Colca Valley is a long half-day (3-4 hr.) trip from Arequipa along dusty roads that climb steadily, passing through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, populated only by a collection of grazing alpacas and vicuñas, en route. The road poses less suffering than it did just a few years ago; the section of unpaved and bumpy travel is down to just 23km (14 miles), from 120km (75 miles). The Mirador de los Andes (also called Patapampa), 27km (17 miles) outside Chivay, is the highest point in the valley, ringed by eight snowcapped volcanoes and a small army of apachetas, tiny towers of piled stones, marks the spot locals considered closest to mountain apus (gods). (Originally apachetas were offerings to the gods, but most if not all of these have been left behind by tourists.)
The great majority of visitors to the Colca Valley and the canyon do so on guided tours, arranged in Arequipa. Entry to Colca is $7 per person; you'll get a boleto turístico that serves for admission to a half-dozen sights in the region, including churches and the Cruz del Cóndor.
By Organized Tour
Conventional travel agencies offer day trips to Cruz del Cóndor, usually leaving at 3 or 4am, with brief stops at Chivay before returning to Arequipa -- it's an awful lot to pack into a single day, especially at a high altitude, and it leaves no time to enjoy what makes the region unique (though you do arrive in time to see the condors at 8 or 9am). Expect to pay about $30 per person. Two-day "pool" (grouped) tours are much more enjoyably paced and cost $50 to $130, depending on hotel arrangements (they include transportation, a guide, hotel accommodations, and breakfast; other meals are extra). Other campiña tours offered by many agencies include the Toro Muerto petroglyphs; Mejía lagoons, a bird sanctuary; Laguna Salinas, a saltwater lagoon populated by flamingos; Aguada Blanca Nature Reserve; and the remote Valley of the Volcanoes, a lunar landscape located more than 13 hours from Arequipa. The best all-purpose agencies in Arequipa, which offer everything from city tours to general and private tours of Colca, as well as hard-core adventure, are Giardino Tours, Jerusalén 604-A (tel. 054/241-206; www.giardinotours.com); Colonial Tours, Santa Catalina 106 (tel. 054/286-868; www.helloarequipa.com/colonial_tours); Illary Tours, Santa Catalina 205 (tel. 054/220-844); Ideal Tours, Urbanización San Isidro F-2, Vallecito (tel. 01/9883-5617; email@example.com); and Santa Catalina Tours, Santa Catalina 219 (tel. 054/216-994; firstname.lastname@example.org). All of these agencies are also equipped to organize private transportation and hotel packages, which range from $95 per person for 1-day trips to $400 per person with accommodations at one of the top lodges in the region, such as Colca Lodge or the Las Casitas del Colca.
Local buses travel from Arequipa to Cabanaconde (6 hr.), near Cruz del Cóndor, with stops in Chivay (4 hr.). Two companies that make these runs are La Reyna, Terminal Terrestre, Arequipa (tel. 054/426-549), and Cristo Rey, San Juan de Dios 510, Arequipa (tel. 054/213-094). The ride costs S/15. Unless you have plenty of time and patience, or a real need to be on your own, your best bet for getting to Colca is to go with an organized group.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.