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Colca Canyon

Destination Colca Canyon

Claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world at more than 1 km from cliff-edge to river bottom, the COLCA CANYON may be an impressive sight but is actually estimated to be 170m less deep than its more remote rival, the Cotahuasi Canyon . Both of these canyons are among several in the world that claim to be the biggest or deepest on the planet, depending on exactly how you measure them. In places the canyon's sides are so steep that it is impossible to see the valley bottom, while the higher edges of Colca are punctuated with some of the finest examples of pre-Inca terracing in Peru, attributed in the main to the Huari cultural era. Craggy mountains, huge herds of llamas and traditionally dressed Andean peasants complete the picture.
The canyon was formed by a massive geological fault betweeu the two enormous volcanoes of Coropuna (6425m) and Ampato (6318m): the Río Colca forms part of a gigantic watershed that empties into the Pacific near Camana. Despite being one of Peru’s most popular tourist attractions, the area's sharp terraces are still home to more-or-less traditional Indian villages. To the north of Colca, meanwhile, sits the majestic Mismi Nevado, a snow-capped peak that belongs to the Chila mountain range, and which, according to National Geographic, is the official source of the Amazon River; long the subject of argument and speculation, the precise location of the source was finally pinpointed in 2000 by a five-nation National Geographic Society expedition using cutting-edge GPS navigatorial equipment the team, headed by ¡ 46-year-old maths teacher Andrew Pietowski, identified a spot on Nevado Mismi - a 5597m-high mountain in southern Peru.

Choose your Colca Canyon Tour

Peru Magic

12 days / 11 nights

Lima, Ica, Paracas, Nazca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu

History


Francisco Pizarro´s brother, Gonzalo, was given this region in the 1530s as his own private encomienda (colonial Spanish landholding) to exploit for economic tribute. In the seventeenth century, however, the Viceroy Toledo split the area into corregimientos that concentrated the previously quite dispersed local populations into villages, This I had the effect of a decline in the use of the valley s agricultural terracing, as the locals switched to farming the land nearer their new homes.
The corregimientos created the fourteen main settlements that still exist in the valley today, including Chivay, Yanque, Maca, Cabanaconde, Corporaque, Lari and Madrigal. Most of the towns still toast unusually grand, Baroque-fronted churches, underlining the importance of this regions silver mines during the seventeenth arid eighteenth centuries. During the Republican era, Colcas importance dwindled substantially and interest in me zone was only rekindled in 1931 when aerial photography revealed the astonishing natural and man-made landscape of this valley to the outside world - particularly the exceptionally elaborate terracing on the northern sides of bordering mountains.

Geography


The Colca Canyon is located around 100 miles north of the city of Arequipa. The name Colca is used for the canyon, the valley and the river. The Colca province boarders Cusco, Puno in the southern Andes of Peru.

Colca Canyon Geography

Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon is considered one of the deepest canyons in the world at around 10200 feet from mountaintop to the river below. The Cotahausi Canyon which is located nearby is a little deeper. During the last few million years or so the river has carved the canyon deeper and the area features many geysers and hot springs.

Colcas and terraces

The landscape of the Colca Valley is properly the most dramatic landscape in Peru. The amazing terrain and high altitude stand to protect all in the area. The endless terraces are without a double some of the striking features in the Andes and serve as evidence of the development of agriculture and the brilliance of the ancient people.
If you are feeling energetic take one of the many walks down into the valley and see the terraces that many hundred years ago feed the empire. See the dazzling night sky filled with stars and remember the immense size of the universe that we live in. Visit the Colca Canyon to be struck by its natural beauty.

Attractions


Maca

The road from Yanque continues on through a very dark tunnel until just beyond MACA, a small community which sits on the lower skirts of the volcano Sabancaya and the Nevado Hualca Hualca, some 23km west of Chivay. Immediately after this tunnel, a number of hanging pre-Inca tombs - las chullpas colgantes - can be seen high up in seemingly impossible cliff-edge locations, facing perhaps the best example of agricultural terracing in Peru across the valley.

