South America, Peru
The fascinating Colca Canyon, located in the Arequipa region of Peru, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. It is often described as the deepest canyon in the world but we are afraid that this isn’t quite true – it is pipped to the post by its more remote neighbour: the Cotahuasi Canyon. It may not hold the world record but it does have a depth of approximately 3,400 metres at its deepest point. To give that some context, it is approximately double the depth of the world famous Grand Canyon in the United States. Wow.
Anyway, forget about the depth for a while because actually there is much more than that to be admired at the Colca Canyon. This 100 kilometre long valley is home to numerous towns of varying cultures and an incredible amount of Inca and pre-Inca agricultural terraces and that’s before we consider its astonishing ever changing natural scenery.
The Colca Canyon was formed by an enormous geological fault between two colossal volcanoes: the volcano of Coropuna and the volcano of Ampato. It is believed that people began to settle in the Colca valley around 6,000 years ago but local people here today descend from one of two different cultures who both arrived in the area around 1000 years ago. These groups are the Cabanas and the Collaguas and it was they who constructed the agricultural terraces and irrigation systems in the valley. The two groups were rivals and used to actually distinguish themselves by performing cranial deformations whereby one group had fat skulls and one had tall and thin skulls! This was done by tying pieces of wood to an infant’s head until the effects were irreversible. Thankfully today they choose the rather less extreme option of simply dressing differently – wearing the traditional hats and clothing of their individual ancestries. The women of Collagua descent, who typically live in the east end of the canyon, wear flat brimmed straw hats embellished with a colourful band, whilst the women of Cabana descent, who are more likely to live in the western end of the canyon, wear rounded hats made of embroidered cotton.
The Colca Canyon became home to the Inca people in the late 14th century and they helped to improve the irrigation channels and terraces – evidence of which can, as mentioned above, still be seen today. The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century led to the “Toledan reductions” whereby the governor of the region insisted that the population of the Colca Canyon were to be concentrated in a few major towns rather than spread out in numerous small settlements. Many of the towns still found in the Colca Canyon today originated at this point.
The Colca Canyon was brought to public attention in the early 1980s after an expedition in 1981 by a group of Polish kayakers who made the first descent of the canyon and who were the first to suggest (incorrectly as it turned out) that it could be the deepest in the world. Interest around the region continued to grow and this, combined with over events such as the construction of Project Majes (a 100 kilometre canal) and an article in the National Geographic all led to the area experiencing a sudden burst of tourism in the 1990s which continues to grow today.
Most visitors will begin their visit to the Colca Canyon in the town of Chivay where there are plenty of restaurants and accommodation options as well as shops offering traditional and high quality crafts and the famous La Calera hot springs. After Chivay visitors have a huge amount of options as to how to spend their time in the Colca Canyon. They can visit one of the valley’s other towns and see how the cultures differ, they can participate in an adventure sport or can simply hike through the area and marvel at how much the scenery of one region can change. When hiking visitors are likely to spot an array of animal and birdlife with the Colca Canyon being particularly known for its giant humming birds, eagles and, of course, the mighty Andean Condor.
To reach the Colca Canyon most visitors will travel from Arequipa by bus. The journey takes around 3.5 hours and enables travellers to enjoy some truly breathtaking scenery on route. It is easy enough to travel to Colca Canyon independently but if you’d prefer to go as a group there are numerous companies in Arequipa who provide tours, of varying durations, to and around the area.
|Type of Activity:||Nature|
|Activity:||Canyon & Caves|