We found out the hard way exactly what was the best and quickest way to get from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon with public transport.
As we were doing the famous trek without a guide, we knew the route would involve a very early morning and a long bus ride, so we did our research. We asked at our hostel in Arequipa, the government tourist information office in Plaza de Armas, plus endless Google searches for traveller advice on bus timetables - we felt overly prepared if anything!
When we arrived at the Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa for a 6.30 a.m. bus, we discovered that the updated times the tourist office had supplied us were completely wrong and several morning buses mentioned on blogs no longer existed. Usually in South America, this wouldn’t be too big an issue as the next departure is never that far away; this isn’t the case if travelling to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa. The next bus wasn’t for another three hours and, as we planned to spend at least four hours hiking later that day, this was not a great start.
However, with the help of a couple of in-the-know locals at the bus station, we actually found out a much quicker and more reliable way to make the journey meaning that we didn’t have to sit around for three hours and made it to the start point with plenty of time to complete the first section of our three-day, two-night hike.
In this post, we’ve shared they key details and costs on how to get from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon, via Chivay, with public transport - both the quick way and the slow way - plus some personal tips on how to make the journey hitch-free. If you are trying to find out about tours or shuttle buses to the Colca Canyon from Arequipa, then you will find everything you need in this post.
Update August 2019 | We have had a couple of comments from long-time readers who have struggled on this route (see comments below), but we' have also had messages from people who have taken the same route as us and had no issues with transfers to collectivos. To ensure that future readers and hikers get the best, most accurate advice, we would really appreciate if you could comment below on your own experience of reaching the Colca Canyon from Arequipa - positive or negative - whether you take the slower bus route or our preferred route! Gracias.
All Roads Lead to Cabanaconde
The various Colca Canyon hike start points, and the best condor spotting viewpoints, are all located in and around the town of Cabanaconde. It’s around 130 miles / 210 kms from Arequipa, along some quite stunning Peruvian landscapes
Most guides will tell you that the only way to reach Cabanaconde with public transport is by taking one of the handful of early morning buses from Arequipa. However, based on our own experience, and the experiences of those we’ve advised since, we are confident that the best and quickest route is actually by taking a colectivo (public minivan) from Arequipa to Chivay, and then another colectivo from Chivay to Cabanaconde.
It costs a few soles more than the bus ride, but allows you to leave Arequipa at a more acceptable time in the morning, choose from several departures per hour, and reach Cabanaconde at least an hour or two quicker; if you plan on doing a full day’s hiking, then that extra time is essential
In the following steps, we have referred primarily to this colectivo route, but listed all the necessary and relevant information for the bus route as well.
We believe that there is also a tourist shuttle service which will bring people from Arequipa to Cabanaconde, with a hostel pick-up at 3 a.m., costing S/. 40 (£9.2 / $12). However we didn’t look too much further into it - if you have more information, let us know in the comments.
Step One: Prepare Your Bags The Night Before
If you plan on doing an independent hike in the Colca Canyon, then an early start on the first day is absolutely essential - 4.30 a.m. if you take the bus, 7.00 a.m. you take the colectivo.
Make sure you have packed and prepared your hiking gear the night before - you will have to carry everything on your back for this hike - and arranged to leave your larger backpacks in the hostel’s luggage storage. It’s best to have all of this sorted before going to bed the night before so you don’t have to faff about in the morning. Read this post for more information on what to pack for the Colca Canyon Trek.
Tip | Most hostels in Arequipa offer a free luggage storage room for guests who are going out on multiday hikes. We travel with a lot of tech however and so required a hostel which also had small lockers we could use to securely store our valuables whilst on the trek. Very few offer this service, but thankfully World Backpacker’s did, and it’s a really nice hostel to base yourself at in Arequipa. For more Arequipa travel advice and tips on where to stay, read our guide.
Step Two: Taxi to Colectivo Station
Uber works pretty well in Arequipa, and we used it frequently in Peruvian cities. Alternatively, ask your hostel reception to call a taxi - instead of attempting to flag one down - as it’s the safest option this early in the morning (just double check with them the night before about how to do this).
The colectivos can be found at several private ‘mini terminals’ on and around Avenida Andrés Avelino Cáceres (we’ve provided their addresses in Step Three).
From the centre of Arequipa, it takes 15-20 minutes by taxi to reach any of the stations mentioned in this section.
Cost | S. / 6-10 (£1.4 / $1.8) Time | 15 minutes
Arequipa has two bus stations, but they are thankfully right next to each other (and also only a few minutes walk from the colectivo stations). Terminal Terrestre serves the towns and region, whilst Terrapuerto Internacional is for inter-city connections to Cusco, Lima etc - you are going to Terminal Terrestre.
Read Next | Our Definitive Colca Canyon Trek Guide
Step Three: Colectivo to Chivay
As mentioned, having planned to take the bus to Cabanaconde, we discovered these colectivos to Chivay quite by mistake - a very fortunate mistake as it turned out!
Each holds 8-12 people at once, and they leave once full. They run the route MUCH quicker than the buses, and a ticket costs S/. 15 per person (buy your ticket before you board), with a travel time 3h 20 mins.
Transportes Centella | We went with these guys, and they said they had departures from 5 a.m, with several departures per hour | Av. Andrés Avelino Cáceres 310
Transportes Caminos del Inca | Departures on the hour, every hour from 3 a.m. to Chivay | Av. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar 107
Minivan Terminal 3 | This is where we were dropped off on the return journey, and it’s a pretty large, obvious terminal facing the main road, but we never found out the name for it | Av. Andrés Avelino Cáceres 101
You’ll find several other private terminals on Avenida Andrés Avelino Cáceres, but if you stick with the first two above then you shouldn’t have to wait around too long. If there isn’t one leaving for a while, simply walk to another terminal as they’re all within a couple of minutes of each other.
