Northeast of the city of Arequipa, between the mountains of the Andes, you will find Colca Canyon. You can reach the Colca Canyon by bus or private transportation, a three-hour trip from the lovely “White City”.
This beautiful Valley will make you feel as if you were walking among the clouds, especially after reaching its stunning viewpoints. A great example of Peru travel in all its charm.
This canyon is known worldwide as one of the deepest in the world, being 4,300 meters deep at its lowest point, which is 670 deeper than the next deepest canyon in the world found in Tibet. This place not only has a natural beauty but also has a cultural history as well. Visitors can see fully what this canyon has to offer in a fully private tour.
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The Upper Canyon (really still a valley at this stage) has a colder and harsher landscape than the terraced fields around Chivay and Yanque, and is only lightly visited. Pierced by a single road that plies northeast through the village of Tuti to Sibayo, the grassy terrain is inhabited by livestock while the still young river is ideal for rafting and trout-fishing.
Sitting at an altitude of 3900m at the head of the canyon, Sibayo is a traditional rural village little touched by tourism. Many of the adobe houses still have old-fashioned straw roofs while the diminutive main plaza is framed by the recently restored Iglesia San Juan Bautista. Northeast of the town, a quiet spot by the river has been embellished by a small suspension bridge crossing the Colca called the Puente Colgante Portillo, plus a lookout, the Mirador de Largarta, named for a lizard-shaped mountain up the valley. It is possible to hike southwest down the canyon to Tuti and, ultimately, Chivay from here.
Sibayo has a handful of very basic homestays available in traditional houses.
One such place is Samana Wasi; located in Av Mariscal Castilla (admission 25 Soles per person) where the eager-to-please owners can rustle up dinner (15 Soles per person) and take you trout-fishing.
Combis (10 Soles per person, trip's 1 hour, departure hourly) for Sibayo leave from the market area in Chivay.
Tuti is a tourist-lite village situated only 19km northeast of Colca hub Chivay. With an economy centered on broad-bean cultivation and clothes-making, it is surrounded by some interesting sights all connected by hiking trails. The easiest excursion is to a couple of caves in the hills to the north clearly visible from the main road and accessible via a 3.5 km grunt uphill from the village. From the same starting point, you can also hike 8 km to an old abandoned village dating from the 1600s known colloquially as Ran Kan or 'Espinar de Tuti.' Continue beyond Ran Kan and you'll join the trail to the source of the Amazon on the north side of Nevado Mismi. Down in the valley, you can catch a taxi or Colectivo (shared transportation) from Chivay to Tuti and hike back to Chivay on a well-marked trail alongside the Río Colca. This stretch of the river is popular with rafters.
Behold the most accessible and popular segment of the canyon, a landscape dominated by agriculture and characterized by some of the most intensely terraced hillsides on earth. The greenery and accessibility has led to this becoming the canyon's busiest region with the bulk of the business centered in the small town of Chivay.
Chivay is the Colca Canyon's unashamedly disheveled nexus, a traditional town that has embraced tourism without (so far) losing its unkempt high-country identity. Long may it continue!
Around the market area and in the main square are good places to catch a glimpse of the decorative clothing worn by local Colca women. The town itself affords enchanting views of snowcapped peaks and terraced hillsides, and serves as a logical base from which to explore smaller towns further up the valley.
No light pollution equals excellent Milky Way vistas. The Casa Andina hotel has a tiny observatory that holds nightly sky shows in Spanish and English. The price includes a 30-minute explanation and a chance to peer into the telescope. It is closed between January and March as it is hard to catch a night with clear skies. It is located in Huayna Cápac street. The admission cost 25 Soles per person. Opened from April to December.
If you've just bussed or driven in from Arequipa, a good way to acclimatize is to stroll 3 km to La Calera Hot Springs and examine the canyon's (surprisingly shallow) slopes al " fresco while lying in the naturally heated pools. The setting is idyllic and you'll be entertained by the whooping zipliners as they sail overhead. Colectivos from Chivay cost 1 to 2 Soles. However, the admission cost 15 Soles per persona and it is open from 04:30 am to 7 pm.
