Colca Canyon Destination Guide
The beautiful Colca Valley is rich in history and tradition. It is a place where ancestral traditions still thrive in the ancient towns, while its famous canyon is one of the deepest on earth. The sun is always mild and pleasant here, and the landscape is amazing. Located in Southern Peru, the Colca Canyon plunges to a depth of 10,725 feet and is more than 100 km in length, double the depth of the Grand Canyon; although, its walls are not quite as steep. The journey to the canyon itself is spectacular. Travellers pass through rugged terrain dotted with volcanoes and believed to be inhabited only by llama and vicuna.
In the Colca Canyon, you will come across towns and villages that still look like they used to 400 years ago when they came into being.
Use this Colca Canyon Destination Guide to plan what you want to see and do during your Colca Canyon holiday. A perfect way to do this is by taking one or more of the Colca Canyon tours and activities that can be booked through our site. Each has been designed to give you the best opportunity to experience the canyon like a local. Be sure to check out some general information about travelling in Peru in our Peru Country Guide.
Things to See & Do in the Colca Canyon
Follow the links to the right or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in the Colca Canyon:
The Colca Canyon offers a variety of treks, from easy hikes that last just a day to treks that are tougher and longer. A favourite trek among visitors starts from Cabanaconde and goes down about 3,937 feet to the riverside oasis of Sangalle. Here you have a choice of three campgrounds in which to stay - Oasis, Paradise or Eden. We offer a variety of Colca Canyon tours to get you started.
Sangalle, unlike chilly Chivay, has a pleasant subtropical climate that will lull you into lounging or swimming in the pools nearby. Camping out will cost you just a few dollars a night. You can even rent a hut with makeshift beds. You can also get food in the huts or cook your own. While you are allowed to leave behind your organic trash, you will have to carry all your glass, plastic and cans when you leave.
Between May and October, you can go white water rafting on the Colca River. Apart from enjoying the fantastic scenery in the Valley of the Volcanoes, you can indulge in adventurous activities such as horseback riding, trekking, white water rafting and kayaking. Staying in any of the tiny towns around the canyon will offer you a variety of things to do in the Colca Canyon, such as relaxing in the hot springs of Chivay, visiting Coporaque, which has one of Peru's oldest churches, and visit the small town of Corire from where the Toro Muerto Petroglyphs are just a short walk away.
The town of Arequipa was built in 1540 by the Spaniards. The name of the town, meaning 'behind the mountains', was obviously inspired by the stunning landscape of the region. Arequipa, a city largely built from the white sillar rock thrown up by the volcanoes that surround it, is also known as the 'white city'. The town is picturesquely set against the background of the snow-capped volcanoes of Nevada Chachani and El Misti. Arequipa has many tourist attractions such as the magnificent Jesuit Church built in the baroque style, and the cathedral on the main square. We offer a variety of Arequipa Hotels and Arequipa Tours to get you started on your Peru holiday.
Chivay towers at about 11,919 feet and links the two flanks of the Colca Canyon via a bridge across the Colca River. The bridge, with its ancient Inca foundations, is by itself an interesting place to visit. The village of Chivay has an 18th-century church - the Nuestra Senora Asuncion. But the most well known place in the area is the Calera Thermal Springs, located about four km outside the town and a 45-minute walk away. To soak in one of the five hot pools after trekking through the Colca Canyon is a most soothing experience.
Coporaque and the Uyu Uyu Ruins
Both the Spaniards and the Incas first arrived in the village of Coporaque. One of the oldest churches in the canyon, Santiago Apóstol, is located in this small village. The church was built in 1569 and remained unaffected over the years by the many earthquakes that ruined other churches in the area. The Santiago Apóstol has a small assortment of fascinating religious artefacts. In the hills above Corporaque, you will find the remains of Uyu Uyu, an old Inca settlement. A visit to these ruins is well worth the 30-minute uphill climb from the road. Here you can see temples dedicated to the sun and moon and where you will be invited to make an offering to the Inca Gods. You can also see the ruins of an Inca settlement that was two storeys high.
The small town of Yanque, roughly ten km west of Chivay, takes life slowly and easily. The scenery is breathtaking. From here you can reach the villages on the opposite bank of the Colca River via a footbridge. The faces of saints embellish the mestizo façade of the baroque-style church in the town - the Immaculada Conception. Near Yanque is Mother Antonia's Mission, which helps the poor of the region.
The Colca region is rich in local birds in Peru such as the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus), the kestrel (Falco sparverius) and the puna tinamou (Nothroprocta pentlandii). You can see these magnificent birds fly by at quite a close range. The Colca Canyon is the natural habitat of the great Andean condor (Vultur gryphus). Worldwide efforts have been made to preserve this species. The best months for condor watching in the Andes are the dry months - June through September. During this period, the Cruz del Condor lookout is the perfect place from which to see the soaring condors.
Early morning is the best time to see the condors from the lookout, as these huge birds rely on the morning upwind to reach a high altitude before riding the wind towards the coastal areas on their hunt for food. The condor is considered sacred by the local population.
