Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima, Arequipa & Colca, Paracas
Leave the crowds behind and travel to the Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world. (The deepest canyon is nearby Cotahuasi). Highlights include plummeting valleys shadowed by volcanic peaks, soaring condors, grazing camelids, and quaint communities where you can soak in natural hot springs. Browse our destination guide below for essential facts, travel tips, and top attractions on a Colca Canyon tour.
Choose your Colca Canyon Tour
Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon, Arequipa, Colca
Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, Puno, Arequipa, Colca
Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, Amazon, Lima, Paracas, Arequipa & Colca
At A Glance
Colca Canyon is worth the trip, either from Arequipa or from Puno. At the top of the list of things to do: head to the Mirador Cruz del Condor to watch huge Andean birds take flight. Soak in thermal springs heated by geologic activity deep in the earth. Admire the beautiful agricultural terraces and the colcas (storehouses) that dot the canyon. The colcas gave the canyon its name, and they also testify to the rise of highly organized societies that predated the Inca Empire by centuries. All this and more awaits on a tour of the Colca Canyon.
6,000 BC - Earliest evidence of human presence in Colca valley. Lithic tools and cave paintings show that hunters and foragers arrived to this area in pursuit of livestock. Cave paintings at Mollepunco also illustrate the first attempts to domesticate livestock and the initial transition to agriculture.
600 AD - By this date, three main groups flourished in the area: the Collaguas, Cabanas, and Ccaccatapay. The groups developed agricultural technology such as terraces on the sides of mountains to create land for farming, which in turn led to denser settlements.
600 — 900 AD - Based in the central province of Ayacucho, the Wari state spread its influence into the southern Andes and introduced new agricultural technology. Multiple administrative and ritual centers were established to oversee the further centralization of political power. A handful of Wari ruins such as Ccachulli and La Trinchera still remain in place.
Post-Wari, political power appears to have become dispersed again, but the agricultural economy remained intact. Collaguas and Cabanas regained their political independence, but maintained relations of trade and exchange.
1450 AD - The arrival of the Incas once again altered the political landscape. Incan elites intermarried with local rulers and thus gained access to the economic and agricultural realms of the Colca region. While the Incas are commonly given all the credit for the development of highly advanced agricultural techniques in Andes, it seems indisputable that much of this knowledge came from contact with the populations of the Colca Canyon, who themselves acquired techniques from long periods of exchange among Andean societies.
1530s-1800s - In the period of Spanish colonization, the Colca region remained pivotal. Lands were distributed in accordance with conquest practices. Many conquistadors received encomiendas, allocations of land with a certain number of residents. The settler was in charge of supervising the moral, spiritual, and economic well-being of residents on behalf of the Crown. As centuries went by, the region became a laboratory of measures to improve Spanish administrative rule by maximizing the exploitation of natural and human resources. These included the establishment of reducciones in which dispersed indigenous communities were uprooted from ancestral lands and resettled into compact, more easily controlled towns. Tribute was also extracted in the form of local and regional mining work. These onerous demands for mining labor and for tribute eventually fostered resistance and increasing upheaval in the Colca region and created the context for Tupac Amaru II’s rebellion in 1780.
1824-1930 - With the beginning of Peru’s Republican period, the region faced mounting isolation and economic stagnation. Like in the rest of Peru, decades of militaristic regimes alternated with democratic governance.
1990s-present - In the late 20th century, several events converged to shine a spotlight on the Colca Canyon as a destination for tourism, including the first descent by whitewater rafters down the river valley and a scientific investigation that traced the headwaters of the Amazon to Mismi Volcano.
2009 also received worldwide attention when it made the short list of candidates for one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, marking a new stage in the development of this historically pivotal region.
“Colca” is the name of the canyon, river, and valley located located in the province of Caylloma approximately 100 miles northwest of Arequipa City. The province covers an area of approximately 4,700 square miles, bordering Cusco and Puno, two pivotal regions in the southern Andes.
The average distance from the peaks of the mountains to the river below is 3,109 meters or 10,200 feet. This makes the Colca one of the world’s deepest canyons. Nearby Cotahuasi Canyon is a few hundred meters deeper.
The Colca sits atop a major fault which fractured millions of years ago. Over millennia, the river has carved deeper into the volcanic rock. Intense geothermic activity persists, as evidenced by the many geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs that dot the area.
Colcas and terraces
The Colca Canyon and surrounding region ranks high among Peru’s most amazing natural landscapes. The terrain and the altitude vary dramatically, and chains of mountains still serve as guardians of the population within the valley. The most striking features are the endless terraces which serve as evidence of early human technology and first development of agriculture in the Andes.