Chivay is a good starting point for canyon hikes, both short and long. The view-embellished 7km path to Corporaque on the north side of the canyon starts on the north edge of town. Fork left on La Calera Hot Springs road, cross the Puente Inca, and follow the fertile fields to the village. Rather than retracing your steps, you can head downhill out of Corporaque past some small ruins and descend to the orange bridge across the Río Colca. From Yanque, on the southern bank, you can catch a passing bus or Colective for the 7 km return Chivay (or you can walk along the road). For a quicker trip, rent a mountain bike in Chivay.
To penetrate further west it's possible to continue on up the northern side of the canyon from Corporaque to the villages Lechupampa, Lari, and, ultimately, Madrigal.
Occasional combis run lo these villages from the streets around the main market area in Chivay. Another option is to pitch northeast from near the Puente Inca and follow a path along the river to the villages of Tuti and Sibayo.
You can dangle terrifyingly over the Río Colca while entertaining bathers in La Calera Hot Springs (who relax below) doing the canyon's most modern sport - ziplining. The start point is just past La Calera Hot Springs, 3.5km from Chivay, but you can organize rides with one of the agencies in town or directly with Colca from 9 am Mon-Sat. And until 10:30 am Sun.
Opposite the church on the plaza sits this university-rum museum, unexpectedly comprehensive for a small village, which explains the culture of the Canon del Colca in conscientious detail. Exhibits include information on Inca fabrics, cranial deformation, local agriculture, ecclesial architecture, and a mini-exposé on Juanita mummy, the 'Ice Maiden.'
From the plaza, to 30-minute walk down to the river brings you to these hot springs, a kind of poor man's La Calera. The early-bird opening time is mainly for locals, many of whom don't have hot water in their houses.
Non Guests can use the thermal baths at the Colca Lodge for 35 Soles per person (price includes one meal in the lodge restaurant!).
Though not visible from the road, the remnants of this pre-Incan settlement are reachable by a half-hour uphill hike, after which you can continue on to a waterfall whose source is the runoff from Nevado Mismi. Guides can be procured at the Colca Lodge.
Sleepy Lari, 16km west of Corporaque on the north side of the river, has the canyon's largest church. It is also a potential starting point for the Source of the Amaron trek, which can be looped back round to Tuti in the northeast. There's a rock-bottom hotel in the main square and a couple of bare-bones restaurants, but you're better off forging on to Chivay or Cabanaconde for an overnighter.
Madrigal is the last village on the canyon's north side reachable by road (unpaved by this point). Aside from its oversized church and scruffy digs at the Hostal Municipalidad (Plaza de Armas), Madrigal is a bucolic backwater perfect for slow unflustered digestion of traditional Colca life.
You can forge west on foot from here to two nearby archaeological sites: the Fortaleza de Chimpa, a walled Collagua citadel atop a hill, and the Pueblo Perdido Matata, some long-abandoned ruins.
Pinchollo, about 30km from Chivay, is one of the valley's poorer villages. From here, a trail climbs toward Hualca Hualca (a snow-capped volcano of 6025m) to an active geothermal area set amid wild and interesting scenery. Though it's not very clearly marked, there's a rough four-hour trail up to a bubbling geyser that used to erupt dramatically before an earthquake contained it. Ask around for directions, or just head left uphill in the direction of the mountain, then follow the water channel to its end.
Some much-hyped travel sights are anti-climactic in the raw light of day, but this is not one of them. No advance press can truly sell the Cruz del Condor (Chaq'lla; admission with boleto turístico), a famed viewpoint, also known locally as Chaq'lla, about 50km west of Chivay. A large family of Andean condors nests by the rocky outcrop and, weather and season permitting, they can be seen between approximately 8 am and 10 am. Gliding effortlessly on thermal air currents rising from the canyon, swooping low over onlookers' heads (condors rarely flap their wings). It's a mesmerizing scene, heightened by the spectacular 1200m drop to the river below and the sight of reaching more than 3000m above the canyon floor on the other side of the ravine.
