Vast terracing snaking around the hillside; great condors rising on the morning thermals; small Andean villages where centuries-old culture goes rumbling on. Just a few reasons to linger in the Colca Canyon. And then there's beautiful Arequipa...
Centuries ago, in a beautifully lush and green valley formed by a huge seismic fault between two volcanoes, Aymara and Quechua communities carved out vast agricultural terraces on the steep hillsides, still used today to farm the staple crops of the region. They settled the small Andean villages which still dot the landscape and they wore traditional dress, still in evidence today in the brightly coloured, embroidered dresses, waistcoats and hats worn by many girls and women.
If you pick the right spots, you can still find places here where local life and culture just goes rumbling on, undisturbed after all these centuries.
Further on, the valley narrows to become one of the world’s deepest canyons - about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US - and one of the best places in the world to see Andean condors as they rise on the morning thermals. More on that below. And from here, it's a short hop to Peru's second city, the picturesque White City of Arequipa. More on that below too.
Whether wandering the terraces, ambling through the villages or watching condors stretch their wings, the Colca Canyon is not a place for rushing. Rather than visit on a day trip from Arequipa, stay for a few days and you have time to walk, relax, meet the locals, admire the views and watch the condors, without ever feeling hurried. Keep reading to find out how...
Canyon trails; hot spring heaven Part of the reason we love the Colca Canyon is for the array of hiking opportunities it affords; gentle half-day walks along the ancient terraces (perhaps to an ancient pre-Inca settlement) or full day hikes in more remote parts. Then at the end of the day it's back to your lodge, which just happens to have its own hot springs in the garden - perfect for soothing away any aches and pains, Pisco sour in hand, river rushing past, views spreading off towards the mountains.
More condors, fewer crowds The Cruz de los Condores is one of the best places on the continent to see condors. The canyon falls away 1,200m to the river below your feet and in the morning the condors start to fly up from their roosts on the walls below. First they swoop down low in the canyon below. They then get higher and will eventually circle above you – sometimes incredibly close. This is a popular spot, especially for coaches on the way back to Arequipa. So we need to take a different approach.
By visiting directly from your lodge in Colca with your private guide, you can head away from the crowds, dodge the queues of people waiting to have their pictures taken with locals in colourful dress and llama in hand and, crucially, linger after the buses have gone. It’ll be you, not a bus schedule, who dictates the pace. If the condors don't come early, you can wait. If they do, you can stay as long as you want.
The White City Three hours or so south-west of the canyon is Peru’s second city. The centre of Arequipa is a physically beautiful place, built from the white volcanic rock which gives it its nickname 'The White City'. The vast cathedral seems to almost glow in the sunlight. Three snow-capped volcanoes, highly respected by the Incas since their melt waters are said to form the headwaters of the Amazon, surround the city.
With its warm sunny days and pleasant evenings, we think Arequipa is the ideal spot to end your trip to Peru. It's perfect for relaxing and wandering, and the food and shopping are both brilliant.
How to visit Colca Canyon and Arequipa with Pura Aventura We tend to allow for five nights split between the Colca Canyon and Arequipa. That way nothing is too rushed and you can find the balance between getting out exploring and slowing down a bit, particularly if you've been on the go for two or three weeks. Basing you on the edge of the valley gives you much more time to go out and walk, admire the views, visit local communities and explore independently with our personal recommendations.
Have a look below for a trip idea to the Colca Canyon, which can be completely tailored to suit you and your interests, timings and budget. As you might expect, we quite enjoy talking about Peru and the places we’d love to share with you. So when you're ready to get in touch, please do pick up the phone or email us.
Experience Colca Canyon & Arequipa with Pura Aventura