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The Colca Canyon is a huge gorge in southern Peru, about 105 km northwest of Arequipa. Reaching a depth of around 3,270 meters (10,730 feet), it is among the deepest canyons in the world, along with the nearby Cotahuasi Canyon. To put that in perspective, the Colca Canyon is almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. On this 2-day Colca Canyon tour, you’ll see the 70km-long canyon, which was formed over millennia as the Colca River slowly made its way through the landscape. It is a spectacular view, flanked on one side by the Cordillera de Chila and on the other by Mount Hualca Hualca, Sabancaya and Ampato. And in the distance you can see the active stratovolcano Mount Ubinas and the beautiful Mount Coropuna. The canyon and the entire Colca Valley area were home to three ethnic groups, the Collaguas, the Cabanas, and the Ccaccatapay, whose descendants still live here. Settlements here date back to pre-Inca times, with a scattering of towns from the Spanish colonization period. The region is also home to a diverse flora and fauna, the most famous being the Andean condors, the world’s largest flying birds, which pounce on thermal currents rising along the canyon walls. They share the canyon with kestrels, peregrine falcons, Andean tinamous and more, making the Colca a paradise for bird watchers and hikers. Experience Andean culture on this tour to the Colca Canyon!
After breakfast at your hotel, we pick you up at your hotel to leave the White City of Arequipa behind and start the route to the Colca Valley. It’s a beautiful drive, passing snow-capped volcanoes, rugged pampas, traditional terraced farms, and quaint villages where old traditional ways of life are still very much alive.
We will make a few stops along the way, the first at the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, where we will be able to observe countless guanacos, alpacas and vicuñas as they graze on the plain. The reserve, which covers almost 366,936 hectares, was created to preserve the local flora and fauna and its natural environment, which was previously deteriorating at an alarming rate. The reserve also protects the local vicuña population through its repopulation program.
In addition to large herds of camelids, the reserve is also home to the southern vizcacha (a large and adorable rodent), foxes, condors, and Andean flamingos (also known as parihuanas). In total, 169 animal species have been identified in the reserve, including 23 mammals and 138 bird species, such as blue-billed ducks, eagles and kestrels. During their migration period, flamingos also arrive to spend time wading through Salinas Lake.
Leaving the reserve, we will drive around the edge of the Chucura Volcano until we reach the Patapampa Andes viewpoint. We will now be at 4,900 meters above sea level, and from here we will be able to contemplate the beautiful landscape up to the snowy mountain peaks and volcanoes in the Arequipa Region, including Hualca Calca, Sabancaya and Ampato.
Our next stop will be the town of Chivay, where one end of the Colca Valley begins. The traditional terrace systems found here, built by indigenous inhabitants of the area, are remarkable for their scale and precise construction. Chivay itself was founded by the Spanish, a fact that is reflected in its church and other colonial buildings. You can have a traditional lunch in the city (not included) before checking into our hotel.
You will then have the afternoon to explore the city on your own and, if you wish, visit the hot springs of La Calera, about 5 minutes from Chivay. The Colca Canyon and the Colca Valley are dotted with natural hot springs and thermal baths, thanks to seismic activity in the region. La Calera has public thermal baths that are said to have healing properties, with temperatures around 38 C (98 F).
Overnight: In a 3-star hotel in Chivay
It’s another early start on Day 2, because there’s so much great stuff to see! First we will go to the viewpoint known as Cruz del Cóndor, near the hamlets of Maca and Cabanaconde. Here, strong winds rise up from the canyon, providing a favorite spot for Andean condors. They fly in thermals, often in pairs, usually in the early morning and late afternoon. It is very likely that you will see these huge condors, with their three meter wingspan, flying very close to the lookout point, providing a truly majestic sight. From the viewpoint you will also have incredible views of the depths of the Colca Canyon. Then we will return to Chivay, first stopping at the traditional town of Pinchollo and the Antahuilque viewpoint. This viewpoint (or mirador, as they are known in Spanish) offers wonderful views of the 1,500-year-old agricultural terraces that curve along the hillsides like an amphitheater. You can also see some of the charming lagoons of the Colca Valley. Next, there is the Choquetico viewpoint, where we can see two very interesting features. First there are the hanging graves, or hanging tombs, built by the Aymara-speaking Collaguas around 1200 AD. These funerary niches were cut into the cliffs of Cerro Cabanaconde and later sealed with rock walls. To reach these otherwise inaccessible cliffs, the builders likely worked their way down using ropes suspended from trees above. The second interesting feature that we can see here is the litomaquette, a model of the canyon terraces carved into a rock. Continuing, we will visit the small Andean town of Maca, which is located on the slopes of the Sabancaya volcano and the Nevado Hualca Hualca. We will then visit the town of Yanque, which is home to a pretty white church, a small archeology museum, and thermal baths by the river. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are horseback riding facilities and mountain bike rentals available in Yanque. Around 1:00 p.m. we will begin our return trip to your hotel in Arequipa.
You can request an extra cost to be transferred to the city of Puno, from the Colca Canyon.
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