Recently back from an incredible trip to The Colca Valley and Canyon, I want to share one of my highlights – a half day hike in Colca Peru to the pre-Incan Madrigal Chimpa Fortress. Sitting high above the Colca Valley (4,412m / 14,475ft), it has kept watch over the lands below since 1,200 AD. The exact history of the ruins remain a mystery to visitors and locals alike, but it is thought to have been the military fortress that divided the clashing Collagua and Cabana cultures of pre-Inca times.
Reaching these ruins requires a tough uphill hike – but the views from the top are more than worth it. While there are many hikes in Colca, this one boasts a practically tourist-free trail, deserted ruins, panoramic views of Colca Canyon and an active volcano – and even the chance to sight majestic condors!
Getting to the Madrigal Chimpa Fortress hike
Traveling with Caroline, our trek to Madrigal Chimpa Fortress began with a scenic drive along the right hand side of the Colca River to the base of the fortress. The river’s right hand side is far less visited than the left, so we couldn’t help but laugh at the «traffic» that we kept hitting along the way. The roads were completely desolate, apart from donkeys, cows, and llamas! We made a brief stop en route in the town of Lari (3,033m) to take photos of the quaint village and its charming colonial church.
As we then approached the foot of the fortress, after about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our hotel, Colca Lodge, the imposing mountains created a definite ‘wow’ factor.
The steep ascent hiking to Chimpa Fortress
After applying plenty of sunblock and filling our reusable water bottles we began to ascend, slowly but surely making our way up the side of the mountain with the fortress in the distance. Those looking to soften the steep ascent can horse-ride up, and walk back down.
Volcanoes and Views: Highlights of the Hike
The hike has incredible vistas of some of the 25,000 ancient agricultural terraces that give texture to the Colca Valley, as well as a views of the active Sabancaya Volcano which was breathing plenty of smoke the day we hiked. About halfway up, we took a brief detour to a tomb site that had been looted by grave robbers. It was fascinating to see the well preserved bones and the sacred site of the people who had buried their ancestors here.
We continued ascending and then caught a glimpse of the most beautiful rock formation – an arch just big enough for someone to stand in – that framed the Colca Valley. It was a perfect break mid hike.
Arriving at the Chimpa Fortress Summit
Finally, after about 2 hours total of climbing up (a distance of around 2.4km one-way) we reached the entrance to the Madrigal Chimpa Fortress. Here we passed the only other visitors to the site, who were on their way down. Because the fortress is relatively unknown, one of the advantages to the hike is having an authentic, and a practically tourist-free experience.
As we squatted down to enter through the small check point, I could see why the ruins are thought to be a military site. Protected by high walls, and accessible via only one path and one door, the Madrigal Chimpa Fortress is clearly designed to defend against an enemy. In this case the enemy was the rival Cabana culture, who occupied the opposite side of the Colca Valley.
Interested in exploring Peru’s Colca Canyon? Check out our Highlights of Southern Peru Itinerary.
The ruins are extremely well preserved, a testament to the intelligence and strategic construction techniques of the Collagua people who built it long ago. We wandered through the fortress with our guide before heading to the main lookout point. What an incredible sight. From here we could see a breath taking panoramic view of the profound Colca Canyon.
The Cola Canyon & Condors
A highlight of the hike is access to this unique, rarely seen view of the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon.
The Colca region is most famous for the incredible Condors that live there, often visited by tourists at the Cruz del Condor lookout on the left hand side of the river. Lucky for us, we were also able to spot a condor from this impressive lookout point!
After taking a bit more time to enjoy the view, we returned to the fortress for one last walk through and began the 1-2 hour descent. The hike is out and back, so the return follows the same path as we took on the climb up. Even so, I couldn’t help but marvel at the landscapes we had already seen, and also take another break at the beautiful rock archway. Upon arrival at the car, we enjoyed a box lunch before heading to our next adventure.
Considerations for a Hike in Colca Peru to Madrigal Chimpa Fortress
when to Hike in Colca peru
The trek is best during the dry season of April-November, when the climate is typically sunny and clear. But, make sure to bring sunscreen and a hat as shade is minimal during the walk! During rainy season (December to March) it could be very difficult for a vehicle to reach the starting point of the Madrigal Chimpa Fortress hike. Additionally, ascending and descending the steep path could be dangerously slippery in the wet time of year.
High Altitude Trekking
While the views are breathtaking, the altitude can also quite literally take your breath away. The Madrigal Chimpa Fortress is located at 4,412m (14,475ft). A steep climb accompanied by thin air, it can take a toll on the lungs of even the most experienced trekkers. That being said, it is important to spend some time acclimatizing at high altitude- relaxing in the area’s natural hot springs or Condor watching- before a hike in Colca Peru. When traveling with Aracari, we take all necessary precautions and assure that your adventures are as safe as they are exciting. Aracari also offers more gentle hikes, such as a half day hike through the Conocta Caynon and an easy hike to Uyo Uyo and Sifon Bridge.
MAdrigal Chimpa fortress on horseback
For travelers who prefer horseback to hiking, a visit to the Madrigal Chimpa Fortress on the famous Peruvian Paso horse can be arranged. You can horseback ride about 40 minutes up to the top, enjoy the views, and then walk back down. The descent is too steep for horses, so this is recommended only for travelers who are confident they can handle the return walk.
Visiting the Colca Canyon and Valley
Aracari can arrange a visit to the Colca Canyon and Valley as a part of a private, tailormade trip to Peru. We recommend staying at either Colca Lodge, which boasts private thermal bathes and an intimate natural setting, or Belmond Las Casitas, which rivals the luxury level of 5 star hotels around the world. For travelers interested in visiting all of the highlights of southern Peru check out our itinerary that covers the best of the area or contact us to arrange a journey on the Belmond Andean Explorer luxury sleeper train which makes a similar route.
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