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Most organized adventure sport activities should be arranged from Arequipa, especially kayaking, rafting, and multiday treks into the canyon. Many upper-tier hotels and resorts offer packages, have their own tour guides, and have activities like horseback riding and mountain-bike rentals. So check with your hotel before booking anything else. There's only one official tour operator in Chivay, and it specializes in mountain-bike rentals. However, local guides for hiking can be hired by asking around; the most experienced guides are in Cabanaconde and Chivay. The average price is S/80 or $30 USD a day for a local guide.
Bring lots of water (the valley has water, but it's grossly expensive, as it's "imported" from Arequipa), sunscreen, a hat, good hiking shoes, high-energy snacks, and sugar or coca leaves to alleviate the altitude sickness. And layer your clothes—one minute the wind may be fierce and the next you may be sweltering in the strong sun.
Along the canyon: Along the south side of the canyon it's possible to do an easy hike from the observation points between Cruz del Condor and Pinchollo. Paths are along the canyon rim most of the way; however, in some places you have to walk along the road. The closer to Cruz del Condor you are, the better the paths and lookouts get.
Another short hike, but more uphill, is on the north rim starting in Coporaque. At the Plaza de Armas, in the corner to the left of the church, you'll see an archway. Go through the archway and take a right uphill and you'll be on the trail, which goes from wide to narrow, but is defined. Following it up about an hour, you'll come to ancient burial tombs (look down) with actual skeletons. The trail climbs up a cliff, which overlooks the valley. It's about a two-hour hike to the top, and in some spots is very steep and rocks are crumbly. After the tombs the path becomes confusing and splits in many directions.
Into the canyon: Trails into the canyon are many as well as rough and unmarked, so venture down with a guide. Several adventure-tour operators provide government-certified hiking guides; local guides are also easily found. Packages range from two- to eight-day treks. The Cabanaconde area is the entry point for most of these.
The most popular multiday hike is the three-day/two-night trek. Starting about 20 minutes (on foot) east of Cabanaconde at Pampa San Miguel, the trail to San Juan Chuccho (one of the larger villages along the river) begins. The steep slope has loose gravel and takes about four hours. In San Juan Chuccho sleeping options are family-run hostels or a campsite. Day two consists of hiking on fairly even terrain through the small villages of Tapay, Cosnirhua, and Malata before crossing the river and into the lush green village of Sangalle, or as locals call it, Oasis, a mini-paradise along the Río Colca, with hot springs and waterfalls. On day three, you'll hike four to five hours uphill to the rim and arrive in Cabanaconde by lunch.
We do not recommend hiking alone here. So many paths are in this area that it can be overwhelming to even the most experienced trekkers.
For the standard one- or two-day tours of Colca Canyon most agencies pool their customers, so quality varies little.
Carlos Zárate Aventuras. You can hire Carlos Zárate and his hiking and mountain guides for tours to the most difficult and also most common treks in the region. Guides speak Spanish, English, and French. Santa Catalina 204, Mollendo. 054/263–107. www.zarateadventures.com. From S/150.
Colca Trek. This outfitter is a specialist in longer trekking tours, as well as day trips, city tours, rafting excursions, and mountain biking. Vlado Soto and his team come highly recommended. Jerusalén 401-B, Arequipa. 054/206–217. www.colcatrek.com.pe. From S/70.
Condor Travel. This full service travel agency is aimed at upscale, older travelers with basic tours in all parts of the country. They'll also make hotel and flight reservations. Calle General Moran #118 OF.17, Claustros de la Compañia, Arequipa. 051/615–3000. www.condortravel.com. From S/40.
Giardino. Slightly less expensive, but still good, this tour operator has been in business for two decades, running tours all over the region. In 2014 they received a responsible tourism award. Jerusalén 604-A, Arequipa. 054/200–100. www.giardinotours.com. From S/60.
Land Adventures. Travelers interested in multiday trekking trips of Colca Canyon, El Misti, and Chachani and other adventure tours are catered to by Land Adventures. They'll also set up the standard Colca daytrips or overnights, mountain biking, and rafting. Residencial La Peña A-20, Sachaca, Arequipa. 054/665–548. www.landadventures.net. From S/150.
The Río Colca is a finicky river. Highly skilled paddlers long to run this Class IV–V river. Depending upon the season, the water level and the seismic activity of the local volcanoes, the rapids change frequently. In some areas it's more than a Class V and in other areas it's slow enough that it could be considered a Class II–III. Below Colca Canyon conditions on the Río Majes (the large downstream section of the Río Colca) are reliable with superb white-water rafting. Skilled rafters start in Huambo by renting mules for S/20 and for the next eight hours descend to the river. The waters at this point rank in at Class III, but when the Río Mamacocha dumps in, it's Class IV and V rapids.
Paddlers who have tried to run the entire river through the canyon have failed more often than succeeded. There are a few well-known operators to consider, which is important given the river's intensity.
Bio Bio Expeditions. The king of all kayaking and rafting operators around the world, Bio Bio Expeditions puts on multiday, all-inclusive runs down the Colca and Cotahuasi rivers. All guides are trained in first aid and swiftwater rescue. Arequipa. 800/246–7238. www.bbxrafting.com. From $3,200.
Apumayo Expediciones. Class IV, V, and VI rafting adventures through the Colca Canyon are operated May through September by this Cusco-based outfitter. Garcilaso 316-A, Cusco. 084/246–018. www.apumayo.com. From S/150.
There are ATMs in Chivay but nowhere else in the Colca Canyon or valley area. Soles and U.S. dollars (no bills larger than $10 USD) are accepted.