If you find yourself in Arequipa, Peru, you’ll probably start chatting with other travelers who are raving about their recent trek through the Colca Canyon. If you’re the shy, quiet type, you might not chat about it, but you’ll certainly see two- and three-day canyon treks advertised in your hostel or hotel. A Colca Canyon trek really seems like the thing to do when you’re in Arequipa, but for someone with little trekking experience it’s hard to know what to bring along. Here are my packing suggestions, based on a two-day trip*.
Wear comfortable, full-length pants designed for trekking, or thick leggings.
Wear a sports bra with a tank or t-shirt.
Wear good hiking socks and hiking boots if you have them (I survived in a pair of ten-year-old running shoes, though having a great pair of socks made that possible).
Wear a hat with a wide bring to keep the sun off your face.
I wore the same clothes for both days of trekking. I carefully hung them out “for fresh air” once we arrived at the oasis for the evening.
Pack a warm sweatshirt and a lightweight, windbreaker-style jacket. It’s cold in the oasis in the evening, and you’ll want them in the morning when you set out before dawn.
Pack something to sleep in. I suggest a long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of cotton leggings, plus an extra pair of socks (no need to be hiking weight).
Pack a swimsuit and flip-flops as you’ll be stopping at hot springs on the second day.
Pack a first aid kit with lots of bandages and moleskin (seriously, I was sharing my bandages and moleskin with everyone!) to help fight blisters. I applied bandages and moleskin to my heels before I started the walk, and after two days I was still happily blister-free! My kit also included a lot of painkillers, and by taking regular-strength Advil every eight hours or so I think I avoided a lot of muscle pain. If you’ve ever used an inhaler, bring one!
There is no hot water at the bottom of the canyon. There is also no electricity in the showers. If a cold shower in the dark doesn’t appeal to you, bring baby wipes for your body and face wipes for your face. A travel-sized deodorant along with a toothbrush and toothpaste will be appreciated by your fellow travelers.
Carry a hand towel in your bag in case you want to swim in the river or one of the pools at the bottom of the canyon. You can also use it to dry off after a proper shower, or for some kind of sponge-bath situation.
Do not forget sunscreen. I carried a bottle of facial sunscreen and a bottle of sunscreen for my body, and used copious amounts of both. Reapplication is key on the first day, when you trek in the heat of the day without any shade, though a single application on the second day should suffice as you will be doing most of your hiking before sunrise. You should also have a lip balm with SPF.
Food and Drink
Your main meals should be included in the cost of the trip (except the last lunch in Chivay). For some reason my hotel told me that I needed to pack a lot of snacks. They were adamant that I needed a lot of snacks, and they implied that cookies were the best option. I’m not a fan of eating a lot of cookies, but I heeded their advice and packed some cookies, some plantain chips and some peanuts. What I realized was that I was far too exhausted to want to eat during the actual trek itself. Ultimately, I didn’t consume any of my snacks until the second day, when I’d reached the top of the canyon. There, one package of sweet, sweet Chips Ahoy cookies kept me from passing out from over-exertion. My advice is to bring a snack or two, but not more.
As for water, tour operators tend to understate its availability. While it is more expensive at the entrance to the canyon, at the lunch stop and at the oasis, it is certainly available. I recommend starting the trek with two 500ml bottles of water (if you can freeze one in the hostel the night before all the better), and restocking when you get the opportunity. This beats carrying the weight of two litres (as I did, based on advice) and it definitely beats drinking water that is hot after eight hours of trekking in the sun. You will also find vendors selling soda at the main stops; an ice-cold Coca Cola never tasted so good!
Electronics and Other Devices
There is no electricity in the canyon, so fully charge everything before you go and bring spare batteries.
You will need to wake up early on the second morning, so bring something that can be used as an alarm.
I was glad to have a decent camera to capture the Andean condors we stopped to view.
It’s good to have a flashlight to get around the oasis in the evening and early morning. A headlamp is useful when you depart before dawn on the second day.
It’s not an electronic device, but if you happen to have hiking poles, or can borrow some, they are really useful. I’d never used them before doing the Colca Canyon trek; now I will never hike without them!
You will probably pay the cost of the tour before you depart, but you’ll still need a bit of money.
Entering the canyon costs 70 soles. This is mandatory.
Entering the hot springs costs 15 soles. It’s optional but worth every penny.
I tipped my guide 50 soles. He was exceptionally kind to me as I struggled both down and up the canyon.
Bring small bills and coins to replenish your water and snack supply along the way, and to buy alcoholic beverages or soft drinks to accompany your dinner at the bottom of the oasis.
When the trek was over I had a bus transfer immediately upon arriving in Chivay (there is a 4M bus that meets hikers and takes them directly to Puno after the trek… if you would rather do this than backtrack to Arequipa you need to book the bus ticket a day or two in advance, bring all of your bags with you on the first morning, and constantly remind your guide you’re on the 4M to Puno) but if I’d stayed with the group I would have had to buy lunch on the second day.
And finally, I recommend bringing 60 soles in case you discover you need to ride a donkey back up the canyon. Many tour operators understate just how difficult the trek can be. My guide saw me struggle on the way down and suggested that I take a donkey back up. I struggled with the decision but ultimately decided to make my way up slowly and steadily. The result was a feeling of amazing personal victory… and a mysterious, asthma-like illness that left me coughing for the rest of my holiday and for which I continue to take medication today. In my group of nine hikers two other girls chose to ride donkeys up, while in other groups every single person ended up taking a donkey. Because you just don’t know how the trek will affect you, I strongly suggest keeping sixty soles in your bag, just in case. (Donkeys need to be booked the evening before, through your tour guide.)
* PS – They don’t really tell you this, but a two-day Colca Canyon trek is just the sped-up version of the three-day Colca Canyon trek! They cover the same ground. By Day 2 I was happy to know that the strenuous hike would soon be over and couldn’t imagine another day without a hot shower, but if you want to take things a bit easier you might want to spread the journey over three days.