Guide to Colca Canyon
Just to the north of the city of Arequipa is the majestic Colca Canyon, desribed by Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa as "the Valley of Wonders"...
Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US, and in fact was declared the deepest canyon in the world by the Guiness Book of Records until 1985, when measurements further to the north in the Cotoahuasi canyon revealed that to be ever so slightly deeper. Either way, with its precipitous slopes lined with terraces and picturesque villages, the crystal clear waters of the Rio Colca in the valley below, and the Andean condors circling in the skies above, Colca is a truly magical place.
Several stone age sites have been discovered in the valley, but settlement in earnest began in the pre-Inca period Collagua and Cabana groups started to carve terracing out of the hillsides. It is a testament to their skill and ingenuity that, 1,400 years later, farmers are still using these original terraces to produce crops. Later on, the Incas attached great ritual significance to the area, as can be seen from the discovery of one of the area's most famous inhabitants, Juanita the mummy, in a cave in the canyon.
Wildlife in Colca Canyon
Humans may have brought herds of alpacas into Colca Canyon, but most of the other animal species that are part of the attraction in Colca have been here since time immemorial. Chief among these are the enormous Andean Condors that grace the skies of South America, and Colca Canyon is indisuptably the best place to get up close and personal with the largest bird in the world. They can grow to have a wingspan of over three metres and, unsurprisingly, have been revered by every culture that has come into contact with them. Once you've seen them we're sure you'll understand why the Incas believed that each morning, a condor carried the sun across the sky...
The Canyon is also one of the best places in Peru to see semi-wild vicuñas. These beautiful relatives of the alpaca were almost hunted into extinction for their wool (a single vicuña-wool shirt today retails at around £3000) but luckily are now protected by law and can roam the slopes as they always have done.
As well as condors and vicuñas, Colca is also home to a wide variety of other birds and animals. You can hope to see giant hummingbirds, and over 100 other types of birds, as well as wildcats, guanacos, tarucas and many other species which are unique to the different micro-climates within Colca.
Getting to and from Colca Canyon
The nearest city to Colca Canyon is Arequipa, but although the roads are now pretty good, the distance makes it impractical to visit in a day. Most people choose to stay the night in either the small town of Chivay, in the middle of the Canyon, or in one of the handful of luxury hotels on the slopes of the Canyon itself. Chivay has public thermal baths and a range of hotels and restaurants, but many of the valley hotels have their own private hot springs and offer horse-riding and walking trails to explore if you have the time.
Rather than heading back to Arequipa after your stay, you can also travel straight on up to Lake Titicaca, although the road in this direction is unpaved so it can be a bumpy journey.