All about the Colca canyon
What is it?
The Colca is a valley and canyon located in the middle of the Andes mountain range. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world, reaching 4,160 meters deep (up to twice as deep as 'The Grand Canyon' in the United States). Its rugged geography was formed more than 150 million years ago. A great variety of flora and fauna settled there, where the presence of the Andean condor, the largest flying bird in the world, stands out.
Currently, in the Colca valley and canyon it is the second most visited tourist attraction in Peru (only after Machu Picchu). During the trip, the visitor visits Andean towns with a lot of tradition such as Coporaque, Yanque, Maca, Chivay and more. The route includes a hiking trail and the option of relaxing in thermal baths or doing adventure sports. Tours depart from the city of Arequipa.
Where is it?
The Colca canyon is located in the heart of the Andes mountain range, in southern Peru. It belongs to the town of Chivay, Caylloma province, Arequipa region.
Geography and height
The highest point is the snowy Ampato, located at an altitude of 6,288 meters. The lowest point is the Andamayo, at an elevation of 970 meters. The entire Colca valley occupies an area of 100 square kilometers. It is located 165 kilometers from the Arequipa city (and 40 kilometers from the town of Chivay).
How to get there?
The starting point is the city of Arequipa, from where you must take a transport in the direction of the town of Chivay (trip of 3 hours, approximately). The town of Chivay, the capital of the province of Caylloma is where the largest offer of nearby accommodations is. From there you must walk to get to the Colca canyon.
Hundreds of years ago the Colca Valley was inhabited by various Andean cultures, from small pre-Inca towns to the current peoples that took many of the Andean customs as their own. The first traces of man in the Colca date back to 6,000 BC, the time of hunter-gatherers of camelids. In 900 BC, the Cabanas and Collaguas human groups settled there. The first great civilization that built platforms and enclosures was the Wari culture (600 AD - 1200 AD), who preceded the Inca civilization.
The Incas, who arrived in the Colca Valley in the 15th century, improved and expanded agricultural terraces and irrigation systems. The Incas also created roads and colcas (food stores). Then, in the middle of the 16th century, the Spanish conquered the territory by imposing their laws and subjecting the local population to the 'encomienda' work system. As a trace are the colonial churches of baroque style. Since the 1970s, the number of visitors has increased. Today, the Colca Canyon is the second most visited tourist attraction in Peru.
The Colca canyon has an Andean ecosystem, which is inhabited by different species of trees and plants, such as: queñua forests, ichu (also known as puna grass), bofedales, yaretas, cacti, tolares, the Raimondi puya, among others.
Like the ecosystems, the fauna of the Colca canyon is varied. Currently 231 species of vertebrates are registered. Some species stand out, such as: the Andean condor, the parihuana, the llama, the alpaca, the vicuña, the taruca, the Andean fox, the vizcacha, the peregrine falcon, the ajoya, among others. Some of these species are in danger of extinction and a vulnerable situation.
The flight of the condor
In the Colca canyon you will find one of the most famous spectacles of nature in Peru: the flight of the condor. At the 'Cruz del Condor' viewpoint it is possible to appreciate the flight of up to 20 of these birds, considered the symbol of the Andes Mountains.
The Andean condor is considered the largest flying bird in the world. It has a height of 1.3 meters. With outstretched wings, it reaches an extension of 3.5 meters. It has a weight of between 11 to 13 kilos. They feed mainly on carrion. They live between 50 to 75 years. For the Inca culture, they were sacred birds that communicated the world of the gods (hanan pacha) with the earthly world (kay pacha).
Throughout the Colca canyon, several Andean towns full of history settled over the years, such as: Yanque, Achoma, Maca, Pinchollo, Cabanaconde, Coporaque, Ichupampa, Lari, Madrigal and Chivay (capital of the Caylloma province). In addition to the beautiful landscapes (such as the Ampato, Coropuna, Solimana and Huallahualca mountains), these towns are full of history, archaeological remains and, above all, many traditions.
