Colca Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Peru and South America. You don’t even have to visit the canyon to know why it receives many tourists. Any random picture of the Colca Canyon on the internet will give you an idea of how spectacular it is. The scenery can only be described as mind-blowing and everyone who has ever wandered to Colca came back with fond memories.
If you are planning to visit South America soon or sometime in the future, consider adding Colca Canyon to your itinerary. To help you prepare for what to expect in what is the world’s second-deepest Canyon, you’ll find facts about the Colca Canyon in this article. Here we go.
Colca Canyon’s Location
The Colca Canyon is located in the Andean mountains in southern Peru, about 160 km from Arequipa city. The easy accessibility of the canyon from Arequipa is one of the two reasons why many tourists flock to the canyon. The second reason? Colca Canyon is simply mesmerizing.
You can go to Colca Canyon independently or take a tour. If you plan to go alone, you’ll take a bus from the city of Arequipa to Cabanaconde. Travel time is around 5 hours and buses leave about every two hours, so getting a bus is very easy.
If you want to take a tour, there are several Colca Canyon tour operators in Arequipa. You can research some operators beforehand or ask around, especially from your hotel or hostel staff, when you get to Arequipa.
Colca Canyon’s Depth
Colca Canyon is generally considered to be the world’s second-largest canyon with an overwhelming depth of approximately 3,400m at its deepest point. To put this depth into perspective for you, Colca is nearly twice as deep as the popular US Grand Canyon.
The title of the world’s deepest canyon belongs to Colca’s own sister canyon, the Cotahuasi Canyon which is also near the Arequipa. If you have enough time on your trip, you can check out both canyons.
Colca Canyon’s Landscape
The landscape of the Colca Canyon is mainly volcanic in origin, and the canyon was dug by the Colca River. At the summit, the canyon is poorly defined due to the numerous snow-capped volcanoes.
You’ll find several unspoiled Andean villages and pre-Inca terracing on the canyon. The residents stay true to the ways of their ancestors and rely on the canyon for food. The several colors of the crops grown by the villagers are beautiful to look at from a distance. Foot trails can be found within the canyon.
The incredible depth and length of the Colca Canyon mean the landscape is diverse. From the terraced farmland discussed above to list valley steps and tropical-like vegetation at the bottom of the Canyon, the landscape is nothing short of stunning.
Colca Canyon’s History
It was believed that the Colca Valley was once inhabited by hunters and gatherers some 6,000 years ago. However, there is little evidence of the inhabitants of the valley until Cabanas and the Collaguas arrived at the valley about 1,000 years old. There are a number of archaeological remains from these cultures.
The Collaguas and Cabanas constructed agricultural terraces and irrigation systems to water their crops. They would later perfect their farming techniques when the Incans arrived in the late 14th century.
Today, descendants of the Collaguas and Cabanas still live in the valley maintaining age-old agricultural terraces. So, as you can see, there’s a lot of history behind the Colca Canyon.
Animals and Plants of the Colca Canyon
Several animal and plant life can be found in the Colca Canyon. However, visitors are always specifically interested in seeing the Andean condors (Vultur gryphus), the majestic birds that rule the skies of the Colca Canyon. Every day, the Andean Condors emerge from their nests and circle the canyon to look for food. And if you are lucky enough, you might be able to spot them. When I was there, a young condor flew only a few meters above my head!
Did you know that the Andean Condor is one of the world’s largest flying birds? Their enormous size means they prefer to live in windy areas that allow them to glide in the air with little effort.
The Andean Condor is an endangered species and there’s a worldwide effort to rescue them. Fortunately, the Colca Canyon is one of the last refuges for them.
Other bird species in the area include the world’s largest hummingbird, which is aptly named the Giant Hummingbird, the Chilean Flamingo, and the Mountain Caracara.
Notable animal species include the Vicuna, chinchilla, fox (zorrino), and deer.
Outdoor Activities and Tourism at Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is a trekker’s paradise. There are several trails for people of different experience and energy levels. If you don’t feel like exerting yourself much, you can arrange short trips to some of the viewpoints. However, if you are physically fit and looking for a challenge, you can organize day or multi-day hiking trips to the volcanic peaks and the green valleys around. The diverse landscape of the canyon makes trekking and hiking more interesting.
Colca River Rafting
Thanks to the Colca River and a couple of other rivers in the area with stunning and challenging white waters, rafting is a popular activity in the area. Whether you are new to rafting or have some experience, you’ll find river rapids appropriate for your level of experience.
March to December is generally considered the best time for rafting in Colca Canyon as the water levels are higher during this period. Read our guide to rafting to learn more about the adventure sport as well as what to pack.
Relax In a Hot Spring
There are several hot springs in the Colca Canyon area where you can go for a warm soak and relax. Some of the best thermal baths are within the property of the luxurious and exclusive Colca Lodge Spa & Hot Springs. To have access to their thermal springs, you’ll have to lodge at the spa.
There are also other private and easily more accessible thermal baths in the area. You only need to pay an entrance fee to access the springs and enjoy it as much as you want.
What do you think about exploring the landscapes of the Colca Canyon on horseback? Sounds great, right? Tourists have immense fun traversing the mountain landscapes of the Colca Canyon on the back of a horse. Several horse riding tours are available for tourists of all ages and levels.
Mountain biking is fun. It’s not only a great exercise but it also improves your focus and allows you to enjoy fantastic views. Adventure and adrenaline lovers will relish the chance to explore the beauty of the Colca Canyon on a trusty mountain bike. It’s important you are very comfortable on a bike before attempting to go mountain biking. There are several mountain bike tours available so finding one won’t be a problem.
4 x 4
If you want a more tailored and personalized experience, you should consider exploring in a private 4×4. See the beauty of the canyon at your own pace, sight the condors as they glide across the sky, stop in the villages and learn about their way of life, and sip some Piscos in front of incredible scenery.
You’ll find operators that rent 4×4 to tourists. Some may even provide a private guide that will point things out to you and educate you about the history of the canyon.
The several rivers in the area mean padding enthusiasts can have fun on a good ol’ kayak. Due to the water conditions, you are best off exploring in a sea kayak. And that’s mostly what you’ll be offered by operators that rent vessels to tourists. Remember to follow all safety protocols such as wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) and a helmet.
That’s it for this article! I hope you enjoyed reading it and learned a thing or two about this natural wonder that is the Colca Canyon. Hopefully, you are now convinced that it fully deserves to be part of your Peru itinerary and should not be missed!