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I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

4. Hike into Colca Canyon

Me in the Colca Canyon
Me in the Colca Canyon

Cañon de Colca is marketed as the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and who am I to dispute it. I love everything about the canyon except the wake up call. The canyon is only 100 miles from Arequipa but that equates to a four hour bus ride, with most buses leaving Arequipa before 4 AM. That’s why in every picture I look like I’m asleep.

Once there, trips usually start at Cruz del Condor, a lookout where Andean condors float effortlessly above thermal drafts.

From there, I think it’s best to make it to Cabanaconde, from where you can easily hike to the bottom of the canyon. At the bottom, you’ll find three cheap hostels next to each other with beds for under $10 a pop.

The Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon

If possible hike through the small agglomerations of people that just got power in the last decade or two. The whole area was only connected to a road in the 80s, so the people are not living too much differently than they always have.

The canyon is a good place to relax, read, write, and reflect. The vistas at the top are incredible, and the way of life on the bottom is amazing. Just plan at least double the time to get back up as it took to get down.

One food tip: when you get to the Colca area, and your bus is boarded to sell you the mandatory $25 tourist ticket, some ladies may get on selling vicuña empanadas. Buy them! You will be buying a fried pastry filled with potatoes and vicuña meat, the wild cousin of the llama.

Getting there: a few hours by private or tour bus from Arequipa

Hotels: the lodging is not particularly comfortable on the canyon floor, but it’s a place I want to return to for a third time

Time needed to visit: 2+ days, “+” recommended

5. Spend the Night on a Man Made Island in Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia. It’s a huge, beautiful, blue placid surface dotted with tiny islands that have been inhabited for centuries.


Lake Titicaca is at an even higher elevation than Cuzco, so take adequate precautions. There some helpful comments regarding altitude medication/thoughts on preparing for altitude in the Machu Picchu post of this series.

Lake Titicaca is ringed by incredibly unimpressive towns–Juliaca and Puno, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia. They should be avoided at all costs as they have nothing interesting and are more dangerous than other cities in the region. It should only take a few minutes in either of the Peruvian cities to book a tour of the lake.

The Peruvian tour of the lake will usually hit three main areas: islas Uros, Amantaní, and Taquile. The most impressive are the man made islands of the Uros.

The floating, man-made island of Uros.
The floating, man-made island of Uros. Photo by Christian Haugen

The Uros islands are made out of the lake’s tall reeds. They are constantly rotting away and need to be replenished by their inhabitants’ work. The inhabitants make everything from the tortora reed–their islands, their houses, and their boats. Their ancestors have lived on the islands for centuries, supposedly to get away from bellicose mainlanders.

If you’re persistent, you can find a tour operator who can get you a night on one of the islands. There will be nothing to do but watch the stars and talk to some of the most cut-off people in the world. Their only contact with the outside world is with the daily tourists and maybe a weekly trip to the small city of Puno. The family I was staying with only knew one thing about America, that it contained Utah. (The islands feature Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist churches dueling for souls.)

Amantaní is an interesting island with old religious ruins at the top of a hill with the best view of the lake. The tours usually include a night on the island, staying with a family, and a dance where they let you put on some interesting local dress. Most tours end with a day on Taquile to buy the local handicrafts.

The lake is too cold to swim in, the islands are all trying to become tourist traps, and yet the charm is unmistakable. The blue waters on a cool day at 2.5 miles above sea level are one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The people are some of the least corrupted I’ve met. And sitting on a man made island watching the starry sky is one of my favorite experiences in Peru.

Hotels: hahahahahaha, you’ll be sleeping on a bowed mattress inside of a reed hut

Time needed to visit: 3 days

How to Get There

4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way will get you there on LATAM from Lima to Juliaca (JUL), which is an hour from Puno and the main gateway to the lake.

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Bottom Line

The Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca are similarly interesting in that they hold populations of people that live a lifestyle of a previous era amongst a geographically stunning backdrop. The accommodations are more rustic than some other places in this Peru series, so they may be destinations better suited to those who don’t mind.

I highly recommend not missing them.