Maca

Mirador Cruz del Condor

The Mirador Cruz del Cóndor is the most popular point for viewing the canyon - it's around 1200m deep here - and you can almost guarantee seeing several condors circling up from the depths against the breathtaking scenery. The condors are best spotted from 7 to 9am; the earlier you get there the more likely you are to have fewer other spectators around. These days it's a popular spot, and most mornings there will actually be more tourists here than in the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa. For safety's sake, stand well back from me edge.
The gateway to the Mirador, the settlement of Pinchollo has a small museum and a tourist information office with photos and a model representing the canyon.

Mirador Cruz del Condor

Cabanaconde

Cabanaconde The small but growing town of CABANACONDE (3300m), 10km on from Pinchoilo, is a good base from which to descend into the canyon. An impressive high wall and painted gateway mark the town's eighteenth-century cemetery. The town is also home to several semi-destroyed stone buildings and doorways from the late colonial (or Viceregal) era. If you can make it for the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen (usually between 14-18 July), you´ll see the bullring in action and the town in the throes of a major religious festival and party.

Cabanaconde

Corire

A small town located 160km northwest of Arequipa, CORIRE is a small town of around two thousand people. Of very little interest to tourists in its own right, it is a primarily agricultural settlement based on rice and wheat production. Corires claim to fame is really its proximity to the Toro Muerto petroglyphs.

Corire

Toro Muerto petroglyphs

Reached by bus or car from Arequipa, the Toro Muerto petroglyphs consist of carved boulders strewn over a kilometre or two of hot desert. More than a thousand rocks of all sizes and shapes have been crudely, yet strikingly, engraved with a wide variety of distinct representations. No archeological remains have been directly associated with these images but it is thought that they date from between 1000 and 1500 years ago; they are largely attributed to the Wari culture, though with probable additions during subsequent Chuquibamba and Inca periods of domination in the region. The engravings include images of humans, snakes, llamadas, deer, parrots, sun discs and simple geometric motifs. Somete of the figures appear to be dancing, others with large round helmets look like spacemen - obvious material for the author Erich Von Daniken´s extraterrestrial musings (he based his book Chariots of the Gods on several archeological sites in Peru). Some of the more abstract geometric designs are very similar to those of the Huari culture, which may well have sent an expeditionary force in this direction, across the Andes from the Ayacucho basin, around 800 AD.
The route to the petroglyphs is signaled by a small site museum, but it is a good thirty-minute walk from the road, and at least 500m above it. What you´re looking for is a vast row of white rocks, believed to have been scattered across the sandy desert slopes by a prehistoric volcanic eruption - the natural setting is almost as magnificent as the hundreds of petroglyphs.

Toro Muerto petroglyphs

Valley of the Volcanoes

Following some 65km of the Río Antigua’s course, the VALLEY OF THE VOLCANOES (Valle de los Volcanoes) skirts along the presently dormant volcano Mount Coropuna, the highest volcano in Peru (6425m) and the highest peak in southern Peru. At first sight just a pleasant Andean valley, this is in fact one of the strangest geological formations you're ever likely to see. A stunning lunar landscape, the valley is studded with extinct craters varying in size and height from 200 to 300m. About 200,000 years ago, these small volcanoes erupted when the lava fields were degassed (a natural release of volcanic gas through soil, volcanic lakes and volcanoes) - at the time of one of Coropuna's major eruptions.
The best overall view of the valley can be had from Anaro Mountain (4800m), looking southeast towards the Chipchane and Puca Maura cones. The highest of the volcanoes, known as Los Gemelos (The Twins), ate about 10km from Andagua. To the south, the Andomarca volcano has a pre-lnca ruined settlement around its base.

Valley of the Volcanoes

Chivay

Chivay Is the Cañón del Colca's unashamedly disheveled nexus, a traditional town that has embraced tourism without losing its high-country identity. It is equipped with enchanting views of snowcapped peaks and terraced hillsides, and serves as a logical base from which to explore the canyon.
The market area and main square are good places to catch a glimpse of the decorative clothing worn by local women.