Recently it has become more difficult to see the condors, mostly due to air pollution, including from travelers' campfires and tour buses. The condors are also less likely to appear on rainy days so it's best to visit during the dry season; they are unlikely to emerge at all in January and February. You won't be alone on the lookout. Expect a couple of hundred people for the 8 am 'show' in season. Afterward, it is possible to walk 12.5km from the viewpoint to Cabanaconde.
The narrow lower canyon is the Colca at its deepest. It runs roughly from Cabanaconde down to Huambo. Fruit trees can be found around Tapay and Sangalle, but, otherwise, the canyon supports no real economic activity.
Only approximately 20% of Cañón del Colca visitors get as far as ramshackle Cabanaconde (most organized itineraries turn around at the Cruz del Condor). For those who make it, the attractions are obvious fewer people, more authenticity, and greater tranquility. Welcome to the true canyon experience. The Colca is significantly deeper here with steep, zigzagging paths tempting the fit and the brave to descend 1200m to the eponymous river. There are no ATMs in Cabanaconde. Stash some cash.
You've only half-experienced Colca if you haven't descended into the canyon by foot (the only method anywhere west of Madrigal). The shortest way in is via the spectacular two-hour hike from Cabanaconde down to the flower-filled greenery (also popularly known as 'the oasis') at the bottom of the canyon. The mountain walls create a tranquil oasis indeed, topped with a blanket of stars at night.
Here four sets of basic bungalows and camping grounds have sprung up, all costing from about 15 to 20 Soles per person. There are two natural pools for swimming, the larger of which is claimed by Oasis Bungalows, which charges S5 to swim (free if you are staying in its bungalows). Paraíso Bungalows doesn’t charge for the smaller swimming pool, and there are local disputes over whether travelers should be charged to use the pools at all. Do not light campfires as almost half of the trees in the area have been destroyed in this manner, and cart all trash out with you. The return trek to Cabanaconde is a stiff climb and thirsty work; allow 1 ½ hour (super fit), two to 2 ½ hours (fit), and three hours plus (average fitness). There's a drink and food available in Sangalle.
A fascinating, mystical site in the light desert, Toro Muerto (meaning 'Dead Bull') is named for the herds of livestock that commonly died here from dehydration as they were escorted from the mountains to the coast barren hillside is scattered with white volcanic boulders carved with stylized people, animals, and birds. Archaeologists have documented more than 5000 such petroglyphs spread over several square kilometers of desert. Though the cultural origins of this site remain unknown, most archaeologists date the mysterious drawings to the period of Wari domination, about 1200 years ago. Interpretations of the drawings vary widely; a guide can fill you in on some of the most common themes, or you can wander among the boulders yourself and formulate your own elaborate interpretation of the message these ancient images aim to tell.
To reach the site by public transportation, take a bus to Corire from Arequipa (12 Soles per person, trip lasts 3 hours). If you don't want to sleep in Corire, take an early bus (they start as early as 4 am) and get off at a gas station just past the sign that denotes the beginning of the town of Corire. From there, you can walk the hot, dusty road about 2 km uphill to a cheek-point where visitors must sign in. Otherwise, continue to Corire; from here you can catch a taxi to take you to where the petroglyphs start (from 45 Soles round-trip if the taxi waits).
In Corire, Hostal Willy which is located in Av Progreso; has basic accommodations, and can provide information on reaching the site. Bring plenty of water, sunblock, and insect repellent (as there are plenty of mosquitoes en route).
Buses return from Corire to Arequipa once an hour, usually leaving at 30 minutes past the hour. The Toro Muerto petroglyphs can also be visited more conveniently on expensive full-day 4WD tours from Arequipa.
El Valle de Los Volcanes is a broad valley, west of the Cañón del Colca and at the foot of Nevado Coropuna (6613 m), famed for its unusual geological features. The valley floor is carpeted with lava flows from which rise many small (up to 200m light) cinder cones, some 80 in total, aligned along a major fissure, with each eon formed from a single eruption. Given the lack of erosion of some cones and minimal vegetation on the associated lava flows, the volcanic activity occurred no more than a few thousand years ago, and some were likely very recent - historical accounts suggest recently as the 17th century.