Enjoy a walk from the condor observatory down to the lower towns of the valley, visit the terraces and colcas that once sustained empires, direct your eyes to the glittering nighttime sky, and contemplate the immensity of the universe. In other words, unplug from what we call civilization and let yourself be awed by the geologic beauty in the Colca Canyon.
Mirador Cruz del Condor
The ultimate highlight of a Colca Canyon tour, Mirador Cruz del Condor encapsulates the magic of the high Andes. Departing from Arequipa or from Chivay, you’ll arrive to a viewing platform perched at approximately 10,000 feet above sea level. In front of you, hefty mountains rise to sky-scraping heights. Below you, the valley floor spills down to vertigo-inducing depths. And above you, condors with 8-foot wing spans drift with grace through the chilly air, drawing gasps from awed onlookers.
The Andean condors has only recently recovered from near extinction. The condors usually emerge from their nests between 9:00 and 12:00. The lookout point is small and gets overcrowded at peak hours. Arrive early for the best views, or carefully venture out on one of the side paths to get away from the masses.
Chivay is the hub of the Colca Valley and sits on the banks of the Colca River at 3,569 meters (11,925 feet) above sea level. The town serves as the midpoint between valley’s highest and lowest elevations and as a watershed in the region’s environmental and ecological economy. Agriculture flourishes below this elevation, while livestock and ranching dominate the upper highland economies.
On the small Plaza de Armas, you’ll find the Our Lady of Assumption church with its classic whitewashed walls, Andean baroque facade, and a collection of saints dressed in finery. The morning market also sets up on the square and you’ll see women dressed in traditional clothing. The surrounding views to snowcapped peaks and terraced hillsides are simply stunning.
Chivay has plenty of choice in eating and lodging. From here, you can also continue to the smaller towns further down the valley. The Casa Andina lodge has a small astronomical observatory open to guests and visitors beginning at 20:00 hrs. Note that t’s closed during rainy season (January to March); admission S/.25.
La Calera Hot Springs
Whether you’re spending the night in Chivay or have just completed a trek, consider a relaxing soak at La Calera Hot Springs. This is one of the numerous hot springs and geysers throughout the Valley, which are the result of underground volcanic activity that comes in contact with the water table of the Colca basin. La Calera is just 3.5 kilometers from Chivay. It’s a mostly flat walk from town, but you can also travel by shared van. Choose from 3 pools of differing temperatures, either indoor or outdoor with views to the amazing mountain landscape. Towels are available for rent. Lockers are provided for personal items. Note that late in the afternoon, the pools can sometimes have a bit of festive atmosphere. For a more tranquil experience, go early.
Hours: 4:00 to 19:00 hrs
Located about 8 km from Chivay, the town of Yanque boasts spectacular views over the river and to surrounding volcanoes such as Sabancaya and Mismi (whose glacier is the source of the Amazon River). In the morning, the Plaza de Armas hosts a market and serves as a stage for local schoolchildren to perform folkloric dances for tourists (and raise funds) before class begins.
Also on the square, Immaculate Conception Church is considered to be the most architecturally beautiful of valley's churches. First built in 1560, destroyed in an earthquake 100 years later, and rebuilt again in the late 17th century, the church display a baroque mestizo style with a carved bas relief portal entrance.
On the road out from town, you’ll see a magnificent example of pre-Columbian terracing at Llaqtacucho whose name means amphitheater.
Museo de Yanque
Learn about the Colca and its diverse communities with a visit to the Yanque Museum. Three exhibition rooms display scale models of colonial-era Colca churches, as well as ceramics, textiles, skulls, maps, paintings and dioramas depicting pre-Columbian life. An additional room depicts contemporary life in the Colca Valley, from plants and animals to agriculture, religion, and typical dress. The museum also offers textile workshops and a program of cultural activities throughout the year.
Visiting hours: Daily, 9:00 to 18:30 hrs
Address: Plaza de Armas
Uyo Uyo Archeological Site
If you’re staying in Yanque, make the short side trip to Uyo Uyo, a ruined pre-Inca village built of stone blocks held together with clay mortar. The site was first occupied by the Collagua group (see Colca Canyon History below) in the 1300s and later by the Incas. The ruins you’ll see are actually the result of extensive restoration work over 3 years. Avid hikers can undertake the 2-3 hours loop trail from town, finishing with a refreshing dip in the Chacapi hot springs.
Aguas Termales Chacapi
Located 1.5 km from the Yanque Plaza de Armas, the Chacapi Hot Springs provide a gorgeous setting for a reinvigorating sock in thermal waters after a day of exploring. The water temperature at the pools can reach up to 50C. Samples show concentrations of calcium and magnesium sulfate. Locals believe the pools have curative properties, especially for rheumatism and arthritis. Changing rooms are available on site.