Chivay

Yanque

Of the canyon's dozen or so villages, Yanque, 7km west of Chivay, has the prettiest and liveliest main square, and sports Its finest church: the Iglesia de la Immaculada Concepción. Its ornate baroque-mestizo facade has an almost churrigueresque look. Also on the plaza is the excellent Museo Yanque (admission S5; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat), which contains displays about the culture of the Colca Canyon, Inca textiles, cranial deformation and ecclesial architecture.
From here, a 30-minute walk down to the river brings you to the hot springs.

Yanque

Coporaque to Madrigal

Across the river from Yanque, the non-commercialized Coporaque has the valley's oldest church and not much else - unless you count the splendiferous - views of canyon slopes covered in terraced fields.
Between the two villages, there is a sign marking the ruins of Oyu Oyu. Th remnants of this pre-lnca settlement are reached by a half-hour hike uphill. Afterwards you can continue to a waterfall, the source of which is the runoff from Nevado Mismi.

Coporaque to Madrigal

Yanque to Pinchollo

Further along the main road on the south side of the canyon, the spreading landscape is remarkable for its Inca and pre-lnca terracing, which goes on for many kilometers and is some of the most extensive in Peru.
The next big village along the main road is Pinchollo, about 30km from Chivay. From here, a trail climbs toward Hualca Hualca (a snowcapped volcano of 6025m) to an active geothermal area set amid wild and interesting scenery.

Yanque to Pinchollo

Cañon del Cotahuasi

While the Cañón del Colca has stolen the limelight for many years, it is actually this remote canyon, 200km 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 below 3500m. While the depths of the ravine are only accessible to experienced river runners, the rest of the fertile valley is also rich ¡n striking scenery and trekking opportunities the canyon also shelters several traditional rural settlements that currently see only a handful of adventur-ous travelers.

Cañon del Cotahuasi

Laguna de Salinas

This lake (4300m above sea level), east of Arequipa below Pichu Pichu and El Misti, is a salt lake that becomes a white salt fiat during the dry months of May to December. Its size and the amount of water in it vary from year to year depending on the weather. During the rainy season it is a good place to see all three flamingo species as well as myriad other Andean water birds.

Laguna de Salinas

Cultural norms


With many different influences, the Colca region has been inhabited by peoples from both the north and the eastern regions of Peru. The traditions of the area are a mix of both regions.

The Collagua and the Cabana

For many hundreds of years the main ethnic groups of the Colca area have been the Collagua and the Cabana peoples. Now you can tell the difference of the two different by the clothes the women use and most importantly their hats.
Today there are 14 towns in the area and each with its own church in the main square. Each town has its own festivals throughout the year that usually celebrate agricultural plantings and harvests. One of the most notable festivals is when the men dress up in skirts at the start of rainy season and continues until the end of February.

Cultural norms colca canyon

Activities


Trekking

Trekking is very popular past time with tourist in the Colca Canyon, you can either trek with a group or it is not difficult to trek independently. There are many different treks to choose from on the many different walking tracks available.
The most popular hike is from Cabanaconde to Sangalle oasis and back which is either a one day hike or you can also do it as an overnight. There is also an option to do this trail on horse back.
Most of the trails in the area are very steep so be careful of your back and your knees and take the time to acclimatize be setting out on any of these treks.

Trekking colca canyon

Spot unusual wildlife

When visiting the Colca Valley the area is home to a grand array of plants and animals. If you plan a trip to the Colca you will want to see the famous Andean condor, which now has plenty of numbers. Some of the other bird life you may see in the area is the Giant Hummingbird. In the upper parts of the valley where it is dry you will mammals such as the vicuna and many other varieties of camelids.

Spot unusual wildlife colca canyon

Gaze at ancient terraces

The landscape of the Colca Valley is not only beautiful but also functional, for many hundreds of years the valley has been used for growing food for the population. Today you will still see many varieties of potato, quinoa, wheat and maize grown here. Strangely, in the harsh conditions many other varieties of flora grow and flourish.

Gaze at ancient terraces colca canyon

Seek thrills

In the Colca Canyon, there is no shortage of adventure activities to choose from. If you are an adventure junkie choose from whitewater rafting, mountain biking and many other activities.

Seek thrills colca canyon

Hotels



The following are our top choices for hotels in Colca Canyon.

Las Casitas del Colca

Address: Fundo la Curiña Avenue s/n, Colca Valley, Arequipa

The "Casitas de Colca" is located at 160 km north of Arequipa city, close to the colonial village of Yanque and just 8 km from Chivay town. This luxurious hotel is situated in the heart of the Colca Canyon.
This Orient-Express luxury hotel offers a supreme privacy and exclusivity to experience the beauty of the valley. Also, spend your time with harmony in the Colca Canyon.
The hotel counts an area of 24 hectares nestled in the Peruvian Andes. The property is on the left bank of the Colca River, possessing gorgeous views of the canyon and the volcano Mismi, known as the Andean birthplace of the Amazon River.


las casitas del colca

Colca Lodge Spa & Hot springs

Address: Albergue fundo puye s/n Yanque, Caylloma, Colca Valley.

Situated at 3250 meters above sea level and two-and-a-half hour ride from Arequipa city, this hotel nestles on the banks of Colca River. It is surrounded by hundreds of pre-Inca agricultural terraces, declared as Peruvian cultural heritage, and also blessed with relaxing hot spring waters. This place gives its guests an ancient energy, combined with nature, it's the starting point to explore the valley and visit the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the World. At Colca Lodge, you will feel like at home enjoying at its hot springs "Eco-Spa" where they offer you a steam room, Jacuzzis, and massage sessions with local therapists.


colca lodge spa hot springs

Eco Inn Hotel Colca Canyon

Address: Lima street # 513 – Yanque, Caylloma, Colca Valley.

Located in the middle of gorgeous mountains and rivers of the Colca Valley, the Eco Inn Colca Hotel is at 15-minute walk away from the Yanque thermal baths which is a good place to relax with nature, while the village of Chivay can be reached within 15 minute ride by car. Also, tourists will be excited with the flight of condors which is a specie of South American bird. Besides, there are many walking and hiking routes in the area, including the easy hike to the Colca River.Its rooms provide fabulous views of the beauty valley and landscapes. The Eco Inn is a 21-room hotel situated near the town of Yanque in the colca Valley.


eco inn colca

Aranwa Colca Resort Pueblito Encantado

Address: Sallihua road s/n, Coporaque Caylloma, Arequipa

This hotel is a dream, rich in legends and colonial Andean customs, as well as breathtaking sceneries. It is located in the district of Coporaque along the Colca River, a 3-hour ride from Arequipa city.At only 10 minutes from Chivay town, Coporaque is a place of legends with numerous colonial memories that transport us to know the Andean traditions and mysticism, devotion of religious holidays and historical past that few have seen up close.
There is also an old water mill situated at the entrance of the hotel which welcomes its guests to "El Pueblito Encantado del Colca", is the best starting point to start the magical world covering by the Colca valley.


aranwa colca resort pueblito encantado

Casa Andina Classic Colca

Address: Huayna Capac s/n Chivay, Arequipa

The Casa Andina Classic Colca hotel lies in the colonial center of Chivay district, the starting point for an awesome tour to the Colca Canyon. At Casa Andina Colca hotel, guests can enjoy its comfortable rooms, including typical lunches and dinners while a folk show is performed. This hotel also offers its guests daily presentations in English and Spanish which help its visitors to know more about the Colca Canyon's stars and constellations enjoying the spectacular view of the Colca's sky.
The hotel is a rustic, relaxed and intimate place. It features 52 spacious rooms, 100% non-smokers, like stone houses with thatched roofs and tiled floors.


casa andina classic colca

Pozo del Cielo Hotel

Address: Sol de Sacsayhuaman Chivay – Caylloma, Arequipa

The Pozo del Cielo hotel offers its visitors a unique possibility to live among the native communities of the Colca Valley, which preserves, almost completely, the customs and traditions of the Andes. The hotel was built, with the sole intention of valuing this ancestral Andean culture, and respecting the natural and social-cultural environment.