The 65km-long valley surrounds the village of Andagua, near the snowy summit of Coropuna. Visitors seeking a destination full of natural wonders and virtually untouched by travelers will rejoice in this remote setting. From Andagua, a number of sites can be visited by foot or car. It is possible to hike to the top of the perfectly conical twin volcanoes which lie about 10km from town, though don't expect a clear-cut trail. Other popular hikes are to a nearby mirador at 3800m and to the 40m-high falls which are formed where the Río Andahua runs through a narrow lava canyon to the northeast of town. There are some Chullpas (funerary towers) at Soporo, a two-hour hike or half-hour drive to the south of Andagua. En route to Soporo are the ruins of a pre-Columbian city named Antaymarca. An alternative way to enter the valley is by starting from Cabanaconde, crossing the Cañón del Colca, then hiking over an S500m pass before descending into El Valle de Los Volcanes. This trek requires at least five days (plus time for proper acclimatization beforehand) and is best to attempt with an experienced guide and pack mules.
There are several cheap and basic hostels and restaurants in Andagua, including the recommended Hostal Volcanes. Camping is also possible, though you will need plenty of water and sun protection. To get to the valley from Arequipa, take a "Reyna" bus to Andagua (45 Soles per person, 10 to 12 hours) which departs from Arequipa around 4 pm. Return buses leave Andagua around 2 pm. Some tour companies also visit El Valle de Los Volcanes as part of expensive tours in 4WDs that may also include visits to the Cañón del Cotahuasi and Chivay.
While the Cañón del Colca has stolen the limelight for many years, it is actually this remote canyon, 200 km northwest of Arequipa as the condor flies, that is the deepest known canyon in the world. It is around twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, with stretches dropping down below 3500m.
While the depths of the ravine are only accessible to experienced river runners, the rest of the fertile valley is rich in striking scenery and trekking opportunities. The canyon also shelters several traditional rural settlements that currently see only a handful of adventurous travelers.
The main access town is appropriately named Cotahuasi (population 3800) and is at 2620m above sea level on the southeast side of the canyon. Northeast of Cotahuasi and further up the canyon are the villages of Tomepampa (10km away; elevation 2500m) and (20km away; 2660m), which also have basic accommodations. On route, you'll pass a couple of thermal baths (admission 2 Soles).
Buses to the Sipia bridge (Ticket cost is 3 Soles, one hour of the trip) leave the main plaza of Cotahuasi daily at 6:30 am, from where you can begin a number of interesting biking into the deepest parts of the canyon. Forty-five minutes up tile trail, the is formed where the Río Cotahuasi takes an impressive 100m to tumble; the viewpoint is from above. Another 1 ½ hours on a well-trodden track brings you to Chaupo, an oasis of towering cacti and remnants of pre-Inca dwellings.
Camping is possible. From here a dusty path leads either up to Velinga and other remote communities where sleeping accommodations are available, or down to Mallu, a patch of verdant farmland at the river's edge where the owner will allow you to pitch tents and borrow his stove for 12 Soles per night. To get back to Cotahuasi, a return bus leaves the Sipia bridge around 11:30 am daily.
Another possible day trip from Cotahuasi is to the hillside community of Pampamarca. From here, a two-hour hike up a steep switchbacking trail will bring you to an interesting group of rock formations, where locals have likened shapes in the rocks to mystical figures. A short walk from town brings you to a lookout with a view of the rushing 80m-high Uscume falls. To get to Pampamarca (Transport ticket 5 Soles per person, two hours of trip), a Combi leaves the main square in Cotahuasi twice daily around 7 am and 2 pm, and returns shortly after arriving.
Trekking trips of several days' duration, can be arranged in Arequipa; some can be combined with the Toro Muerto petroglyphs and, if you ask, they may return via a collection of dinosaur footprints on the west edge of the canyon.