It stretches for 120 kilometers and is one of the deepest canyons in the world. Depending upon which reference you use, you may find that Colca Canyon (photos) is the second deepest or perhaps the fourth deepest. At any rate, one of the most recent measurements has set its depth at just over 4,000 meters (13,200 feet). The depth is measured from the top of mountain peaks that line the edges of the canyon so Colca is helped by nearby Andean mountains.
Colca Canyon is a 3 hour drive north of Arequipa. We took a two day, one night tour from Arequipa to have a look at the canyon. The tour was in a 15 passenger tour van that took us to the most popular gateway for Colca, the town of Chivay. We had the opportunity to visit some of the other local towns, take a short hike in Colca Valley and try out the hot springs.
The highlight of the tour is a stop off at Cruz del Condor. This is a particular stop along the canyon where the Andean Condor can often be seen cruising along the edge of the canyon. They float higher and higher in the late morning as the sun begins to heat the air. These birds generally grow to a wingspan of around 9 or 10 feet. The day we visited, the condors didn’t disappoint. During the hour or so that we spent there, we were able to see many of them floating past. They created quite a sight as they soared out over the canyon.
Our route to Colca Canyon from Arequipa took us through Reserva Nacional Salinas which is a Vicuna reserve and is also populated with lots of alpaca and llamas. The Vicuna are protected throughout South America and cannot be hunted or held in any form of captivity. The fibers of the Vicuna are highly prized and are among the most expensive in the world. The fibers can only be acquired through an organized annual event to herd the wild Vicuna for shearing.
In addition, the road to Chivay goes through Paso de Patopampa, an almost lifeless mountain pass at 4910 meters above sea level (16,200 feet), which is higher than any point in the Rocky Mountains. There you can view eight snow capped volcanoes in the distance and thousands of little stacks of stones close by. These stacks are all made as offerings to the mountain.
A trip to Colca Canyon is a must do when you find yourself in southern Peru.