How to hike & trek the Colca Canyon without a guide

How to hike & trek Colca Canyon without a guide

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Since I am in Peru, I have been trying to find information about self-guided hikes in Peru and it’s kind of a pain. Often you have to book a tour in order to get information. That’s why I thought it is time to spread the word: You do not need a tour guide to trek Colca Canyon. I found the most reliable information with Pachamama (hostel in Cabanaconde) – you should definitely get a map from them. With a map and the usual precautions, you can totally hike and trek Colca Canyon without a guide.

Cacao plant on the trail with mountains in the background
Cocoa on the trail to Llahuar, which I hiked without a guide

Do you want to surprise your hiking buddy? Here are some gift ideas for hikers.

How many days should I plan on trekking the Colca Canyon?

This is basically up to you. You can go in one day, stay one night and come back to Cabanaconde the next day. Or you take a couple of days off the grid to explore the canyon in detail. There are various routes so that you can trek Colca Canyon without a guide for 3-5 days (or longer).

What’s the difficulty of the treks in Colca Canyon?

Anything from easy to difficult is possible and also depends on your own fitness level. For example, descending to Llahuar was easy but hurtful for knees and toes. Uphill might be more difficult for you if you are not used to the thin air. Then, you have to take many stops and it will take you longer. There are also some trails that are not as often used, for example, the one to the waterfall near Fure. So, it will be harder to find the path and hike through the bushes.

Hiking trail on the side of a mountain with view of the mounains
The even stretch on the way into Colca Valley

Trek Colca Canyon without a guide in 2 days

We hiked to Llahuar Lodge the first day and returned to Cabanaconde by bus the following day. We haven’t had more time and we were also a bit lazy. However, I was jealous of all the other hikers that trek Colca Canyon without a guide and could enjoy the views longer.

Hike into the Colca Canyon: Cabanaconde to Llahuar

The trailhead is the Mirador Achachigua, which is easy to find. Just follow Bolivar Street. It goes a little bit uphill and then you will see the bullring straight ahead. Pass it either on the left for the straight way to the lookout, or on the right to walk to another lookout first. There are signs everywhere, so you cannot get lost.

Hiking in the Colca Canyon with a view of the snowcapped mountain
On the way to the viewpoint

Follow the path until you find an old football/soccer field. Stick to the right and you will see the little hut of the Achachigua lookout. There was a ticket control when we arrived. So make sure you bring your tourist ticket or you have to pay 70 Soles for a ticket (counts also if you haven’t one yet). The view from there is already incredible. You can see the oasis (Sangalle) and the bridge to Llahuar, which you gonna pass later.

Huge mountains with clouds hanging deep in the valley and a river at the bottom of the valley
To get to Llahuar, you have to cross the river down there

To the left at the viewpoint, there is a path following the ridge. You have to climb over some small rocks. From now on, the path to Llahuar is very clear and easy to walk. Don’t forget to make some stops to soak in the views and to take some photos (I took way too many).

Remember: The journey is the reward.
Trek the Colca Canyon along the cliff with views of the snow-capped mountains and cloud-filled valley
You walk next to the abyss for a bit – with scenic views

You will see a huge green field to your left and afterward it starts descending.

A green field on the side of the trail to Llahuar, clouds fill the valley with mountains in the background
A green field at the abyss

We were lucky enough to see a couple of condors flying around in the valley. So, don’t forget to look up.

Flying Andean Condor with stretched wings in the Colca Canyon
Two flying Andean Condors flying in the sky

We also had a little fellah that started walking with us from the Mirador de Achachigua. So basically we didn’t go without a guide because he knew his hood pretty, pretty good. We called him Simba because he liked to stand on the rocks looking into the distance.

View of the lush green valley with a dog on a rock in the foreground
Simba as he looks into the distance

After a while, you will reach a small stream. The bridge that crosses the river looks far from reliable. It is made of wood, the ends are bending, and some panels are loose. So, watch your steps!

Green Colca Valley and a wooden bridge
The wobbly bridge on the trail to Llahuar

After the stream, you will walk on a level path for some time. If you start too late, the sun will burn you on this stretch.

The path goes all the way around the mountain and takes approx. 45-60 min.

Trail in the Colca Canyon on the side of a mountain with green, huge mountains in the background
A level trail around the mountain

Then, finally the “fun part”: Downhill via switchbacks. It goes all the way down to the river. The rocky gravel path doesn’t make it easy. Your knees have to withstand a lot and your toes may start hurting. My biggest mistake was to not remove sand and gravel from my shoes. The result was a huge blister on my big toe… So, don’t be as dumb as me. Anyways, back to the topic.