Some interesting animals in this region are the languorous big cat, the puma (Puma concolor), four kinds of South American camelids, the guanaco, vicuña and the domesticated alpaca and llama. As for vegetal species, the Colca region has the tola and ichu or Peruvian feather grass.
Various camelid species like the wild vicuna and the domesticated alpaca live in the Colca Canyon. Both these animals are prized for their fleece.
The vicuna is the most fragile and small among American camelids. The species that inhabits the high Andes almost became extinct because of its coveted fleece. Today the numbers of vicuna have increased and the fleece brings in money for local Andean communities.
This camelid species was domesticated over 2,000 years ago. Alpaca wool spawned a major textile industry in Peru. Alpaca meat is considered tasty and has a low cholesterol and fat content. This species lives in lower and more humid regions in comparison to the vicuna.
In the Colca Valley there are two different ethnic groups, the Collawua and Cabanas. The only way to differentiate them today is the shape and color of the hats of women, which are whites and flat for Collawuas, and black and rounded for Cabanas. In the past these loa ethnicities had their skulls deformed with boards to get the shape of the Apus (big mountains venerated as gods), as the Apu of Cabanas is Wualca Wualca mountain and the mountain Collawuas Collaguata. Today these two groups still live in the Colca Valley and maintain the traditional way of life.
The Andean is a living world. For the Colca Canyon locals, everything has a soul, everything lives. It is believed that not only do people live after death, but also the land that is stepped on and harvested, lightning, rivers and snowy hills all have souls. Everything is alive and must be cherished. Hence, offerings are prepared such as the chest fat of the llama or alpaca, coca leaves and whole grains of corn of different colors. Each offering has a special meaning, which depends on the color of the corn.
The Colca Valley towns are primarily agricultural, therefore, the Pachamama (Mother Earth) is the main deity and she is attached to the main ceremonies and offerings. These ceremonies of thanks to the Pachamama are very special and should only be undertaken by shamans of high rank.
The supreme expression of an offering to Pachamama is made with the blood of a living animal. The wilacha must be made with a light-colored alpaca or llama. The ceremony begins by adorning the animal with ceremonial offerings such as rattles, bells and colored fabrics. Then they put the belly of the animal oriented to the sun, make a deep cut to extract the heart, and show it to the mountains. The ceremony ends by lighting the heart on fire.
I dig irrigation ditches
The normal Colca Valley resident is a farmer and waterways are vital for the irrigation of their crops and, therefore, for food and survival. These jobs are always community based, including both the cleaning of ditches and ponds. Each community must work together to clean the ditch and pond to maintain the water which irrigates their farm. The participation is mandatory, though it is not considered as obligation. Instead it is a contribution to the people. More than a job, it is a party! The people will dance and drink in appreciation of the water that flows from the mountains.
This is a family tradition with the first haircut of the child. The parents choose a sponsor who is responsible for taking the first snip of the hair of the child. In exchange for this privilege, the sponsor gives a good gift and becomes a friend of the family. All the family takes turns during the first-cut hair, which must also be accompanied by the appropriate gift.
This is the act of handing over a girl for marriage. The first step is meeting the parents, where young people express their mutual love and interest in marriage. The second part is the Servinacuy, an assessment of both parties and their roles in a realistic living situation (before marriage). It is generally agreed that young people begin to live in the house of the bride, the man is evaluated in their dedication to work and family. As for the woman, they look at the care given to children and her partner. After a while, they move into the house of the man's parents. And only after having had the experience of living in two households are they accepted by the two families. Where there is acceptance, both parties talk about the wedding ceremony. One point in favor of this evaluation is that of coexistence arises pregnancy.
The Spanish conquistadors were the ones who brought this event. This festival has become perpetual in the Andes for its themes of feasting and merriment. The carnival is a time for visits of relatives and neighbors, and a feast of youth, joy and love. The young people come together around a good meal and chicha to celebrate youth, health and respect for their peers, with acceptance and blessing of their elders. People sing songs in tribute to the Pachamama, fertility and sex.
Las fiestas de la Cruz
During the month of May, celebrations are in honor of the holy cross, the symbol of Christianity. In the valley of Colca, the cross on which Christ died takes on different dimensions than in other towns and cities across the country and the world. The cross is the symbol and model of the good husband. So this month, and especially the 3rd of May, wives honor their husbands with each wife asking the cross that her husband remains healthy and happy. Young girls matchmaking, ask the Santa Cruz that the next year will send an exemplary husband.
THE TOURIST TICKET IS A RIGTH THAT A TOURIST HAS TO VISIT THE AGUADA BLANCA CIRCUIT, COLCA VALLEY AND VOLCANOES VALLEY.
This ticket you used to visit the main attractions like Uyu Uyu and the viewpoint of Cruz del Condor, or for adventure tourism like rafting and Trekking Colca Canyon.
This Tourist Ticket has been established by COLCA AND DISTRICTS AUTONOMUS AUTHORITHY according to the law 24521-28537 and has a goal the Promotion, an Improvement of the tourist infrastructure, activity that has been conducted since its validity.
- Foreigners: S/.35.00
- National: S/.17.50
- Children and students: S/.3.50