The hotel invites you to discover the lifestyles and beliefs of an ancient civilization that neither time nor western Invasion has destroyed.
The Pozo del Cielo hotel was opened in 2001 at Chivay district, province of Caylloma, in the heart of the Colca Valley.


pozo del cielo

Weather


Depending where you are will depend the temperature, in the daytime temperatures in some parts of the valley can be warm especially when walking on of the many trails. When you are high up in the valley expect it to get cold and windy. Make sure you bring warm clothing for the mornings and the evenings and a good hat for the day time.

weather colca canyon

Eating


In the Colca Canyon, the restaurants are not so plentiful, but as you will only be there for one night, it is adequate. For more choice go to the town of Chivay, where there are also many hotels to choose from.

CABANACONDE

La Granja del Colca

Km 9.5 carretera Cruz del Condor, Cabanaconde. Prepares delicious dishes using homegrown organic ingredients.

Kuntur Wassi

Calle Cruz Blanca, Cabanaconde. Part of Hotel Kuntur Wassi, prepares Peruvian dishes and fresh-baked pizzas.

Pachamama Bar

San Pedro 209, Cabanaconde. Wood-fired pizza and Peruvian food along with cocktails and a warm environment great for meeting other travelers.

CHIVAY

Q’anka Restaurant

Salaverry 105, 3rd floor, located in front of the Chivay Market.Specializes in steaks and pizzas cooked on hot stones as well as soups and pastas.

El Balcon de Don Zacarias

Av. 22 de Agosto 102, Plaza de Armas, Chivay. Serves classic Peruvian dishes a la carte; buffet option for lunch..

Aromas Caffee

Plaza de Armas, Chivay. Satisfy your cravings for coffee, teas, fruit juices, hot chocolate, cakes and desserts.

Urinsaya

Calle Francisco Bolognesi 1026, Chivay. Felicious and varied buffet lunch.

YANQUE

Urpicha del Colca

Mariano Melgar 500, Yanque. Great place to try Peruvian staples like trout and alpaca; menu includes vegetarian options, too.

Willari DyRL

M. Malaga 107. Try traditional Colca Canyon dishes.

Trekking in and around the Colca Canyon


There are dozens of trekking routes in the Colca Canyon, but if you’re planning on descending to the canyon floor, even if just for the day, it’s best to be fit and prepared for the altitude – it’s tough going and becomes quite dangerous in sections. Make sure to check whether oxygen is provided by your tour operator – even a bus trip to Chivay can bring on mountain sickness if you’ve only recently arrived from sea level. If you start trekking from Cabanaconde, or visit this town beforehand, it is worth visiting the tourist information centre and also checking out the cost of guides, arrieros (muleteers) and mules.

Trekking in and around the Colca Canyon

TREKS FROM CABANACONDE

Mirador Achachina Walk

A fifteen-minute stroll from the plaza in Cabanaconde takes you past the bullring to the Mirador Achachina, a good spot for spotting condors and viewing the western end of the valley from above.

Basic Colca Trek

The start of the classic route from Cabanaconde to the bottom of the Colca Canyon can be reached just ten minutes’ walk along a fairly clear track beyond the newly constructed Casa de Pablo hostel, itself a five-minute walk from the plaza. The descent from here follows an incredibly steep path, quite dangerous in parts, down to the Oasis, a rustic lodge and campsite right in the bottom of the canyon; it takes one and a half to two hours to descend and four or five to get back up. Many people stay the night.

The Tapay Trail

This well-used trekking route connects Cabanaconde with the small settlement of Tapay via the Oasis. It is a two- to four-day return hike through fine scenery, immense canyons, tiny hamlets like Cosñirhua (2350m) and Malata as well as various Inca and pre-Inca ruins. Save for the aforementioned campsite – which you’ll pass on the first morning – there are no facilities at all in the area.

