, I was expecting to go home this month when I had bought it, and in the law of retaliation things happen when they should not. And yet, on arrival in Arequipa when I was offered the 2-day tour to Colca Canyon, without any second thoughts, I decided to join the group.
A friend had warned me of how hard this trekking would be, but I underestimated his words and without too many questions I paid for what would be one of the experiences that I have suffered more on physical level and that gave me blisters, which had appeared during a tour to Machu Picchu, on the soles of my feet.
This has indeed been the hardest trekking I have ever done so far, I recommend it only if you are physically prepared and especially if you like this kind of activity otherwise it could be a nightmare, especially on the second day.
The trekking consists of 7 hours walk on the first day, mainly in descent, and 3 hours uphill the second morning.
The Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and the single fact that this place has earned this record should have got me thinking that it would have required a considerable physical exertion . The canyon is 160 kilometers from Arequipa , it is located in the Colca Valley where the villagers are dedicated mainly to agriculture using the Inca terraces . Promoted as the deepest canyon in the world it seems that its 1000 meters height beat those of the Grand Canyon in America .
Despite having all this information I got into the business on hand and decided to participate in the operation Colca Canyon ending it with an oath in front of the big mountain that had made me suffer the torments of hell : I will never do it again!
But it seems that these are the rules of the game when you trek high altitudes that has little to do with a walk in the mountains . The enormous exertion and the joy to get to the summit should in theory pay for the effort done. Too much spiritualism and abstract joys for a lazybones like me!
Tour to the Colca Canyon
The waking call is at 3am. As soon as we all get into the van we reach Chivay in 3 hours of driving , 3650 meters above sea level , where we have breakfast and then continue to the Mirador.
After waiting in vain for about 30 minutes to see the famous Andean condors that didn’t show up, we began the long walk from the top of the canyon to the valley.
The walk although mostly downhill, in itself is hard , rocky , dusty and narrow , you walk on the edge of the track suspended hundreds of meters from the valley of the canyon , the donkeys , who go fast , take the precedence.
The 7 hours of walking include , 3 ½ hours walk downhill in zig zag up the mountain, some climbs of which one quite exhausting , crossing of three villages, a flat path of about 20 minutes and a final steep descent to reach the oasis for the overnight stop.
The oasis , a real and proper little green corner featuring manicured lawns adorned with brightly colored flowers , hostels with pools filled with water from the mountains , and relatively warm , basic accommodation but comfortable .
There is no electricity, as the sun goes down, nothing can be seen in a palm of the hand and the only lights are those of the stars and the candles.
In a place like this, 20.00 seems like midnight, and because of the fatigue for the walk and the morning rise, after 21 only a few are still up , most of us, myself included, are already under the covers in comatose state before 20.30.
The alarm for the next day is at 4.45. The start for the last titanic effort is at 5. Departure on an empty stomach, breakfast will be consumed on arrival and if the arrival is on time, the minibus will not wait.
8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and it is still dark when the groups leave for the last and physically intense climb. A light to wear on the head is providential if you do not want to stumble into the many boulders scattered here and there on the road. A long line of torches walks along and not one voice is heard, we’re all focused on putting one foot before the other and talking is an inappropriate effort at that moment.
The goal is reached between the 2 and a half hours and for me 3 and a half hours, it depends on each and everyone and their own pace, in fact in a trekking of this kind, I think it’s important not to follow the rhythm of others and to find our own otherwise we risk to get half way and not to have enough energy.
Despite my initial disappointment about starting the journey so early and in the dark, I must admit that I changed my mind along the way about the usefulness of this choice.
The fact is that starting while it’s still dark is a help for the body and soul, or at least for me, it was.
For the body because it’s not hot in the dark and in any case after 100 meters we had all taken off our sweaters and were in tank tops. For the spirit because in the dark you do not know what you are going up against. I could not see 1 meter away from me, let alone the top!
I only got discouraged when the sun started to rise and was illuminating the path that was left.
Looking up and almost with dread I asked how long it would take to arrive and the cold answer was: 1 hour, which I translated into a long, exhausting and endless hour. The darkness had made the climb less painful at least for the first 2 hours of trekking
First goal achieved, but unaware of what will happen after. It had been a long and strenuous walk especially for people like me who has never done trekking at these levels. Yet a thought has helped and accompanied me all the time: Bolivians.
The Bolivians are accustomed to altitudes, of weights on their shoulders, of climbs. So I remembered their funny, at least what I thought the first time I saw them, way of walking. The women who always had something on their shoulders, and we had our backpacks, walking slowly and bent forward, looking at the ground and proceeding in small steps. In this way, it is possible to walk for a long time without ever stopping.
So I tried this style of walking to conquer this great challenge memorable for me, a famous woman of the couch.
I came to the top in less than 3 hours, without being particularly tired, the legs were tired but the breathing always constant and for the first time I did not believe that my heart was going to burst.
After a hearty breakfast, dirty and tired we head to the spas. Water at 35 degrees and a light rain. The best way to end the long day begun hours before when I was ignorant of the path that lay ahead.
3 hours of uninterrupted walking uphill between rocks and steps and finally the destination and the mountains that overlook the deepest canyon on earth , a candy for me to recover from the exertion , seeing one after the other arriving sweaty and tried at the destination, the satisfaction of having made it in spite of the inhuman physical exertion and the certainty that nothing is really impossible .
The cost of the tour was 220 soles ( about $80 at current exchange rates ) and includes : transportation, breakfast (first and second day), lunch first day, dinner, accommodation at the Oasis and entrance ticket to canyon that in itself costs 70 soles.
Not included drinks , it’s important to leave with at least 2 liters of water, in the canyon they have prohibitive prices , entrance to the thermal pools before returning to Arequipa ( 15 soles ) and final lunch ( buffet 25 soles or less if you choose a dish in menu ) , tip as to your own discretion for the guide.
If the first day is feasible for all , perhaps not for children seeing that there are 7 hours of, in any case, not very simple walking even if it’s downhill most of the time , the return is definitely not for everyone.
You have to be physically ready. Then if at the end of the first day it is believed that you cannot make it, during dinner, the option of going up on a mule will be offered, it costs 60 soles. Two girls from my group had done that and they told me that and it was fun . Once you start to go up there is no turning back so ponder first whether you want to do it or not, and without any shame , there are many people who opt for this option.
What to bring
There are some things you need to take and others to avoid.
The journey is long and difficult it is important therefore to have a good hiking backpack , a change of clothes ( even just a Tshirt for the next day ) , good socks , a light to wear for the evening and for the first few hours of walking , water in abundance.
Water is heavy I know, but over there the costs are tripled, rightly so seen that there are no cars to transport the heavy bottles, so I recommend leave with at least 2 liters of water, snacks for the journey and for the moments when blood sugar levels fall.
Stay light or the three-hour ascent will be even more difficult than they already are. No to jeans , computers and various gadgets that you will not use anyway . Yes to a clean change of clothes , bath towel and food.
Trekking to the Colca Canyon or not?
I know that from my words it may seem like an abominable enterprise , in reality it is, but with hindsight it was a good experience that I will not repeat but
I’m glad to have done. Not only have I met so many people , but we also had fun , in moments of no panic of course.
Trekking or not? Yes if you have a very clear idea to what you are going to meet up with and if you like these activities . No if you are not ready at least physically at minimum or if you do not like the mountains or this type of exercise .