Unlike several of the best hikes in Peru, the Colca Canyon is not one single defined loop, route, or path which everyone walks in the same direction and sleeps at the same lodge. Instead, it’s quite possible for two people to ‘do the Colca Canyon hike’ but start, stay, and finish in different spots over either two or three days.
We spent FAR too long looking into, and getting confused, over the various independent multiday routes and options before doing the hike ourselves, and it’s impossible (and a bit pointless) to list all the variants here, as you’ll simply be left equally unsure about which route to take!
So, to make things as clear as possible so that you can understand and select the best Colca Canyon route for your own trek - and based on our own experience on the trails - we have summarised the seven most popular, most enjoyable, and most realistic routes below. All will take you into the canyon for either one or two nights and can be done without a guide, but vary in terms of suitability for your hiking experience, fitness, time in Peru, and travel style.
There is however a single constant to every single one: each Colca Canyon route starts with a long, zig-zagging, and steep descent to the Colca river and ends with a challenging several-hours steep ascent to return to Cabanaconde (and your calves will not like you the day after).
If you haven’t already read our extensive guide to the Colca Canyon, it goes hand-in-hand with this one, so be sure to take a look soon.
Colca Canyon Map + Routes
We put together the colour-coded map below to help you better visualise understand the routes we discuss below; it’s not meant to be a 100% accurate map to guide you along the trails.
If you open it up in a new tab by pressing the arrow in the top left, then you can select / deselect the specific routes so the loop and direction of travel is clear (but we suggest you finish reading this post first so that the purple, blue, and green hiker icons make perfect sense)! We have kept the map in the ‘terrain’ view as this better shows the handful of dusty roads and trails which are carved into the canyon and which you will follow on your hike. Zoom in and out to get a clearer perspective on sections.
For other more traditional looking maps of the Colca Canyon trek routes, just whack ‘Colca Canyon Maps’ into a Google Image search.
Please note that total hiking times in our routes are indicative, rather than absolute. Also, the names we have given the various route options are very much our own.
2 Day Colca Canyon Routes
The Short One | Cabanaconde > Sangalle (stay) > Cabanaconde
A 2-hour steep descent into the oasis of Sangalle where you can relax in the pools and the surprisingly lush contrast with the arid Canyon. The following morning’s ascent is a tough zig-zag of 4-6 hours depending on your stamina, so start early. This is the busiest section of the route due to its accessibility and duration.
We have not included any one-day routes as we do not think it is worthwhile or realistic unless you stay the night before in Cabanaconde. If you are really concerned about fitness, time (or your knees), then you should note that the ascent from the oasis settlement of Sangalle is the shortest and easiest way to return to Cabanaconde. Note that none of these ascents will be easy however, and some of our followers on Instagram who did the Sangalle one still said it was the toughest thing they’ve put their legs through (but this of course all depends on how much hiking you’ve done, fitness etc)! If you are short on time and don’t want to hike, then go for this 2 day tour.
Total distance | 8 kms
Hiking time| 6-8 hours
Pros | Great for those short on time but who wish to hike a little in the canyon.
Cons | It’s a very long way to get here just for one night in the canyon, and it’s the most touristified version of the hike.
Our Map | Indicated by the purple hiker icon.
The Popular One | Cabanaconde > San Juan de Chuccho > Sangalle (stay) › Cabanaconde
A loop of the eastern section of the Canyon, this involves a 4-5 hour walk down to San Juan de Chuccho, before continuing onwards via Malata (or the potential shortcut) to the Sangalle oasis for the evening - it’s a long first day so you need to start really early from Arequipa. The second day’s ascent is from 2,160 m to 3,287 m to Cabanaconde.
Doing this route in reverse (staying at San Juan de Chuccho) is also a popular and realistic option, it just depends on whether you prefer to stay in the oasis or not. If you want to enjoy a slower experience of hiking the Colca Canyon without covering more distance, then it’s also perfectly acceptable (and a good idea) to turn this into a more leisurely three-day, two-night route (see below).
This two-day route can also be done as a guided trek tour.
Total distance | 20 kms
Hiking time| 8-12 hours
Pros | It allows you to feel like you’ve experienced a lot more of the canyon and really earned that night in the oasis. The loop route also means you won’t walk any roads twice.
Cons | The first day will be a very very long and tiring one. Staying the night in Cabanaconde before starting the hike isn’t a bad idea.
Our Map | Green and purple hiker icons.
The Western Loop One | Cabanaconde > Llahuar (stay) > Sangalle > Cabanaconde
A loop on the western side of the canyon, which involves a geyser and evening in thermal baths at Llahuar. The descent from Cabanaconde to Llahuar is steep and long at 4-5 hours but has striking scenery.
On our hike, as our final day involved going up from Llahuar to Cabanaconde, it was clear from the number of people passing us on their way down that this was an increasingly popular option for people doing the Colca Canyon without a guide for either one or two nights. The main reason is because the ascent from Llahuar to Cabanconde is recognised as the toughest, longest, and most brutal of the three options to get out of your canyon on the final day, and so choosing to going down instead on your first day makes total sense.
