Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 11: Cañon del Colca

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August 21st-23rd (days 27-29): Cañon del Colca

Some 50km north of Arequipa runs the river Colca, which has cut a canyon through the landscape that was long thought to be the deepest in the world with a maximum depth of 3191m. Recently the nearby Cañon del Cotahuasi was determined to be even deeper though, and online I red about a canyon in Tibet which probably beats both of them. A visit to the Cañon del Colca is a popular two-day trip from Arequipa. Based on the recommendation of someone I'd met along the way I booked a 3-day tour with the agency Colca Trek without giving it much thought. I immediately regretted it as it turned out we'd just be using public transport rather than having a van or jeep drive us around. I was in a group with a French guy (Leo) and Belgian girl (Sabine) who were colleagues, and a British couple whose names I forgot.

Day 1

We first made a long bus ride to Chivay, and then took another bus through the Colca valley towards the village Cabanaconde. The valley was fantastically beautiful, but since we were on a public bus we didn't make any stops. On the return way I made sure I was on the right side of the bus (the northern side) so I could at least make drive-by pictures, they're at the bottom.

The indigenous women of the Colca region all wear intricately decorated traditional clothing, check it out.
Woman in Chivay
Women in Cabanaconde

Cabanaconde lies near the deepest part of the canyon and would be our starting point.
The landscape near Cabanaconde. These fields end at the edge of the Colca canyon
The church of Cabanaconde

After lunch in the village we set out on our hike. Right beyond the village lies the edge of the canyon, which can be clearly seen on this pic.
Walking towards the edge of the canyon

Standing at the edge, we got this amazing sight. I reproduced it by stitching four vertical pictures together - click it!

Across the canyon you can see two villages next to each other against the opposite side, and one more on the top right. There are about a dozen more such villages out of view, and the amazing thing is that seen from this side of the canyon they seem to be laid out below and above each other on a vertical map.
Another stitched-together view across the canyon
Here you can see more of the villages.

The villages in this part of the canyon are only connected to the outer world through Cabanaconde. There is no electricity down there (they're working on it though) and the only mode of transport is on foot. Goods are all brought in from above, and to go anywhere the locals must first get to the bottom of the canyon on their side and climb out of it on this side - a 1000m climb. This situation is very similar to that of the Khumbu (Everest) region in Nepal, except here things have to be carried down to the villages by llamas and there they have to be carried up by yaks.

We first walked sideways along the canyon wall for a while, descending slightly.
This gives an idea of how tiny things on the other side looked
Leo and Sabine had spotted a condor above
The lower part of the opposite canyon wall.
On the left the oasis at the bottom of the canyon, above it to the right dried up terraces. We`d visit both the next day.
The abandoned terraces.
A village way down by the Colca river.

Then we took a path that zigzagged straight down to the bottom of the canyon.
Sabine and Leo descending towards the river. You can see the bridge that crosses it.
A look across the river.

After crossing the bridge we walked along the other side of the river for a while towards the village where we'd spend the night. Down here vegetation was a lush green. We'd descended over a 1000m from Cabanaconde, which effectively brought us in a different climate.
Village at the canyon floor.

Day 2

In the morning we first walked to the two adjacent villages we'd seen in front of us when we stood on the edge of the canyon the day before. Then we passed the dry terraces and descended to the oasis on the canyon floor, both of which we also saw from above (see pics above).
View along Colca canyon
Arriving in the first village, you can also see the other is ahead of us
These are alpacas
Walking on beyond the villages
Looking down on some fields
The edge of the canyon, from where we began our descent the day before
The path continues
The Colca river
The two villages we just visited
On the dry terraces
There`s the oasis
We had to pass this bridge to get there

In the oasis we had lunch and spent a few hours by one of the pools.
Chilling in the oasis

Then it was time to climb out of the canyon, a 1000m climb which normally takes about 2h30. Our guide said he'd done it in 1h20 once when a tourist had challenged him for a race, and since I wanted some action after all the resting I set out really fast to try and beat that time.
The path out of the canyon
Below is the Colca streaming around the oasis
View during the climb

I think I made it halfway in about half an hour but then I was totally exhausted and stumbled the rest of the way, arriving after almost 1h40 with Leo just a few minutes behind. After a little rest we found our way to Cabanaconde through fields and gardens. In our hotel we were rewarded for our vertical rush with a hot shower, while the rest of the group which came an hour behind us had no more hot water by the time they got back :)

Day 3

In the early morning we took a bus from Cabanaconde to Cruz del Condor, the best place to see condors.
View towards the canyon from the bus

We sat on a rock at Cruz del Condor for an hour so and saw quite a few condors circling below us, and it was great to follow them through my binoculars. They never got to our height though, which was unlucky. I heard from other people who came here that the condors soared right over their heads.
Cruz del Condor. The condors have their nests against the canyon wall we`re on, and in the morning fly around looking for prey.
We sat on this rock which has the best view
Here`s a condor flying around. This picture was made by Sabine.

I tried to make a movie of the condors flying but only got this very short one...

From Cruz del Condor we took a bus to Chivay at the other end of the Colca valley. This time I made sure I was sitting on the right side of the bus to enjoy the beautiful landscape and make lots of pictures. I still can't understand why the tours just drive through this fantastic landscape twice without making any stops, especially considering the hours wasted sitting by pools.

In Chivay we swam in a pool filled by a hot spring, had lunch and then took a bus back to Arequipa. This bus ride saw us climb to nearly 5000m through more beautiful landscapes...

So that concluded the tour. I wasn't very happy with it; I'd recommend doing the two-day tour with private transport or just going on your own steam, which is easy enough.

<< Part 10: El Misti    -   Back to Index   -    Part 12: South Coast of Peru >>

Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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