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COLCA CANYON

Destination Colca Canyon

Claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world at more than 1 kilometre from the cliff-edge to the river’s bottom, the COLCA CANYON may be an impressive sight but is actually estimated to be 170 metres 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 terracings in Peru, attributed in the main to the Huari cultural era.
The canyon was formed by a massive geological fault between the two enormous volcanoes of Coropuna and Ampato, the Río Colca forms part of a gigantic watershed that empties into the Pacific near Camana.

Claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world at more than 1 kilometre from the cliff-edge to the river’s bottom, the COLCA CANYON may be an impressive sight but is actually estimated to be 170 metres 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 terracings in Peru, attributed in the main to the Huari cultural era.
The canyon was formed by a massive geological fault between the two enormous volcanoes of Coropuna and Ampato, the Río Colca forms part of a gigantic watershed that empties into the Pacific near Camana.

History

Francisco Pizarro´s brother, Gonzalo, was given this region in the 1530s as his own private landholding to exploit for economic advantage. In the seventeenth century, however, the Viceroy Toledo split the area that concentrated the previously quite dispersed local populations into villages. This had the effect of a decline in the use of the valley’s agricultural terracing, as the locals switched to farming the land nearer to their new homes.
Most of the towns still have Baroque-fronted churches, underlining the importance of this region’s silver mines during the seventeenth arid eighteenth centuries. During the Republican era, Colca’s importance dwindled substantially and interest in the zone was only rekindled in 1931 when aerial photography revealed the astonishing natural and man-made landscape of this valley to the outside world.

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 and Puno in the southern Andes of Peru.

Colca’s terraces

The landscape of the Colca Valley is one of the most dramatic landscapes in Peru. The amazing terrain and high altitude stand to protect all the lies in the area. The endless terraces are without a doubt, some of the most 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 fed the empire hundreds of years ago, see the dazzling night sky filled with stars and remember the immense size of the universe that we live in.

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Attractions

Mirador Cruz del Condor

The Mirador Cruz del Cóndor is the most popular point for viewing the canyon – it’s around 1200 metres deep – and you can almost guarantee seeing several condors circling up from the depths of the canyon against the breathtaking scenery. The condors are best spotted from 7:00 to 9:00 am, the earlier you get there the more likely you are to have fewer other spectators around. 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.

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Cabanaconde

The small but growing town of CABANACONDE (3300m), 10 kilometres 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 era.

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Chivay

Chivay is 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.

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Yanque

Of the canyon’s dozen or so villages, Yanque- 7 kilometres west of Chivay- has the prettiest and liveliest main square with a church; The Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, its ornate baroque-mestizo facade has an almost churrigueresque look. Also on the plaza is the excellent Museo Yanque, 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.

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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. The 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.

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Cañon del Cotahuasi

While the Cañón del Colca has stolen the limelight for many years, it is actually this remote canyon, 200 kilometres 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 3500 metres. While the depths of the ravine are only accessible to experienced river runners, the rest of the fertile valley is also rich in striking scenery and trekking opportunities. The canyon also shelters several traditional rural settlements that currently sees only a handful of adventurous travellers.

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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 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 between the two by the clothes that the women were and most notably, by 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 has the men dress up in skirts at the start of rainy season and this continues until the end of February.

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Activities

Spot unusual wildlife

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

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Gaze at ancient terraces

The landscape of the Colca Valley is not only beautiful but is also functional, for 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 growing here. Strangely, even in the harsh conditions of Colca, many other varieties of flora grow and flourish.

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Seek thrills

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

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Weather

The temperature will vary depending on where you are. In the daytime, temperatures in some parts of the valley can be warm especially when walking along one 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 daytime.

Travel tips

Colca Canyon entrance fee

All visitors to Colca Canyon must pay a 70 soles entrance fee. You can buy a 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.

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Acclimatization

Many towns of the Colca Canyon are higher in elevation than 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.

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Hotels

BELMOND LAS CASITAS DEL COLCA Address: Fundo la Curiña Avenue s/n, Colca Valley, Arequipa Retreat to a world of quiet indulgence, surrounded by the peace and serenity of the breathtaking Colca Valley This secluded hideaway and spa offers a rare opportunity to experience the traditional beauty of Peru. Slip into a gentle pace of life...

ARANWA PUEBLITO ENCANTADO DEL COLCA Address: Sallihua road s/n, Coporaque Caylloma, Arequipa Phone: (+51) 54-383850 This hotel is a dream, rich in legends, Andean and colonial traditions, and stunning scenery. It is located in the District of Coporaque on the Colca riverbank, 3 hours from the city of Arequipa. Just 10 minutes from the town...

COLCA LODGE & SPA  Located at an altitude of 3250 meters (10660 feet) above sea level, the hotel is built on the banks of the River Colca and is surrounded by hundreds of pre-Inca agricultural terraces that have been declared a Peruvian National Heritage. It's design inspired by the old pre-Inca structures, Colca Lodge employs earth, stone...