Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon, Peru
3,501 meters/11,488 feet
Canon de Colca is a fabulous canyon located about 160 kilometers/100 miles northwest of Arequipa in southern Peru.

The Colca Canyon was largely inaccessible until the 1970s, when a road from Arequipa was built as part of the Majes irrigation project, which diverts water from the Colca River to the agricultural area of Majes.

Colca Canyon is a beautiful part of Peru. It offers stunning scenery and a great opportunity to see Andean Condors in the wild.

Condors soaring high above Canon de Colca, Peru  
Activities and Attractions
Andean condors are best seen when they are hunting early in the morning and in the afternoon and can be seen at fairly close range. The Cruz del Condor is a popular tourist stop at the rim for viewing. On the rim you will find Indian market stalls that sell handicrafts and you can peer over the edge and see the river over a kilometer below, while cliffs tower above.

Additionally, there are several natural hot springs - the most popular of which is the La Calera.

The depth of the canyon, officially 4,100 meters/13,000 feet, is deceptive, as it is measured from the highest peak in the mountain range that rises high above the canyon. The descent to the bottom of the Colca Canyon is about 3,000 feet - compared to a hike of approximately 4,500 feet from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. A caution to your legs: there are few switchbacks on the Colca Canyon trails.

Mountain biking is available along the dirt roads and, for the adventurous, a rafting trip on the Rio Colca provides white water thrills and incredible views of the canyon wall.

This area is one of the most volcanically active in Peru, and Vulcan Sabancay, which erupted in the 1980s, can usually be seen smoking. 

The Colca River runs for over 60 miles through the canyon and the average distance from the peaks of the mountains to the river below is 10,200 feet. Until 2004, it was thought that Canon de Colca was the deepest canyon in the world. Then Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet was explored and surveyed. There is another deep canyon in Peru, Cotahuasi, also close to Arequipa. Arguably, Cotahuasi is also deeper than Colca.

The depth of the canyon from the Cruz del Condor to the river is approximately 5,000 feet. The deepest point of the canyon is beyond Cabanaconde, close to the Valley of the Volcanoes. The Colca River begins high in the Andes at Condorama Crucero Alto and ends in the Pacific Ocean. It changes names to Majes and then Camana. Running between the small villages of Chivay to Carbanaconde, this area defines the deep Colca Canyon.

Temperatures vary greatly from the cool high desert to warmer tropical climes. Colca Canyon can be visited anytime but is best after the rainy season which generally finishes in April.

The existing flora in the Colca Canyon includes about 300 species, which are variously used as medicine, fuel, in dyeing and as a nutritious food for both wild and farm animals. The plant species consist of three groups: trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. These exist in different plant communities according to the altitude at which they are found.

In the area of the Colca Canyon species are varied and includes cactus that grows and develops more easily in low areas near the river Colca and are locally known as: Chiri-Chiris and Corotillas. Shrubs grow in abundance in the valley. 

Wildlife is extensive and diverse and includes 32 species of mammals, 5 carnivores, over 130 species of birds, rodents, amphibians and reptiles.

Along with the majestic Condor, known as the king of birds, there is also a variety of species of birds such as eagles, hawks and eaglets and yanavicos. It is here that you will find the giant hummingbird, the largest in the world at 23 cm long including the thick 3.5 cm long beak. On the highlands of the canyon you can find two species of wild cameloids, the guanaco, whose herds find food in the semi desert regions. The tarukas are unique mammals from the high Andes. In dry periods they descend to the crops near the villages at the bottom of the canyon in search of food. The white-tailed deer is found in the lower parts of the Colca Valley especially in and around the towns of Huambo and Cabanaconde.

Among the most important carnivores in the Colca valley are the puma, or Osjollo, the Andean fox, recognized as the most significant predator of the Andes, the skunk or añas, and the weasel known as Achocalla.

Unlike the Grand Canyon, reptiles and amphibians are rather scarce, only three amphibians and five reptiles make their homes here.

The viscachas are very abundant in this region especially in rocky areas of the high Andes. Their appearance is quite similar to a rabbit, but with a long and hairy tail.

Llamas, alpacas and sheep are everywhere, if you are lucky you may see a vicuna, a wild and protected species similar to the alpaca but which sports a distinctive white hairy mane.

Originally, the area was inhabited by the Collaguas and the Cabanas. The Incas also occupied the area for a short time. The Collaguas were an industrious and prosperous people, and the terraces throughout the canyon indicate their agricultural and architectural skills. When the Spanish occupied the valley in 1540, Viceroy Toledo ordered that the population, which had been dispersed throughout the valley, be gathered into fourteen villages, which survive today. This made it easier to control and taxes the inhabitants.

The Incas conquered the Colca region in the middle of the 15th century. The Inca general Mayta Capac established his base in Coporaque, where he built a copper palace. The palace was destroyed by the Spaniard Gonzalo Pizarro in 1548 who used the copper to make harness parts for his cavalry. The rest of the copper was used to cast the bells for the village church, which still exist.