Guide to Arequipa: Colca Canyon
Visit the Colca Canyon
If you are traveling through Arequipa on your trip to Peru, a visit to Colca Canyon is a must-see. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon of the United States, it has long been considered the deepest canyon in the world. Recently, he was stuck in 2nd place when it was discovered that Cotahuasi Canyon (3535m), exceeded it by about 130m.
The landscape is quite dry, but the road to the canyon is impressive. In the distance are several volcanoes and glaciers, including the Mismi (5597m) which is the source of the Amazon River.
To help you organize your next visit, here is my guide to the Colca Canyon with the main attractions and all the practical information!
What to do and see in Colca Canyon?
1. The landscapes of Colca
The Colca Canyon is great with the Colca River (374km long) which meanders it and the numerous terraced mountainside crops used since the Inca era!
On the way from Arequipa, we come across a few isolated houses, small villages and the national reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca, the natural habitat of vicuñas, the elegant cousin of the llama, who produces the finest fiber in the world. There are also Andean flamingos, and all framed by large volcanoes such as Ampato (6310 m), Sabancaya (5076 m), Hualca Hualca (6025 m), Huarancante (5426 m) and the Chucura (5200 m). A whole panorama!
The highest point of the course is 4900m above sea level. Not far from there, the guides are used to making a stop so that we can stretch our legs. In a burst of enthusiasm, I had the very bad idea to get out of the van and climb very quickly a little stop to go see “small houses” that intrigued me.
At such an altitude, changing so suddenly from a state of rest to a high activity made me sick and this condition lasted for hours: nausea, headache, dizziness. And worse (you have the right to laugh!), Arriving at the top I realized that these small houses were only toilets. Do not do like me!
To read also: how to avoid mountain sickness?
2. The Condor’s Cross
The Condor Cross or Cruz del Condor is a must see in the Colca Canyon. Down below, sneaks the Colca River at 1200m and opposite stands the Mismi Volcano at 5547m.
It is a viewpoint that offers not only a superb view of the canyon, but also a strategic place to observe the Condor of the Andes, one of the largest birds in the world (it can reach a span of 3.50 meters!)
Seeing him soar, it is easy to understand that he has been venerated by the Incas.
Tip of friend: go there in the morning, it is easier to see at this time of the day!
Visit the cross of the condor: take a local bus to Cabanaconde (Yanque 4 soles, Chivay 5 soles).
3. The villages of the Canyon
There are several villages in the Colca Valley, here are the main ones:
Chivay: at 3700m altitude, it is the main point of arrival in the canyon (and the most touristy). There are many restaurants, hotels, inns, etc., and several buses to other destinations in the canyon. Also, its belvedere offers a beautiful panorama on the region. At 3km (in colectivo 2 soles) are the thermal waters of La Calera (17 soles) a good option to relax with long hours of driving.
Cabanaconde: village of 3000 inhabitants, it is the hikers’ must-haves since it is the start of the trek in the canyon. Also, 20min walk you will find the watchtower Cejana or that of Achachihua.
Yanque: 7km from Chivay, it is the village that has the prettiest main square in the region (its church is very pretty!). Here, almost every morning at 7am, children in traditional costumes dance to typical music: it’s a must see!
There are also other small typical villages like Tapay, Ichupampa, Maca, Madrigal, Lari, Achoma, Tuti, Sibayo, Callalli, Caylloma, Tisco, San Antonio de Chuca, Coporaque, Majes, Huambo, Huanca, Lluta.
4. Make a trek in the Colca Canyon
And if you are a fan of trekking, know that it is possible to do treks of 2, 3 or 4 days in the Colca Canyon. For those who do not like organized excursions, it is easy to do a trek without a guide because the trails are well marked.
You do not have to be an experienced hiker because the way is pretty simple, but you have to have some physical fitness.
The starting point of the main trail is the town of Cabanaconde.
Make the trek in 1 day: you can go to Sangalle (the oasis) called the Oasis – and go up (3h to 5h return).
Trek in 2 days: there are several options for 2 days in Colca
1st day: go to San Juan de Chuccho and spend the night
2nd day: do Coshñirwa, Malata and Sangalle
or Sleep in Coshñirwa or Malata to enjoy the oasis the next day.
Tip of friend: if you have a very tight itinerary and do not want to sleep 1 night in the canyon before starting the trek, it is technically possible to leave the same day of Arequipa. But as it is better to start early the trek, take the bus Arequipa-Cabanaconde (5-6h ride) so take the bus 1 or 3am, you will not regret it! And plan enough water, with the heat, it disappears quickly!