Chivay to Cabanaconde

From Chivay, the main road goes west along the Colca Canyon. The first village, after 8 km, is
Yanque
, where there's an interesting church and a bridge to the villages on the other side. Beside the renovated Inca bridge, a 20-minute walk from Yanque plaza, is a large, warm thermal
swimming pool
. The next village after Yanque is
Achoma
, 30 minutes from Chivay along the Cabanaconde road. There is an old settlement where you can camp. The road continues to
Maca
, which barely survived an earthquake in November 1991. Then comes the tiny village of
Pinchollo
, with a basic
hostal
on the plaza (a room full of beds and one shared bathroom). There are no restaurants but you can eat at the
comedor popular
. From here it is a 30-minute walk on a dirt track to visit the geyser Hatun Infiernillo. You can walk from Pinchollo to the
Sabancaya
geyser in approximately seven hours. Boys will offer to guide you there. For information, ask for Eduardo, who acts as a guide. He lives next to the plaza.

Cruz del Cóndor

From Pinchollo the road winds its way on to the Mirador, or Cruz del Cóndor, where you may be asked to show your tourist ticket, at the deepest point of the canyon. The view from here is wonderful but people don't just come for that. This is where the immense Andean condor can be seen rising on the morning thermals. The reason this particular spot is so unique is that the condors swoop by in startling close up, so close, in fact, that you feel you can reach out and touch them. It is a breathtaking and very humbling experience.

The best time to arrive in the morning is a matter of some dispute, although the consensus is around 0900. Arrive by 0800 for a good spot, any earlier and you may be faced with a long, chilly wait; this may be unavoidable if you're travelling by public transport, as buses from Chivay stop here very briefly at around 0630. To get to the Mirador from Cabanaconde, take one of the return buses that set off at around 0730, and ask to be dropped off at the Mirador, just in time for the morning performance. Or you can walk along the road, which takes about three hours. Horses can be hired to save you the walk; arrange the night before in Cabanaconde.

The condors fly off to look for carrion on the higher slopes of the surrounding peaks at 0900-1000. The condors can also be seen returning from the day's food searching at around 1600-1800. Just below the Mirador is a rocky outcrop, which allows a more peaceful viewing but take great care on the loose scree. Binoculars are recommended. Snacks and drinks are available but camping here is officially forbidden, although if you ask the tourist police in Chivay, they may help.

Unfortunately, the peace of the Cruz del Cóndor has been disrupted by road-building projects, ironically to improve access for tourist buses. The projects have been carried out without an environmental impact assessment and have been decried by locals and tour operators alike. For now, it's not known what consequences the bulldozers and explosives blasts will have on future condor populations, but it is feared that the birds' breeding cycles may have been badly affected by the disturbances.

Cabanaconde

From the Mirador it's a 20-minute bus ride to this friendly village at 3287 m, the last in the Colca Canyon. To walk from the Mirador to Cabanaconde (three hours), follow the road until Cabanaconde is in sight, then turn off the road 50 m after a small reservoir down a walled track. After about 1 km turn left onto an old Inca road and continue down to rejoin the road into Cabanaconde.

The indigenous people of this part of the canyon are
Cabanas
. Cabanaconde plaza is brimming with life. Women squat on their haunches, selling bruised fruit and a few knobbly root crops. Their distinctive flower-patterned hats, voluminous skirts and intricately embroidered blouses bring a splash of colour to the uniform brown adobe buildings. Children tend sheep, goats and llamas; old men lead burdened mules while pigs laze in the sun and chickens peck at the ground. At dusk, large groups of animals wander back into the village to the corrals adjoining most houses.

The views into the canyon are excellent and condors can be seen from the hill just west of the village, a 15-minute walk from the plaza. From here, you'll also see the amazing terraces to the south of the village, arguably the most attractive in the valley. The hill is surrounded by a 2-km-long Huari wall, which is 6 m high and 4 m wide in places. It also encompasses the village football field where it is possible to see condors overflying a late-afternoon game.

Cabanaconde provides an excellent base for visiting the region. Interesting trekking and climbing lies all around the village, and local guides are beginning to see new opportunities for biking and horse riding in this amazing landscape. Many locals are keen to encourage respectful tourism in the area. There's a tourist information office attended by friendly locals willing to give plenty of advice, if not maps. It's a good place to find trekking guides and muleteers.

It takes two days to walk from Chivay to
Cabanaconde
(70 km) but you can camp along the route. You will have to walk all day in the sun - there is no shade - so you'll need plenty of drinking water and sun block. You can hike for three days through the local villages and return by bus as an alternative to a two-day tour.

Trekking from Cabanaconde

There are many hikes in the area. Make sure to take enough water as it gets very hot and there is not a lot of water available. Sun protection is also a must. Some treks are impossible if it rains heavily in the wet season, but most of the time the rainy season is dry; check beforehand. Ask locals for directions as there are hundreds of confusing paths going into the canyon. Buy food for longer hikes in Arequipa. Topographical maps are available at the
Instituto Geográfico Nacional
in Lima (IGN 1:100,000 Huambo and Chivay sheets give the best coverage), from
Colca Trek
or
Pablo Tour
in Arequipa.

Two hours below Cabanaconde is
Sangalle
, a beautiful oasis of palm trees and swimming areas, where there are three campsites with basic bungalows and toilets.

A popular hike from Cabanconde involves walking east on the Chivay road to the
Mirador de Tapay
(before Cruz del Cóndor), then descending to the river on a steep track (four hours, take care). Cross the bridge to the north bank. At the village of
San Juan de Chuccho
you can stay and eat at a basic family hostel, of which there are several.
From here pass
Tapay
, where it is also possible to camp and the small villages of Malata and Cosnirhua, all the time heading west along the north side of the Río Colca; take a guide or ask local directions as there are many different trails. After about three hours' walking, cross another bridge to reach
Sangalle
on the south bank of the Río Colca, follow signs to the oasis, spend the night and return to Cabanconde on the third day. This route is offered by many Arequipa and local agencies. More good hiking and a further extension of this 'Oasis' trek heads up a
Quebrada
to the north-northwest, leading to an impressive waterfall above the settlement of
Fure.

A longer hike from Cabanaconde goes to
Chachas
and takes four or five days. Follow a small path to the west, descending slowly into the canyon (three hours); ask locals for directions to
Choco
. Cross the Río Colca by the Puente Colgado (an Inca bridge) and ascend to Choco, 2473 m (five to six hours). From Choco climb high above the village to the pass at 4500 m and then down to Chachas, at 3100 m (eight-12 hours). There is a minibus daily at 1300 from Chachas to
Andagua
in the valley of the volcanoes . Otherwise it is a day's hike. This is a superb walk through untouched areas and villages but you'll need camping equipment, food and lots of water, as there is hardly any on this trek.

South of Cabanaconde

Fifteen kilometres to the south on rough trails is
Laguna Mucurca
, an 8-km long lake that offers good birdwatching, especially in June to October when its resident group of flamingos are present; please don't disturb their feeding. Reigning supreme above the lake is the volcanic chain of
Ampato
(6288 m),
Sabancaya
(5976 m - caution required, this is the most active volcano in Peru) and
Hualca Hualca
(6025 m, the most northerly of the three). A minimum of two days is required to make the most of this area and qualified guides are essential if you want to climb any of the peaks, all of which were sacred
Apus
, or gods, for the Incas.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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