Colca Canyon


Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, second only to neighboring Cotahuasi Canyon also in southern Peru.  At a depth of more than 3400m, it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S.  The city of Arequipa serves as a convenient base from which to explore the canyon and the surrounding Colca Valley.  Traveling from Arequipa the road climbs north through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca past farmland,  small indigenous villages, wild herds of vicuñas, snow-capped mountains and volcanic peaks then continues through the Andean highlands reaching the highest point of 4800m before descending spectacularly into the town of Chivay which is located along the upper Colca River.

From Chivay the road continues along the south bank of the upper Colca Canyon past several villages and some of the most extensive pre-Inca terracing in Peru.  Along the way it’s possible to spot numerous Andean condors as they soar above the canyon walls.  Accompanying us on the bus from Chivay to Cabanaconde were several llamas and alpacas, most rode in the luggage compartment although there was one woman who boarded the bus with a baby alpaca wrapped in cloth and strapped to her back.  Normally it should only take a few hours to travel the 56km from Chivay to Cabanaconde but we were delayed when our bus broke down, making this the third time a bus has broken down on us since we arrived in Peru!   

The town of Cabanaconde serves as the jumping off point for several spectacular hikes into the canyon.  Some hikes can last for days but we opted for one of the shorter, easier ones.  Three hours of trekking brought us to the Sangalle Valley, 2100m down into the canyon.  Rather than attempt the four hours of strenuous climbing  it would take to get back up to town we hired mules to carry us to the top.  After some quick instructions that I just barely understood my mule and I were on our way.  Fortunately, he seemed to know what to do and we made it back up in just under two hours.  Surprisingly, the man leading all of the mules made it up just as quickly on foot!  Needless to say, we were asleep early that night and the following day we rested our sore muscles on the six hour bus journey back to Arequipa.


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