The Colca Canyon is magnificent. It’s almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and one of the highlights of southern Peru. Making your way to the Mirador Cruz del Condor will reward you with two fabulous experiences: getting to observe the condors soar overhead and getting to view fantastic panoramas of the canyon itself. The Mirador Cruz del Condor is located at a remote location, which may lead you to believe that the only way to get there is with a tour. Actually, it is very easy to see the Colca Canyon without a tour or private transportation. These are the steps we followed to get there:
Step 1: Get to Cabanaconde
Arequipa is the largest city in southern Peru and was the starting point for our trip to the canyon. There are three bus companies that make the journey from Arequipa to the village of Cabanaconde. We chose to use the Andalucia bus company because of its convenient 9:45 am departure time. Andalucia has a ticket booth at Arequipa’s Terminal Terreste (it’s one of the very last booths at the far end of the terminal).
We bought our tickets a few days early because we want to be sure to get seats on the right side of the bus (this offers the best views of the canyon). The cost was 20 soles each for the one-way ticket plus another 1.5 soles each for an exit tax that you pay at a booth in the bus terminal. The bus journey took about 6 hours, including a potty stop in Chivay (there is no toilet on the bus).
Step 2: Spend the night in Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde is a very small village, and tourism is what keeps it alive. There are a few lodges and hostels here; the two most popular hostels seem to be Pachamama and Casa de Santiago. Both have good restaurants, or you can eat at one of the local cafes around the main plaza. There is no bank here, so bring all the money you will need when you come. Also, Cabanaconde is quite a bit cooler than Arequipa, so bring an extra layer or two. Additionally, prepare to have your clothes and shoes covered in dust by the time you leave.
Step 3: Take the Reyna bus toward Chivay
A bus run by the Reyna bus company leaves Cabanaconde’s plaza at 7:00 am. Tell the driver you want to get off at the Mirador Cruz del Condor. The cost was only 2 soles, and the uphill journey took about 20 minutes. Sometime along this journey, either before the bus leaves the village or after arriving at the viewpoint, a local will sell you the required entrance ticket to the canyon (70 soles, or around $20 US).
Step 4: View The Condors and Canyon
This is why you went to all the trouble to come here. We were some of the first people to arrive at the viewpoint, before the hoards of tour groups arrived. It was awhile before the condors started flying, so we enjoyed the canyon vista points while we were waiting. Beware, while walking to the lower viewpoint we were attacked by an alpaca whose owner let it run loose while he was putting on his condor outfit (you just have to believe us on this one!). We learned that not all alpacas are the friendliest of God’s creatures.
The number of tourists gradually increased, and after about an hour the condors started making their presence known as they soared over the canyon. It was breathtaking to see at least 10 condors at the same time!
Step 5: Get the bus back to Cabanaconde
Around 9:00-9:30 a.m the next bus making the journey from Chivay to Cabanaconde stopped at the viewpoint to drop off and pick up passengers. The journey back to Cabanaconde was another 2 soles each. You can either go all the way back to Cabanaconde, or do as we did and ask to be dropped off at the Mirador San Miguel, which you’ll get to just before arriving back in Cabanaconde.
You can’t miss the location of San Miguel because there is a very unique circular building that will stand out (see the photo below). After taking in the canyon views at San Miguel we walked back to Cabanaconde along the main road. It was an easy 30 minute downhill walk that passed through beautiful terraced farmland on the edge of the canyon.
Step 6: Get back to Arequipa
If you’re really ambitious or in a hurry you can catch the afternoon Reyna bus back to Arequipa (leaves at 2:00 pm). We decided to spend another night in Cabanaconde, which gave us the afternoon to hit the Achachihua viewpoint. This viewpoint was a little hard to find, but your hostel can give you directions. We got lost, but came across a dog that seemed to know where we wanted to go and led us there.
Spending another night in Cabanaconde will also give you time to relax in the village’s plaza and hopefully view the fabulous sunset over the canyon. The bus back to Arequipa with Andalucia left at 9:00 am and cost 20 soles each.
Total Cost For The Trip:
83 Soles ($25 US): Two round trip bus tickets between Arequipa and Cabanaconde, including departure tax in Arequipa.
201 Soles ($60 US): Private room for two nights at the Pachamama Hostel
140 Soles ($40 US): Two entrance tickets to the Colca Canyon
80 Soles ($25 US): Two meals for two people at the restaurant at the Pachamama Hostel
Total Cost: 504 Soles or about $150 US.
If your goal is to get to the Colca Canyon as quickly and hassle-free as possible, it can be done with a tour from Arequipa. There are plenty of travel agencies in Arequipa that can set you up. Just note, they leave Arequipa at the horrendous time of 3:00 am and return in the early evening the same day.
You can also do a multi-day trekking tours through the canyon if that floats your boat (we like day-long hikes, but overnight hikes are a bit too much for us). But if you prefer to take your time and go independently, just follow our steps and enjoy seeing the Colca Canyon without a tour.
Keep in mind that prices go up, things change, and the descriptions here might not be 100% accurate by the time you are ready to do this trip yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask locals for help or advice.
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