In our view, you could comfortably take any of the colectivos from Arequipa to Chivay from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. (8 a.m. as a very last resort, like us) and be able to do the first stretch of the Colca Canyon Trek.
Cost | S. /15 (£3.5 / $4.5) Time | 3.5 hours
At Arequipa bus station, we found only three bus companies running the route from Arequipa to Cabanconde - Reyna (blue and gold sign), Express Señor de Los Milagros, and Andalucia. They’re pretty close to each other, on the right of the terminal as you enter.
The route, with a brief stop in Chivay, takes 5-6 hours on a good day and costs S/. 20 (£4.5 / $6) per person. With very limited morning departures, this can mean a painfully early start (nobody enjoys having to set an alarm before 3 a.m.!) and this had actually been a disincentive to us when deciding whether to do the hike on our first Peru trip back in 2015.
Based on our most recent visit (November 2018), the departures are:
Express Señor de Los Milagros | 03.30 / 05.30 / 14.00
Reyna | 11.00
Andalucia | 09.30
There is NOT a 06.30 bus!
Realistically, you should catch the 05.30 bus whilst we think the 09.30 bus should really only be taken if you plan on staying in Cabanaconde for your first night or hiking down to Sangalle upon arrival.
However, please don’t take the bus schedules above as sacrosanct - they are subject to change and we’re always happy to update them if you find out they have changed. If travelling on a Sunday, we would strongly advise confirming the bus times in advance as it’s likely a limited service runs.
Thankfully, if you don’t make it on one of these buses, you can at least just pop round the corner to take a colectivo!
Step Four | Colectivo from Chivay to Cabanaconde
Our second mistake of the day - based on bad information - was to almost miss our connection from Chivay to Cabanaconde. And now you can again learn from our mistakes!
Once you arrive at Chivay’s small bus station, there will likely be some men waiting to ask if you’re going onward to Cabanconde. Alternatively, you can make your way outside the station where there should be a man and a van waiting to take people to Cabanaconde.
We did this, but then felt the man was trying to rip us off with his price (he really wasn’t) and decided to wait for another one. He told us there wasn’t another one that day. We didn’t believe him.
And then it looked like another one was never going to come…
Thankfully, after a lot of worrying, asking a dozen or so locals in the market, the plaza, the terminal and at various tourist offices about whether there were indeed any further connections - and receiving about a dozen different answers, most of them complete guesses - we thought we’d have to stay in Chivay for the night. However, after an hour or so had passed waiting outside the terminal, a jolly-looking guy turned up with his official colectivo van and asked if we were off to the Colca Canyon. Our relief was palpable, and a bunch of other hikers soon turned up too meaning the colectivo wasn’t waiting around for long.
It all worked out in the end!
So, at Chivay, it appears that the colectivos to Cabanaconde (understandably) base their departures around the arrival of buses and colectivos from Arequipa. You will find the colectivos waiting outside the terminal entrance, and they leave once full or nearly full. We paid S/. 10 each (the price the first guy had insisted upon). Your backpack is likely to go on top of the van, and it’s an utterly beautiful ride for the next two hours. Note that if you need to get some snacks or use the bathroom before getting in the colectivo, it’s a good idea to let the driver know first so that he doesn’t leave whilst you’re still doing your business!
If you struggle to find a colectivo in Chivay, do not be surprised if locals aren’t really able to give accurate advice as the schedule seems to be very inconsistent. However, they do exist and there is definitely more than one per day.
Cost | S/. 10 (£2.3 / $3) Time | 2 hours
The bus usually has a ten minute stop in Chivay to pick up new passengers and let current ones use the bathroom. Take your backpack with you if you are getting off to use the bathroom, but try not to lose your seat for the next portion of the journey. If you are really struggling to find a colectivo, check when the next bus arrives for Cabanaconde and you may get a seat on that.
Step Five | Find The Start of the Colca Canyon
The final step of the journey from Arequipa to Cabanaconde is the same whether you take the bus or the colectivo, but will differ depending on your own Colca Canyon route - we have summarised the best two and three day routes here to help you plan the right one for your travel style, hiking experience, and time.
If your first night is going to be spent in Cabanaconde, Llahuar, or Sangalle, then just continue onto the town plaza in the colectivo and you will be able to find the hike start points quite easily (if not, someone will be able to point you in the right direction).
However, if you’re spending the first night at San Juan de Chuccho like us, then we highly recommend that you say to let the driver know that you want to get off at Mirador San Miguel (it’s on Google Maps). Getting off here will give you direct access to this specific section’s start point and save you a 20 minute walk from the centre of Cabanaconde. You’ll know you’re in the right place as there’s a football pitch (probably filled with sheep) on your upper-left side and a few houses and a shop on your right.
Make your preparations here and head towards the house, bearing right rather than left when you have the option, and you will shortly see a sign indicating the path to take to start the descent to the bottom of one of the world’s deepest canyons!
Total Cost + Time with Colectivo | S/. 31 (£7.2 / $9) | 5h 45mins
Total Cost + Time with Bus | S/. 26 (£6 / $7.8) | 7h
We hope you have found the above useful to plan your own journey. To keep the post updated and relevant for future travellers, please do let us know your own experiences or if costs/changes have changed substantially. If you are still in full-on Colca Canyon planning mode, then you should read Everything You Need To Know Before The Colca Canyon Trek next to know what to pack and the best route for your travel style and fitness.