Cabanaconde to Lake Mucurca

There is a popular eight-hour hike from Cabanaconde that culminates at Lake Mucurca (4000m). At its end point the astonishingly beautiful Ampato volcano is reflected in the lake’s crystalline waters.

The Ampato Trail

From Lake Mucurca the adventurous, fully acclimatized and well prepared can trek all the way around snowcapped Ampato (four to six days). The Ampato Trail has one very high pass – around 4850m at the crossing of two trails on Cerro Quenahuane, above the Quebrada Condori – and most of the walking is at over 4200m. Local guides are a good idea and you will need food and camping equipment. Be prepared for snow and ice; the weather can change very fast. On the last downhill leg of the trek you can choose to follow trails back to Achoma, Maca or Cabanaconde.

THE COLCAS DE CHICHINIA TREK

A relatively easy two-hour walk from the village of Corporaque (15min by car or bus from Chivay, on the opposite side of the Colca Canyon to Maca and the Mirador Cruz del Condor), takes in the Colcas de Chichinia, a semi-intact set of pre-Inca Huari tombs; today they lie today exposed at the foot of the cliffs on Cerro Yurac Ccacca (also known as Cerro San Antonio). A path leads out a couple of blocks just below the plaza in Corporaque, crossing the stream as you leave the settlement behind and climbing steadily towards a prominent, pink rocky outcrop. Because it’s little visited, the entry path to the site isn’t marked and more or less leaves you to find your own route; given this, it’s important to take care not to damage the stone walls and agricultural plots you have to find your way through.

The tombs are just below the 4000m contour line where several overhangs have been partially filled in with stone as permanent thrones for pre-Inca mummies, placed here ceremoniously to spend eternity watching over the valley and gazing east towards several sacred mountain peaks. These days, after the ravages of time and grave-robbers, all that is left of the mummies are skulls and skeletons, some with hair and a few with remnants of the rope and cloth they were originally wrapped in.

To the southwest, a partly tumbled down, but still impressive Huari village can be clearly seen stretching from the tombs down to a major tambo-style (Quechua for house or resting-place) building on the bottom corner, which commands views around the valley. To get back to Corporaque, you can either drop down to the road and trace this back up to the settlement, or go along the small aqueduct that follows the contour of the hill from the tambo back to where you started.

Travel Tips


Colca Canyon Entrance Fee

All visitors to Colca Canyon must pay a 70 soles entrance fee. You can buy the ticket at any checkpoint. Hold on to the ticket, as park officials will ask to see it at various checkpoints along the typical tourist route.

Distances from Arequipa, Plaza de Armas

  • to Chivay – 162 km ( about 3 hrs by car)
  • to Yanque – 168 km ( about 3 hrs by car)
  • to Coporaque – 169 km (about 3 hrs by car)
  • to Mirador Cruz del Condor – is 201km (4 hrs by car)
  • to Cabanaconde (via Chivay) – 224 km (about 5 hrs by car)

Transportation

From Arequipa:

  • Minivans depart at 3:00 am and reach Mirador Cruz del Condor in time to see condors in flights. Drop-off is at Cabanaconde around 10:00 am.
  • Public buses leave from Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa every few hours until 2pm. Advisable to buy tickets in advance.

Onward to Puno/Lake Titicaca

  • The company “4M – Express” provides safe and reliable service between the Chivay and Puno. Buses depart at 13:15 hrs and arrive at Terminal Terrestre in Puno at 19:30 hrs. There are 3 stops along the way at various viewpoints.

Acclimation

Many towns of the Colca Canyon are higher in elevation that Arequipa (2,335 m or 7,661 ft) and about the same as Cusco (3,400 m or 11,150 ft). Take the same precautions as you would in Cusco – stay hydrated, avoid heavy meals or alcohol on your first days at altitude, and drink the local remedy coca leaf tea. Take a few days to acclimate before attempting any strenuous activity.

ATMs

Chivay has on ATM on the Plaza de Armas. Even so, you might want to stock up on cash in Arequipa before you travel to the Colca Canyon. The smaller towns of the Colca Canyon do not yet have ATMs.