Total distance | 22 - 25 kms
Hiking time| 10 - 12 hours
Pros | The loop route also means you won’t walk any roads twice.
Cons | The second day from Llahuar to Cabanaconde will be quite a long one, and we actually think you are much better doing this route as a 2-night, 3-day trek (see below), otherwise you’d probably have to end up staying in Cabanconde on your last night as the buses will be gone.
Map | Blue and purple hiker icons.
For both the second and third options above, it is possible to spend a night in the town of Cabanaconde or Chivay before or after your hike to make the overall experience less rushed and more enjoyable. We met two couples who did this and were happy with their decision. Indeed, if we had had more time on our trip, it’s something we likely would have done as these towns were quite charming, not very touristy, and very Peruvian. However, working out your route and timings to ensure you catch the last bus back to Arequipa on your final hike day is what the majority of trekkers do.
3 Day Colca Canyon Routes
If you have time, fancy hiking more of the Canyon, or just want a bigger challenge, then a three-day hike is the best option to savour the route and not feel too rushed.
The Casual Active One
Cabanaconde > San Juan de Chuccho (stay) > Sangalle (stay) > Cabanaconde
An extended version of one of the two-day routes, we think this is a great option for people who are curious active travellers with time but who don’t have the inclination to cover more ground on the hike (or for whom doing this multiday hike is already a bucketlist challenge) but have a decent amount of time to commit to the Canyon.
Note that this can also be done in reverse, although the ascent out of San Juan de Chuccho is much more challenging and longer than the Sangalle one.
It can also done with a guided hike tour - find out more information and view the itinerary here.
Total distance | 20 kms
Hiking time| 8-12 hours
Pros | A chance to savour the route and not feel too rushed on any section as you will have plenty time to complete it.
Cons | We can’t really think of any.
Map | Green then purple hiker icons.
Read Next | What To Pack For The Colca Canyon
The Killer One
Cabanaconde > San Juan de Chuccho (stay) > Llahuar (stay) > Cabanaconde
This is the 3 day route we did, which covers most of the Colca Canyon hiking route in a loop. It was a phenomenal experience, but one half of Along Dusty Roads would have preferred for us to have picked a slightly easier route given the killer final day of endless switchbacks, false summits, and 1000m elevation increase.
Do we regret it? Not one bit. Would we recommend it to everyone? Not a chance.
Total distance | 26-30 kms
Hiking time| 18-20 hours
Pros | If you do it our way, or in the other direction (see below), this really is the gold standard for 3-day Colca Canyon hikes. If you are an experienced hiker or fit, then you’ll enjoy the challenge of that final day’s 6-8 hour ascent. See the total cost and breakdown for our 3 day hike here.
Cons | This route doesn’t include Sangalle, the oasis. You have great views over it at various junctures, and could add it on for an additional 3-4 hours, but being in the oasis wasn’t a big draw for us. The other con on this route is that ascent from Llahuar is going to be too big a challenge for lots of people; it covers nearly 10 kms, and you have to start at 6 a.m. at the very latest to have a chance of catching the bus back to Arequipa. It took us about 7 hours but if you’re very fit you could do it in 6 hours - for some people you have to factor in at least 8 hours. Whatever your level, just leave at 5 or 6 a.m. to ensure you have enough time to make that bus back to Arequipa or you’ll have to stay the night in Cabanaconde.
Note that it is possible to take a bus from Llahuar back up to Cabanaconde on the last day instead of walking the trail (but that road looked bloody terrifying).
Map | Green then blue hiker icons
The Sensible Alternative One
Cabanaconde > Llahuar (one night) > San Juan de Chuccho (one night) > Cabanaconde
Due to the difficulty of the 6-8 hour ascent on the final day on our hike, we would recommend that most of you think about this (slightly) easier three-day route. It’s basically ours in reverse, but leaves you with a more manageable (but still tough) 5 hour ascent from San Juan de Chuccho to Mirador San Miguel, and then a 15 minute walk on the flat back into Cabanaconde.
Map | Blue then green hiker icons.
The Take It Easy One
Cabanaconde > Llahuar (one night) > Sangalle (one night) > Cabanaconde
This is by far the easiest option, and an increasingly popular one, for people looking to spend two nights in the Canyon and enjoy a manageable level of hiking. Enjoy a challenging descent on the first day, bathe in the hot springs in the evening, then cover the ground to the oasis at Sangalle at a pretty manageable pace.
Total distance | 22-24 kms
Hiking time| 13-15 hours
Pros | Shorter distances overall, so a good option for someone who doesn’t want to do all those extra miles in the dust.
Cons | None really.
Map | Blue then purple hiker icons.
There are further variations on the above three-day / two night routes which can extend your hike by one to two nights, or include a detour on your 3-day one, to bring you to even more remote villages - such as Fure. However, we can’t advise on these as we didn’t cover that same ground. Please be aware however that doing any extended routes should only be done by experienced and prepared hikers.