Behold the most accessible and popular segment of the canyon, a landscape dominated by agriculture and characterized by some of the most intensely terraced hillsides on earth. The greenery and accessibility has led to this becoming the canyon’s busiest region with the bulk of the business centered in the small town of Chivay.
Chivay is the Colca Canyon’s unashamedly disheveled nexus, a traditional town that has embraced tourism without (so far) losing its unkempt high-country identity. Long may it continue! Around the market area and in the main square are good places to catch a glimpse of the decorative clothing worn by local Colca women.
Reserva Nacional Salinas Y Aguada Blanca
The trouble with all those organized Colca Canyon tours is that they rush through one of southern Peru’s finest protected reserves, Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, a vast Andean expanse of dozing volcanoes and brawny wildlife forging out an existence against the odds several kilometers above sea level.
Only approximately 20% of Cañón del Colca visitors get as far as ramshackle Cabanaconde (most organized itineraries turn around at the Cruz del Cóndor). For those who make it, the attractions are obvious – less people, more authenticity and greater tranquility. Welcome to the true canyon experience.
Cañón del Cotahuasi
While the Cañón del Colca has stolen the limelight for many years, it is actually this remote canyon, 200km northwest of Arequipa as the condor flies, that is the deepest known canyon in the world. It is around twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, with stretches dropping down below 3500m.
Toro Muerto Petroglyphs
A fascinating, mystical site in the high desert, Toro Muerto (meaning ‘Dead Bull’) is named for the herds of livestock that commonly died here from dehydration as they were escorted from the mountains to the coast. A barren hillside is scattered with white volcanic boulders carved with stylized people, animals and birds.
El Valle de los Volcanes
El Valle de los Volcanes is a broad valley, west of the Cañón del Colca and at the foot of Nevado Coropuna (6613m), famed for its unusual geological features. The valley floor is carpeted with lava flows from which rise many small (up to 200m high) cinder cones, some 80 in total, aligned along a major fissure, with each cone formed from a single eruption.
Tuti is a tourist-lite village situated only 19km northeast of Colca-hub Chivay. With an economy centered on broad-bean cultivation and clothes-making, it is surrounded by some interesting sights all connected by hiking trails. The easiest excursion is to a couple of caves in the hills to the north clearly visible from the main road and accessible via a 3.
The Upper Canyon (really still a valley at this stage) has a colder and harsher landscape than the terraced fields around Chivay and Yanque, and is only lightly visited. Pierced by a single road which plies northeast through the village of Tuti to Sibayo, the grassy terrain is inhabited by livestock while the still young river is ideal for rafting and trout-fishing.