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Exploring Peru's Colca Canyon

Story by Aracari Travel

Posted: October 6, 2016
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If you love hiking and trekking, Peru should definitely be on your bucket list of places to visit. The Andes mountain range runs north to south along Peru's spine - an endless playground for adventure seekers and lovers of the outdoors.

While most people immediately think of the iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, there are many other options around the country. Have a look at our Trekking in Peru suggestions - there are loads of quieter and lesser-trodden trails offering a chance to connect with some fantastic scenery, ancient ruins and unique cultures of the people that inhabit these places.

One of our favourite places for hiking in Peru has got to be the dramatic natural beauty of Colca Canyon, in the south of Peru, near to the city of Arequipa.

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The Wall Street Journal recommends Aracari.

We're clearly not the only ones who love Colca Canyon! John W. Miller recently visited and wrote about his experience for the Wall Street Journal, recommending it as an a great alternative to Machu Picchu, particularly if you're more interested in geology and nature than ruins. John also recommended Aracari as the best local provider to take you there. We offer private tours of the area including hiking excursions and horseback riding, so read on and let us know when you're convinced and ready to book your trip!

As one of the deepest canyons in the world, Colca carves an impressive line through the mountainous landscape for over 50 kilometres (31 miles). The latest National Geographic Survey sited this as the source of the Amazon river. By all accounts the landscape is vast and majestic and whichever direction you look in, it will take your breath away.

aracari-colca-09 (4)  Colca Canyon by Clara (3)

From Arequipa to Colca

From the 'white city' of Arequipa, the journey to the canyon is about 3 hours by private transfer with Aracari, travelling across the Andean plateau. The landscape and vegetation changes as you gradually gain altitude, transforming the land from an arid scrubland with abundant cacti to the puna highlands, frigid grassland dotted with snow-capped peaks, rare relict woodlands of short trees, and condors flying overhead.

One of the highest points along the journey is the Mirador de los Volcanes. From here you can see the incredible iconic volcanoes that dominate the landscape in the region, towering above everything else at more than 6,000 meters (20,600 feet).  

There's also a very interesting human element to the region. Home to the Quechua speaking Cabanas and the Collagua - each wear a distinctive type of traditional hat and the women still wear their traditional volumous Andean skirts. The area has been inhabited for over 1,000 years and there is evidence of pre-Inca terracing that covers most of the valley forming a giant sculptured landscape.

There are fourteen small Spanish villages in the Colca Canyon and Valley, known for their beautiful churches with ornate Baroque interiors which have withstood the forces of many earthquakes over the years. The people are devote Catholics with deep seated Andean undertones with many traditional customs influencing the festivities.

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Colca Canyon by Clara (9)

What to see on the way to Colca Canyon

For peace and quiet, we recommend exploring the canyon on foot, going at your own pace with a knowledgeable local guide who will point out the flora and fauna. There are many trails and recommended spots to explore. For instance a two-hour hike to the pre-Inca ruins of Uyo-Uyo offers stunning views of the valley below.

Another great option for exploration is horse-back riding on a world-renowned Peruvian Paso Horse. This saddle breed, declared Cultural Patrimony by the National Institute of Culture, has a distinguished, four-beat lateral gait called the paso llano and provides a stable and smooth ride that is sure to satisfy new riders and experienced horsemen alike.

Your afternoon of riding will include a visit to the Yuraq Qaqa graves, also referred to as Aya Wari or “House of the Dead,” where you will observe the burial rituals of the ancient Colca cultures in which bones and skulls are still visible. Then you’ll pass back through the main square of Coporaque, visiting the Colonial temple of Santiago de Apostol, built in 1569 on your way.

Andean wildlife in the Colca Canyon

One of our favourite spots is Cruz del Condor, offering breath-taking views down into the depths of the canyon and also well known as an excellent location for spotting Andean Condors, as the name implies. The species has been the focus of international conservation efforts and can be seen at close range as they soar past the canyon walls.

The canyon is a haven for wildlife - look out for herds of vicuñas (an endangered wild relative of llamas and alpacas, whose soft fur is used for making fabrics). In the sky, in addition to the condors, you may spot giant hummingbirds, eagles and geese. If you're interested in bird-watching the unique Toccra lagoons, where a variety of Andean birdlife abounds is a must.

Visit Colca Canyon with Aracari Travel

Ready to explore Peru's Colca Canyon? Aracari Travel offers tailor-made trips to Peru, Bolivia and the Galapagos. We specialise in luxury travel, offering the best accommodation, comfortable private transport and excellent knowledgeable guides. Each trip is carefully tailored for our guests, depending on their interests, the pace they'd like to go at and what they want from their trip.

Have a look at our Highlights of Southern Peru itinerary, which takes in the cobbled streets of Cuzco, the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, the floating villages of Lake Titicaca and of course exploring the dramatic landscape of Colca Canyon. This 14 day trip is a great introduction to Peru.

To start planning your trip to Peru and the Colca Canyon contact us or email [email protected].