You will eventually hit an actual dirt road that brings you to the river. There are a few shortcuts for hikers. Only take the ones that are not blocked by rocks – they feed a purpose.

Crossing the modern bridge at the river is part of the trek in Colca Canyon without a guide
The modern bridge over the river

Once you reach the river, take the modern, stable bridge. If you are lucky, you might be able to find the geyser to the right. We couldn’t find it and assumed that you cannot see it in the rainy season because the water level is too high.

Follow the dirt road uphill until you see the sign below.

Street sign on the trek in Colca Canyon without a guide
You have to take a left here

Take a left and walk through Turouña. In the end of the three houses, you will descend to Llahuar. It’s only 5-10min away from this point.

Canyon view with a river in the valley, a bridge, and the Llahuar Lodge on the other side
The last part: Downhill, across the bridge, uphill, and arrive at Llahuar Lodge

It took us almost 5 hours to hike to Llahuar. We took a lot of stops to enjoy the view, though.

Hanging bridge over a rapid river in Colca Canyon
Hanging bridge at Llahuar Lodge – Simba shows us the way

Enjoy drinks, food and the hot springs at the lodge. If you come in the rainy season like us, you have to go without the hotter pools. They are very close to the river so that they are basically in the river. The bungalows of the lodge are very basic but have a nice view. Bring a flashlight, because there is not much light anywhere – not even in the bungalow. You can reserve your room via this link, which is recommended between May and September.

View of the river and mountains from Llahuar Lodge with a yellow bungalow and sitting area
Rapid river in the rainy season at Llahar Lodge

Way back: Llahuar to Cabanaconde

The next day, you can either hike back the way you came or take the Collectivo bus around 11:30 to noon-ish. It passes the Torouña junction at the main dirt road (street sign). Don’t panic if the bus is not arriving until noon. Ours arrived a few minutes past noon. If you are lucky, the bus will be back in Cabanaconde by 2 pm so that you can catch the afternoon bus to Arequipa.

Want to know more things to do at Colca Canyon? Then read this!

Trek Colca Canyon in 3 Days

If you choose to go to Llahuar as described above, you can continue to Sangalle (the oasis). Stay the night there and hike up to Cabanaconde the next day. This is a very common route most people take. The oasis is usually the first stop on the trek, which is one of the most touristy places in the Colca Canyon.

You can also hike from Llahuar to Malata and continue to Cabanaconde the next day.

We met a guy, who hiked all the way from Sangalle to the Huaruro Falls near Fure and then to Llahuar in one day. He said, it took him around 8 hours, but he was super exhausted too. I wouldn’t recommend it because it is too risky. You may end up hiking in the dark. Rather plan a day more for this trek.

If you want to skip the oasis, you can also just hike to the Huaruro Falls from Llahuar Lodge. Come back to the lodge and hike back to Cabanaconde the next day (or take the bus).

View of the canyon from the trek in Colca Canyon without a guide
View of the Colca Valley

Trek Colca Canyon in 4 Days

If you have one day more to spend, go from Llahuar to Fure (2nd day), then to Sangalle or Malata (3rd day) and ascend to Cabanaconde the next day. You obviously can go the other way around.

Other trails to trek Colca Canyon without a guide

If these trails are not “off-the-beaten-path” for you, you should talk to the owner of Pachamama in Cabanaconde. He knows a lot about the mountains. So, it’s definitely worth to stop by or stay there at least a night. Reserve your room here!

General tips & precautions

  • Don’t bring all your belongings! Just hike with the necessary equipment. You can leave the rest in Arequipa or Cabanaconde.
  • Return your trash to Cabanaconde (apparently, they still burn trash in the valley)
  • Bring a water filter or purifier if you don’t want to buy plastic bottles
  • Bring enough cash: There are no ATMs in Cabanaconde or in the rural areas
  • Don’t forget sunblock (preferably with very high protection) and sun hat
  • Bring a flashlight!
  • Don’t underestimate the altitude: Cabanaconde is almost 11,000 ft (3300 m) high and you will descend about 3600 ft (1100 m).
  • Start hiking as early as possible!
  • If you visit in high season (May-Sept), you should book your rooms in advance. Read my recommendation for Cabanaconde here.
I hope my post convinces you that you can trek Colca Canyon without a guide. Do you have more questions? Then, write me a comment!

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Mountain view from the trail with text Go trekking in the Colca Canyon in Peru
View of the mountains at Colca Canyon with text Trek the Colca Canyon in Peru

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