Strolling atop the Colca Canyon

You can trek the Colca Canyon in Peru with a guide. It’s easy to join a group from Arequipa and most hikes are 3 days. From the looks of it, it is rugged walking with little water. I’m an outdoorsy type, but that’s simply not in the cards for this “grand tour.” Luckily, our guide arranged an hour stroll along the edge of the canyon.

The parts that are green, you can be sure are irrigated. This is a dry area.
We had a lone condor flying above us during our hike.
I was surprised to see a few blooms on the cactus. The rainy season isn’t until late December. But then I don’t know much about deserts.
This is a great view of a fairly deep section of the canyon, though not the deepest. If you look very closely in the middle of the photo, you can see a walking trail (which shows mostly white) and below it a very small village. There’s no road to this place and it takes about 3 days of hiking to get there. No electricity, either.
The views are so far, but you see little wildlife, and the vegetation is very dry. Across the canyon, the mountains are even higher and are colder. You can just see the white ice at the very top of the range, just to left of center.
In addition to Spanish, Peruvians also speak Quechua (the language of the Incas) and Aymara, a pre-Inca language. One of the most important pre-Inca civilizations were the Wari, and the few people living here are believed to be descended from them.
This is our guide, who was extremely knowledgeable about the area. I have a rather unusual tour, stitched together from a series of existing area tours. That means I was passed off to a new group and tour guide almost daily. It was a bit uncomfortable and I’m not sure I’ll do it again.
That green patch is a small farming community. You can only get there by hiking.
This condor followed us the entire time!
This one is an adult. You can tell because the wings are black and the head is white. Juveniles are mostly brown.
If you go much higher than this, even the cactus won’t grow.
There are many small caves in this area and a few have been investigated. Archeological sites include the caves of Mollepunko above Callalli where rock art (said to be 6,000 years old) depicts the domestication of the alpaca.
This overlook is simply amazing. And it just happens to be directly across from the location where a young man’s body was found, months after he fell to his death in 2001. He was hiking with his girlfriend, and neither had experience nor adequate equipment.
This is a dangerous place and you need to be an expert climber to tackle these mountains. There are many companies that give guided hiking tours, but they are not all reliable. Few do a good job of making sure the participants are properly outfitted for the conditions.

You can just barely see the river below.
It’s deeper than the Grand Canyon, it it looks completely different to me.

Notice the little fence. Most of the area doesn’t even have that much. It would be very easy to fall here.

The obligatory photo to prove I was there.
The “cloud” is the smoke from an erupting volcano. This is no walk in the park!
Don’t Touch!

Colca Canyon

On the second day of my Grand Tour of Peru, we visited the Colca Canyon. Until recently, it was considered the deepest in the world.

According to Wikipedia: Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru, located about 160 kilometres (99 mi) northwest of Arequipa. It is Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination with about 120,000 visitors annually. With a depth of 3,270 metres (10,730 ft), it is one of the deepest in the world. Actually, it’s the deepest. Some people think it is the second deepest in Peru after the Cotahuasi Canyon and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. But it’s the deepest. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley with pre-Inca roots, and towns founded in Spanish colonial times, still inhabited by people of the Collagua and the Cabana cultures. The local people maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces.

Colca Canyon proudly bears the title of being the second-deepest canyon in the world. Its stunning scenery and the opportunity to spot the Andean condor soaring in the blue skies above adds to the charm of this unique destination.

Chivay is the main village and the linking point between the two sides of Colca Canyon, and is where most tours start in earnest. It is also home to a lively market and shops selling high-quality local handicrafts, and best of all, just a short walk out of town are the hot springs of La Calera – perfect for a relaxing soak after a day of exploring. Some of my tour mates chose to go for a soak in the springs, but I didn’t–I’d not brought a bathing suit!

Unlike many canyons, Colca is fertile and inhabited, with extensive pre-Columbian terraces and unspoiled, traditional Andean villages. The Collagua and Cabana peoples who lived here for at least 2000 years, from 800BC onward, built an ingenious terracing system on the valley walls that collects snowmelt from the nearby volcanoes. To one side, the smoking Sabancaya Volcano looms at 19,606ft (5976m), one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas, but don’t worry, the most you will see of an eruption is a billowing ash cloud. While alongside is the more docile, but higher Ampato Volcano at a colossal 20,630ft (6288m), and where the famous ‘Ice Mummy’ was discovered.

The River Colca begins high in the Andes and descends from 11,483ft (3500m) above sea level at Chivay, the first settlement on the edge of Colca Canyon, to reach 7218ft (2200m) at Cabanaconde, the small, last village in the canyon.

We stopped in the morning at a small village, first.

Me, high above the Colca Canyon. Notice the terraces. They are pre-Inca, but still farmed today.

No passable roads existed between Arequipa and Chivay until the 1940s, when a road was completed to serve the silver and copper mines of the region. More roads were built in the 1970s and 1980s by the Majes Hydroelectric Project, a program to divert water from the Colca River to irrigate crops in the Majes region. Access today is usually via Arequipa.

These carins are supposed to bring good luck.

The highway takes you to a lookout point over one of the deepest parts of the canyon, Mirador Cruz del Condor (the cross of the Condor), the best location to spot the legendary condor. The Andean condor is a national symbol not only of Peru, but of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions. Photos of this in my next post!