The Colca Canyon is located 160 km or about 100 miles northwest from Arequipa City; about 3 hours and 45 minutes by bus. It is an enjoyable ride where one can see pre-Inca agricultural terraces still being used by local farmers who practice the same lifestyle as their ancestors. Along the ride to the Canyon magnificent colonial Spanish churches and cities are still standing while farmers sell their products on the streets and roads. The canyon can be visited any time of the year but it is best during the dry season from June to August.
The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Colorado, but its walls are not as vertical.
The canyon is the third most visited tourist destination in Peru and in 2010 received more than 160,000 visitors. At a depth of 10,725 feet, it is one of the deepest canyons in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and second deepest in Peru after the Cotahuasi Canyon. Its walls are best viewed from the river by kayak or raft but you can also hike inside or bike along the roads. If the canyon is accessed by rafting one can observe the geological characteristics and the green valley at its deepest.
People have been living deep in the canyon since they arrived in the Andes, they left ruins of storage houses along the walls of the canyon where they stored food, these early settlers also left paintings, tools and utensils. The native population that inhabit the area are descendants of the Collagua Indians who have been living in the region for thousands of years keeping the same lifestyle as their ancestors. They live along the edge of the Canyon and rely on the river for water. Their traditions and clothing are unique as they have not been affected by modern civilization. Their diet and crops are the same since thousands of years ago, basically native crops such as potatoes, quinoa, corn and meat from llama or guinea pigs.
The Colca Canyon was formed by the erosion of volcanic rock caused by the Colca River along the line of a fault on the crust of the earth. Regardless of its depth the Colca Canyon is considered geologically young. Its location near the Valley of the volcanoes, an area of about 40 volcanoes, means that it is a geologically active area. The largest volcanoes are Sabancayo and Ampato.
The Colca River originates deep within the high rugged Andes at the Condorama Crucero Alto pouring downstream for more than 200 kilometers before it reaches the 10,725 feet deep canyon. The first scientific expedition was in 1931 by George Johnson and Rober Shipee from the American Geographical Society. It was forgotten until the 1980s when roads, leading to a hydroelectric project, were constructed. This led to a group of Polish rafters to rediscover the canyon making the first descent below Cabanaconde, since then the Colca River has become famous among the international paddlers.
The Colca River is famous for its world class kayaking
As the river flows downstream it forms a valley that has been cultivated since pre-Inca times making agriculture and livestock raising the main economic activities of the area for thousands of years. As the valley starts deepening agricultural terraces become steeper. The Canyon reaches its greatest depth at the region of Huambo.
The Colca offers a unique ecosystem. Its valley is home to many species of Andean animals such as llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicuñas, pumas. The most magnificent bird to fly over the canyon is the Condor, which has become an endangered species, the Colca is one of its last refuges. These magnificent birds can be seen mainly at dawn and dusk from the “Condor Cross” or Cruz del Condor.
Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus