My hiking boots stomp heavy on the deserted Plaza de Armas in Cabanaconde. A couple of stray dogs are sniffing around: they are my only company in this cold night. It’s only 9 PM, but everyone in my dorm is fast asleep, gaining their forces for tomorrow’s hike.
Cabanaconde is the base to explore the Colca Canyon, the second deepest in the world. The first place belongs to the neighboring Cotahuasi, just a few hundred kilometers away.
I came to hike it alone, but I’ve already found my travel companions: Manuela, from Germany, and Fanny, from France, a retrouvaille from Huaraz.
We left early in the morning. For four hours, we hiked our way down from the village (3,287 m.a.s.l.) to Llahuar (2,020 m.a.s.l.). Fanny and I wanted to continue to Fure, but our strong will quickly gave in after we spent a few minutes resting our sore muscles at the hot springs of the Llahuar Lodge.
The unfriendly owners of this rustic and dirty hostel chose the perfect place to build their business. A couple of pools of thermal water tower over the cold Colca river, and make more than one competitive hiker give up their multiple day trek just to stay here.
The next morning, I said goodbye to Manuela and continued to Fure with Fanny. This is, without doubt, the least touristic part of the canyon, and we didn’t meet any other hiker during the whole day.
We passed the villages of Llahapa and Llatica, and reached Fure (2900 m.a.s.l.) after passing through thick vegetation and hundreds of cactus. I had the bright idea of collecting juicy prickly pears with my bare hands, and therefore spent the next hour or so unsuccessfully trying to remove hundreds of thorns.
Nataly welcomed us at the Haruru Wasi Hostel. 24 years old and six months pregnant, she had just opened the hostel the month before. We registered as her 7th and 8th guests and, after eating a delicious fried trout, Fanny and I hiked one more hour to the Huaruro waterfall.
The village of Fure was abandoned a couple of years ago. All its inhabitants have moved to the nearby village of Belén, which is closer to the road and therefore much less isolated. The two hostels also closed, together with the nearby newly constructed school.
Nataly and her husband have ceased the opportunity to start a new life here: they have bought a piece of land, brought their baby cat, dog and chicken with them, and started building.
When Fanny and I arrived, they were still working on the bathroom, so that we had to use the bushes as toilet and wash in the nearby river.
The next day, we left late (breakfast was not served until 7:30 AM), and hiked around four hours to the small village of Malata. We dropped our bags at Hospedaje Margarita and kept hiking to Tapay, and from there to the ancient Inca village (now just rocks) of Q’aqatapay.
The last day was the most feared one: a steep one-hour hike downhill to reach San Galle, also known as The Oasis, definitely the most turistic spot of the canyon, followed by a four-hour very steep hike up to Cabanaconde.
Fanny and I left Malata pretty early and looked at the green spot getting bigger as we got closer to it. We could see a few swimming pools and were looking forward to a fresh swim. When we arrived, nobody was there. Hikers leave early to avoid the late-morning burning sun, and turists come only later during the day. No-one was there to charge us either, so we took our time around and inside the pool. How incredible it was, this oasis in the middle of the canyon!
The steep hike up was not as bad as we feared, but reaching the top was still a great relief. Observing the immensity of the canyon from the top, we could see how far we had walked in the past four days. Enjoying the familiar feeling of satisfaction after a long hike, we treated ourselves with a glass of Chilean wine in the local pub.
Mirador Cruz del Condor – As if they were performing some kind of show, the condors showed up around 8:30 AM, making it worth for the dozens of tourists coming this far and paying 70 S to see these majestic birds fly. It was the perfect finale for a great hike.
I left my hiking boots here, and hopefully some cholita will make some good use of them. So many years spent together, so many kilometers hiked through days of pain and great rewards. They were my travel companions, those Tecnica that have endured sun, rain and snow in more than one continent. A feeling of loneliness accompanied me while I hoped on the turistic bus that offered us a ride back to Arequipa.
DIY HIKE IN THE COLCA CANYON:
Entrance to the park: 40 S (Latin American) or 70 S (non-Latin American). There is not really a spot when you go and pay, but a woman that might be around when you arrive. You can actually negotiate and still pay 40 S, or just pay nothing at all – there is no check point in the park. Do note though that the entrance ticket has to be shown at the Cruz del Cóndor view point.
Suggested itinerary (4 days):
Day 1: Cabanaconde (3,287 m.a.s.l.) to Llahuar (2,020 m.a.s.l.) – around 4h.
Day 2: Llahuar (2,020 m.a.s.l.) to Fure (2,900 m.a.s.l.) – around 5h, and Fure to Huaruro waterfall (2,950 m.a.s.l.) and back – around 1h30 / 6h30 total.
Day 3: Fure (2,900 m.a.s.l.) to Malata (2,600 m.a.s.l.) – 4h, and Malata to Tapay (2,984 m.a.s.l.) and back, around 2h / 6h total.
Day 4: Malata (2,600 m.a.s.l.) to San Galle (2,100 m.a.s.l.) – 1h, and San Galle to Cabanaconde (3,287 m.a.s.l.) – 3h30 / 4h30 total.
Where to sleep/eat:
Cabanaconde: Hostal Pachamama, 25 S in a dorm – Great information about the canyon and detailed maps. // Hotel Internacional, 15 S per person per room.
Llahuar: Llahuar Lodge – accommodation 15 S, breakfast 8 S, lunch or dinner 10 S.
Fure: Huaruro Wasi Hostel – accommodation 15 S, meals 10 S each.
Malata: Hospedaje Margarita – accommodation 15 S, meals 8 S each.