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Colca Canyon

“The Home of the Mighty Andean condor”

Hastened by the erosive forces of the Colca River, the Colca Canyon is 180 km (111 miles) north of Arequipa in the department of Chivay. The canyon runs for about 70 km (43 miles), and with a depth of 3,191 meters (10,500 feet) it is the second deepest canyon in the world– second only to its neighbour, Cotahuasi Canyon (160 meters or 525 feet deeper).

The name Colca refers to small granaries (or storehouses) made of mud and stone, and built into the cliffs in the canyon. These repositories were used in Inca and pre-Inca times to store food, such as potatoes, quinoa, and other Andean crops. They were also used as tombs for important people.

The Colca valley has beautiful landscapes with strong winds, and is home to the mighty Andean condor. The condor’s wingspan is around 3.2 meters (or 10.5 feet) and in captivity they can live up to 100years. Remarkably large hummingbirds, eagles, and geese also populate the canyon. These birds find a particularly favourable habitat thanks to the presence of many high volcanoes: Ampato 6,310 meters (and the location where Momia Juanita was discovered), Coropuna 6,425 meters, Solimana 6,117 meters and Huallahualca 5,025 meters. The four volcanoes range in elevation from 16,500 feet to 21,000.

In the Colca valley, above the small city of Chivay, at an elevation of 3,650 meters (12,000 feet), agriculture gives way to livestock, principally alpacas and llamas. In this region, 80% of worldwide alpaca livestock is raised. Below Chivay, the valley opens up and displays one of the most intensely terraced landscapes in the world.

The Colca valley is populated by the Quechua-speaking Cabanas, most likely descended from the Wari culture, and the Aymara-speaking Collaguas, who moved to the area from the Lake Titicaca region and inhabited the valley in the pre-Inca era.

The Inca probably arrived in the Colca valley around 1320 AD and established their dominion through marriage rather than warfare. The Spanish, under Gonzalo Pizarro, arrived in 1540, and in the 1570s the Spanish viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered the inhabitants to leave their scattered settlements and to move to a series of centrally located pueblos, which to this day are the principal towns of the valley. Franciscan missionaries built the first chapel in the valley in 1565, and the first church in 1569 (Coporaque).

In this particular region there are many festivals throughout the year, including the Wititi festival in Chivay, December 8–11. The Wititi is considered the dance most representative of the Arequipa region, a “cultural heritage” of Peru. The Colca is also well-known for two forms of crafts: goods knitted from 100% baby alpaca fibre (hats, gloves, etc.), and a unique form of embroidery that adorns skirts (polleras), hats, vests, and other items of daily wear and use.

Also the Colca River itself offers one of the best places in Peru for canoeing and kayaking.

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