The starkly dramatic Colca Canyon was carved by the Colca river in southern Peru thousands of years ago. The first human settlers arrived here in pre-Inca times, and stored grain in mud and stone “colcas,” hence the name of the valley, river and canyon. Today, the Colca Valley is deservedly one of the most visited destinations in the country.
What is the Colca Canyon?
Many tourists travel to Colca Canyon to admire the truly stunning topography and natural features of the region, which can be accessed from numerous hiking trails. To give a sense of the scale – the canyon is twice as deep as the American Grand Canyon. Taking in vistas from rocky outlooks that appear to touch the clouds, or from a raft navigating the river below is genuinely awe-inspiring. Dare-devils may want to try zip-lining or traversing the many suspension bridges that hang perilously over deep crevasses.
The Canyon is home to the Andean condor, known as the “eternity bird.” These stately creatures, with their 7-foot wing span, are just one of the glorious avian species native to the canyon. If they’re lucky, nature buffs may also catch a sighting of the giant hummingbird or a vicuña (wild relative to the alpaca).
Visitors can catch a glimpse of traditional Peruvian culture by visiting towns and villages along the river – from hot spring-rich Chivay to sky-high Callalli with its nearby archeological sites and rock paintings. Secluded outposts and settlements can be reached on foot or by mule, where efforts are rewarded with a home cooked meal, or a display of handmade embroidery and fabrics made from the wool of the ubiquitous alpaca. In tiny, picturesque Yanque the wititi dance is performed daily by traditionally costumed villagers descended from the native Quechua.
The rich history of the people who settled in the Colca valley is inescapable. Pre-inca settlers coaxed the steep hills into terraces where quinoa and corn are still grown and alpaca still graze. Ornate cathedrals dating from the Spanish colonial era still dominate the central squares of many small towns along the river. And local folk still display their tribal heritage by decorating their hats – embroidery on felt for the western Cabanas; lace on straw for the eastern Collaguas. Largely isolated from the rest of Peru until mining roads were finally excavated in the 1940s, the Colca Canyon has a bit of that Shangri-La feeling of suspended magic.
To plan your Peru adventure, get in touch with Alpaca Expeditions. Alpaca Expeditions is a Peruvian travel operator with a main office in located in Cusco, Peru, and we are the top-rated tour operators of the Inca Trail.