There are public busses that go Arequipa to Chivay, but then you need to get to the far end of the canyon to see the condor viewing at 9 am the next morning. This can be a bit of a problem with public transportation.Taking a tour is a lot easier. It will include your transport to Chivay, a hotel, and also getting to the condor viewing point and back to Chivay (or Arequipa).
Then you can take the 4-M express tourist bus directly from Chivay to Puno (it leaves around 1 pm).
You can book the tours when you arrive in Arequipa, all price ranges depending on hotel choice.
I liked Giardino's service because they had their own minivan transport and didn't use a pool tour bus.
If you're not in a hurry you can go by yourself by public busses from Arequipa. These busses go to the Condor viewing area and to Cabanaconde. You can sleep in Chivay, in Cabanaconde or at the bottom of the canyon (by hiking).
I just finished doing Colca Canyon from Arequipa by myself (without a tour). Not sure how this is supposed to be done, but the public bus that I took (Señor de Los Milagros) took a very long time to get from Arequipa to Cabanaconde (7 hours) where I could start the Colca Canyon hike. It took so long a) because close to Cabanaconde it was constantly stopping and picking up locals who were going to school/work and b) the bus got a flat tire. I have friend who said he took a bus to Chivay, then took a cab to Cabanaconde - if I had to do it again, I would try this technique. I`m not sure if you can do this going back to Arequipa. I took a bus at 4:30pm from the Cabanaconde main plaza that took 5 hours to get back to Arequipa.
For tips on actually doing the trek solo once in Cabanaconde, see theparallellife.com/2011/…
The public buses are not safe, also considerer the rain season. Ypu can take the Colca Canyon tour during 2 days and then on the second day you can take the bus from Chivay to Arequipa with 4M. The travel agencies can offer you both (Colca Tour + bus to Puno). The avrage price for the bus from Chivay to Puno is $ 35 dollars and the price for the Cocla canyon tour depends on the hotel that you are looking for
Thank you all for your help
Why aren't they safe?
Good point made that there are two different kind of visitors to the Canyon (or maybe three).
One main type goes to hike down into the canyon at CAbanaconde, at the far end of the canyon. There are a few agencies that offer a guided version but it is also popular with DIY backpackers on the cheap.
Another type goes to see the condors, a few of the village churches, hot springs and maybe some short hikes in the upper part of the canyon or along the rim. Most of the package tours offer this and there is a range of pricing depending on the type of transport and the hotel. The cheapest are the pool tours that use a large bus and spend too much time picking up and dropping off passengers from various hotels and agencies.
A third type (rare) might spend extra nights doing more cultural tourism, visiting villages on both sides and perhaps doing a homestay, in addition to the condor spotting or horaeback touring. You'll need to use local taxis and vans, or hike to get around, or bring your own vehicle.Edited: 3:13 pm, January 15, 2013
In my opinion it is easier and less bother to take a tour. You can ask them to arrange it so that you can continue to Puno directly from Canyon, without going back to Arequipa (several people on my tour did that). Surely you can also visit Colca independently (public transportation thou would hardly take you anywhere but to the local villages), but why bother. If the price is the issue, look around for a better price, some of what is quoted on internet is outrageous. Also, take into account altitude sickness – pretty sure it is better not to drive on a mountain roads while having it (couple of people spent the tour looking pale and poorly).
Don't go with unrated agencies! We just did a 2D1N tour...
I have already posted this on tripadvisor, lonely planet and will post to more travel forums because I want to let future travelers to Peru know about these evil agencies: Turismo Sillustani and Acuariu's Travel
My husband and I are traveling for 2 weeks in Peru. Our experience up until Arequipa has been good because we have been following recommended agencies on Tripadvisor and Frommers guide. Our worst experience and this is a valuable learning experience is that DO NOT ever pick a none rated agency because you will be at higher risk of losing your valuables. We just experienced it. We picked a local agency with a big booth in Puno called Turismo Sillustani http://turismosillustani.com/ for a 2D1N Puno to Chivay to Arequipa tour. Because we have had an ok experience so far we let our guard down and trusted the agency. We left our MacBook Air in our backpack locked up and stored in the back of the tour van. The tour was full with 10 ppl total. The first night was fine. On the second day, there were a few occasions where the whole group plus the tour guide were away from the van for sightseeing in the Colca Canyon. This is THE problem. No one was guarding the belongings. The bus driver named Jimmy was on his own. And yes, our MacBook was gone after the tour was finished and we were back in our hotel. We were furious and called the tour company. Our Spanish was poor and they weren't being helpful at all. Luckily, we remember seeing a section about Tourist Police in the guide book so we called and went to a local office in Arequipa. The officer Jorge is very helpful. He called the company and went to their Arequipa office with us. The one we went to was either a sister company or a partner called Acuariu's Travel http://www.acuariustravel.com/ who took care of the Chivay to Arequipa portion of the tour. The staff there definitely got nervous and started calling their boss, our guide named Vanessa and the driver Jimmy. And ha, what do you know. They then said oh yes, they found a laptop on the seat. Right, as if my laptop can magically walk out of my locked bag. You can tell that the staff was nervous. They said the driver was already 45min away washing the car on his way back to Puno but would drive back. We waited 20+ minutes and the boss came to deliver our MacBook. THANK GOD. We never thought it was even remotely possible, we were desperate and trying our luck. We even thought that the Tourist Police could be another corrupted unit. But wow, we got it back. We really could have demanded a refund but we were so glad to get the laptop back that we just wanted to leave.
The lesson is: No matter what agency you choose, always carry your valuables with you. Or, don't bring any with you to begin with. Do not believe in locks. In fact, locking your luggage only increases your chance of getting things stolen because it shows that there must be valuables. And you are better off choosing an agency with ratings because at least their reputation is visible online. Lastly, the Tourist Police is there for a reason. Don't hesitate to reach out.
Hope the above helps.
Yup no condors during rainy season. I just went 2 days ago. The landscape is completely green though which is something you not see during the dry season. Saw some hawks/eagles. Very impressive to see them fly. Must be even more impressive to see the condors fly. Also, even though its rainy season there were still a lot of people. Can't imagine how it's like during peak season. Make sure your dress warmly. It was snowing/ hailing during some parts of the trip when we were above 4000 meters.