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January 3, 2019

Colca Canyon – The good the bad and the ugly

This is my rendition of the Colca Canyon two day trek.

Don’t let the smile fool you…

When you research Arequipa Peru or things to do in Peru, Colca Canyon hike will inevitably come up as one of the suggested “activities.”  While the Andes Mountains are gorgeous, and the overall experience is probably “worth it;” allow me to walk you through a realistic two day trek of Colca canyon.

In the city of Arequipa you can choose from 20+ tour agencies all offering the same thing – a two or three day trek. ONE company offers a luxury path with no trekking, and it’s triple the price. Looking back, it’s not a terrible idea. Kidding. Do the trek. So, you simply compare some prices, negotiate and book your tour.

Here we go…

Day 1

3:30am – Get picked up in a 12-15 passenger van (which will be filled with tourists from around the globe…half cool, half unpredictable). Greetings from Juanito, our guide.

Get some pretty epic views once the sun rises, drive by old Incan terraces, and see some condors. The condors are fed for a tourist attraction. Which is stupid, but I can’t say I hated seeing them either. So there’s that. After the condors, and stretching the legs out, it’s back in the van to the start of the trek…

8:00-8:30am arrive at the trail head, take off layers + apply copious amounts of sunscreen (the sun at 11,000ft is HOT ladies and gents). Start the trek…This is where I suggest taking a moment to say goodbye to your knees, and the bottom layer of feet.

You start at the TOP of the canyon, and over the course of three hours, you lower yourself down the mountain side. I quickly took back the judgemental thoughts I had towards those with hiking sticks…judgement was replaced with jealousy.

So down and down we went. Not a bad view I have to admit.

Sorry not pictures from the mid-day stopping point. The three hour descent ends at the river in the basin of the canyon. We got to the bottom first out of our group, thankfully. This meant we got to sit in the shade, drink water and try to ignore our throbbing joints and separation of skin that was taking place in our shoes. Once the whole group makes it down, there’s no waiting around. They run a tight ship. Juanito made it clear, “this is Inca time, not Peruvian time” – indicating that there was indeed a schedule, and we’d ACTUALLY be sticking to it.

After another 15-ish minute trek just up the other side of the river, a traditional lunch was provided followed by a 20-30 minute napping period…yes, there is a designated, and much deserved, nap time. Because this is only the half way point…and it’s 1:30-2 pm at this point. Remember you’ve been up since 3am, eaten some bread, and walked down stairs for 3 hours in the heat.

Am I being dramatic? Yeah, I feel like I am. But I reeeaaallly need you to understand what I mean when I so nonchalantly say “walked down stairs.” Have you ever lowered yourself down for that long with NO level or upward ground? No? Oh okay, it goes like this…quads on fire from lowering yourself in a controlled manner, knee caps feel like they are shooting out the front of your leg because of the quads pulling on it, hips fatigued from keeping your knees and ankles in check with your landings, feet repeatedly sliding into the front of your shoe regardless of the shoe. Don’t come at me some hiking boot argument. Just. Don’t. And hey, maybe if you’re blessed with dry, sweat-less feet, you won’t lose the first layer of skin off of your kickers.

Okay…now it’s afternoon and it’s on to the “oasis.”

Again I can’t deny the view of the canyon from the other side of the river (as seen below).

This section of hiking was much more up-down-up-down. And if I am being honest, we were in the back 5% of our group. The elevation was no joke for us during those “up” sections. And if you know me, you’ll know that some bread for breakfast, and soup for lunch was NOT doing it for me. Bring snacks my friend…bring ALL OF THE SNACKS.

After another three hours of trekking, you start to see glimpses of a more “oasis”-like environment. The thought of not moving kept me going. Oh the irony.

At a certain point you’ll realize that you’ve actually climbed upward quite a bit and know that you need to start descending again…

Then, you’ll round the last corner and there it is. The Oasis.  But oh what’s that? What else do you see? Just to the left of the Oasis you see your future flash before your eyes. Your route for the morning…nothing but switchbacks straight up the face of the canyon. You just wait, we’ll get to that. For now, we arrive at the much desired, and heavily marketed, Oasis.

There she is, the selling point – your night at The Oasis. Let’s get some things clear. I suppose this could be considered an “oasis” if you compare it to the day you just had. It’s green, has water, and you’ll rest there. That is basically the definition of an oasis.

What was not very oasis like was the outdoor cold shower with a halfway see-through bamboo door which of course faced the main “courtyard.”

Almost all groups stay here. So dinner happens in 1 hour intervals. We arrived at 5:30pm, our dinner wasn’t until 7pm. Looking back, I would have just gone to bed. But we showered, took a nap, and reluctantly woke up for dinner…which was spaghetti noodles and watery red sauce with NO MEAT.

Also note that at high elevations it’s HOT during the day and COLD at night. Luckily the bedding in our hut was pleasantly heavy and warm. Plus our beds were surprisingly comfortable.

After dinner and a debriefing, it’s off to bed…

Day 2

4:30 am – Start the ascent, in the pitch black, with no breakfast (again…BRING SNACKS). On the ascent it’s every man for him/herself.

Might we remember that your body is THRASHED from the day before. From muscles to blisters and some kind of foot-skin-situation, you’re not doing your best…

My heart rate was in the 170’s within the first 2 minutes.  And it pretty much stayed there for two hours. YES, I definitely wore my heart rate monitor for day two. I knew the ascent was going to be SERIOUS.

A third of the way up I took off and left Nate to just get it over with. I stopped every once in a while to watch the sunrise kiss the mountain tops. Sorry no pics, I was honestly just trying to stay alive at that point. And keep pace with a French girl in front of me.

There are mules along the way that you can ride if need be. It does cost something, but I don’t how much. And yes, several people opted for the mule ride. Honestly I was impressed with the animals. This terrain is not groomed. You’re hiking up loose dirt and rocks, not a groomed trail.

Anyone with a body on them (not even fat, just bigger humans) took longer for sure. It’s just fact, smaller humans generally have less muscle, meaning a lower demand for oxygen. So myself and the smaller humans lead the pack.

2 hours and 15 minutes later, I reached the top. First in my group. Nate rolled in 30-45 minutes later. And the last of our group didn’t make it up for almost another hour after Nate. I can’t even lie, my competitive nature was on high this day. It made for a great selfie opportunity at the top. But then I was just freezing and hungry and in pain…

The hike may be over but it’s 9 am and you don’t arrive home until 5-6pm…The day is young.

For the remainder the day you’ll:

  • Get breakfast (this time a real one, praise Jesus)
  • Drive by old Incan terraces
  • Stop in Chivay for the hot springs (this was not included in our price and packed with other hikers, so we just posted up on a flat rock on the riverside)
  • Get lunch (much better food overall on day two)
  • Stop at 15,000ft for a pretty awesome pics of the volcanos
  • Stop at the national reserve to see four species of alpaca and vicuna.


And then it’s home to Arequipa…

Important Pointers & Details

All in all, it’s worth it. I suggest doing the three day. They break it up and you ACTUALLY get a full day at the oasis to just relax rather than arriving at sunset. When the sun gets below those mountain peaks, you won’t want to get into that pool or be outside for that matter.

Both days are hard hike-wise. Day one is long, grueling and most likely hot. Day two is short but brutal. I much preferred day two.

Peru is beautiful, the memories and pictures are worth it, but I just want to keep real as always. Colca canyon is NOT as marketed by the tour companies and blogs. Since the experience I have found several blogs more like this one. Reflections of the TRUTH. I will say the guides are all amazing from what I’ve heard. And as you can see, it IS an amazing sight.

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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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