The Colca canyon
The Colca canyon has a depth of 4,160 meters, making it the second deepest in the world (only after China's Yarlung Tsangpo, which is 5,590 meters deep). Research indicates that the canyon was formed about 150 million years ago. There are inclinations of up to 60º. In its surroundings you can see stone forests. Also noteworthy are the caves or grottos where ceramic remains, petroglyphs, fossils and even human remains were found.
During the trip to the Colca canyon you can do different adventure sports such as rock climbing, cycling, canoeing, but above all, hiking trails. The vast majority of these walks last 3 days and 2 nights and begin in the town of Cabanaconde. The sections are full of spectacular scenery. It crosses rivers, lagoons, Andean towns and viewpoints.
The towns surrounding the Colca canyon have a supply of thermal baths that originated thousands of years ago as a result of the volcanoes that dominate the Andes mountain range. The thermal baths of the towns of Chivay (the La Calera baths), Yanque the Chacapi baths), Callalli (the Inca baths) and Caylloma (the Coñeymayo baths) stand out. The waters of these natural attractions have a temperature that varies from 36ºC. up to 50ºC and have elements that relieve muscular and rheumatic pain such as: calcium, zinc, iron and others. The price of admission to these places varies from 1 Peruvian sol to 15 Peruvian soles.
How much does the visit cost?
There are several types of tours to the Colca canyon. The most popular alternative is the 1-day service (Full Day), which costs approximately US $ 25 per tourist and includes: transportation, breakfast, and tour guide. This tour does not include entrance to the canyon, which costs an additional 70 Peruvian soles (approximately 22 US dollars).
Tours of 2 or more days (even those that include hiking trails) cost between US $ 35-50 per person. There is also the option to go on your own. To do this, you must take public transport from the city of Arequipa to Chivay and buy the ticket at the entrance to the Colca canyon.
The climate in the Colca canyon is cold. The rainy season is from November to April. On those days the temperature reaches a minimum of 4ºC. (39.2ºF) and a maximum of 24ºC. (75.2 ° F). The dry season is from May to October. On those days the minimum temperature drops to -8ºC. (17.6ºF) while it can go up to 20ºC. (68 ° F). Even so, this tourist attraction can be visited every day of the year.
When should i go?
The best time of the year to visit the Colca canyon is during the dry season (from May to October) because in those months the rains are not frequent, so it is a good time to take walks in the open air. However, for some visitors, it is pleasant to go during the rainy season (mainly January, February and March) as the landscapes turn greener.
What should i bring?
- Light clothes for the day and warm clothes for the night.
- Bathing suit (if you decide to visit the thermal baths).
- A good camera (to capture the flight of the condors
- Hat or cap.
- Poncho for rain (in case of rain).
- Snacks and rehydrating water.
- A backpack.
- Cash and documents.
Photos of the Colca canyon
In the area that makes up the valley and the Colca canyon, there are vestiges of primitive cultures that inhabited this geographical area, such as: the Sumbay and Toro Muerto petroglyphs (ethnic groups prior to the 'Collahuas'). These images show dancers, animal heads, condors, and other strange figures.
In 1630 a silver, copper and gold mine was discovered in the Colca valley area. This caused an exploitation and interest in this Andean area. Then, in approximately 1920, the aviators Robert Shippee and George Jonson made an expedition in the place making known to the world, the immense depth of the canyon.
Tips for your visit
The Colca Canyon is a rugged geography tourist destination that needs to be visited in the company of a tour guide. Tourists who go on their own can get one at the entrance door. Remember that you can suffer accidents if you dare to brave the ravines and steep roads of this place.
Due to the high altitude it is common that during the trip to the Colca canyon, tourists feel some of the symptoms of altitude sickness (nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath when doing physical activity). To reduce these symptoms, it is recommended to drink plenty of water and acclimatize to the geography of the city of Arequipa, at least 1 or 2 days before.