Admission: adults S/.3; children S/.1
Visiting hours: 6:00 to 18:00 hrs
Casa Museo Uyu Uyu
Learn more about the Colca Valley’s pre-Columbian history with a quick visit to this small museum which is a private collection of ancient objects from the Uyu Uyu archaeological complex. The items on display are representative of pre-Columbian cultures including the Collagua, Inca, and Yanque.
Location: Calle Lima 114
Cabanaconde (elevation 3,278 m) is located 5.5 hours by bus from Arequipa. It is the closest town to Mirador Cruz del Condor and the starting point for Colca Canyon treks to the small oasis town of Sangalle. This is a great destination for travelers in search of day hikes as there are outstanding lookout points within easy walking distance. From Cejana, San Miguel, Achachiwa, you can peer down at villages tucked into the valley bottom. The sight of hulking mountains across the canyon is truly humbling. You might even see a condor or two swooping past.
From Cabanaconde, it’s just a 2-3 hour walk down a zigzagging path to Sangalle on the banks of the Colca River. Along the way, you’ll get impressive views of the valley landscape. Down in Sangalle, a handful of lodges receive trekkers. Amenities are basic, but you’ll have all you need for a relaxing stay in this truly magnificent setting.
Influenced by both Cusco to the north and Puno to the east, the Colca has historically been inhabited by Quechua and Aymara populations. Its cultural traditions reflect this mixed heritage.
The Collagua and the Cabana
Since pre-Columbian times, the dominant ethnic groups of the Colca have been the Collagua and the Cabana. Today, you can see the differences in women’s clothing, especially in the hats that they wear.
When the towns of the Colca valley were founded as “reducciones” in 1570, a church was built in the main square. Today, these 14 towns have their own festival calendars, which are closely tied to agricultural cycles of planting and harvest. One of the Colca’s most distinctive festivals is when men dress up in long skirts to dance the Baile de Wititi, usually at the start of the rainy season and continuing through the Carnival festivities in February.
The Colca Canyon is a top destination for trekking in Peru either with a group or independently. Colca Canyon treks use the web of walking trails that connect the valley’s towns. Depending on your schedule, you can choose from 2-day, 3-day, 4-day treks. The longer you walk, the fewer people you’ll see sharing the trails.
Most trekkers tackle the hike from Cabanaconde (3,000 m) to Sangalle oasis (2,000 m) and back, either as a 1-day or overnight trek. Another option is the 3-day Cabanaconde to Tapay or the off-the-beaten path Cabanaconde to Morcuca Lake trek. This last trail can also be done on horseback.
Note that the Colca trails tend to be unrelentingly steep. Travelers should take care to be somewhat acclimated to the elevation before trekking and those with knee or back problems are advised to stick closer to town and attempt gentler hikes to hot springs and lookout points.
Spot unusual wildlife
The valley and the highlands that surround it are home to a splendid diversity of plants and animals. The most famous is the Andean condor, which came close to extinction due to human activity, but has now begun to recover. Other rare birds include the Giant Hummingbird and Chilean Flamingo. Though dry and sparsely vegetated, the canyon’s upper zones are inhabited by mammal species such as vicuña, guanaco, and vizcacha.
Gaze at ancient terraces
The Colca has been an agricultural breadbasket for thousands of years thanks in part to pre-Columbian improvements in the form of terraces and irrigation. The landscaped hillsides are beautiful but also functional. You’ll see several types of potato, maize, quinoa, wheat, barley, and alfalfa, which flourish despite the harsh environment and which can be stored for long periods of time. Other local flora includes the strangely bulbous Green Yareta, moors and cushion bogs (known as alps in Europe and as bofedales in Peru), and the famous Puya Raimondi which is also found in the central Andes around Huaraz.
The Colca Canyon was made for adventuring. Take your pick of whitewater rafting (for beginners or advanced), mountain biking, and zip lining over the gorgeous valley landscape.
Enhance your trip to Arequipa and the Colca Canyon with an overnight stay in one of the valley towns. Lodges are clustered close to typical towns such as Yanque, Coporaque, Chivay, and Cabanaconde. You’ll enjoy a good night’s rest in the shadows of glacier-capped peak and a tranquil day away from the crowds.
Fundo Puye s/n, Yanque, Caylloma Affiliated with the renowned Hotel Libertador chain and located on the banks of the Colca River, Colca Lodge is a cozy eco-friendly hotel architecturally inspired by the Incas. Built into the landscape, the hotel harmoniously blends in with the spectacular Colca Canyon environment. Each room offers an outdoor terrace with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. A spacious common room with a fireplace and a charming bar provide ideal places for guests to relax. In addition to its tranquil atmosphere, the lodge boasts naturally heated hot springs, great personalized service, and one of the best spas in the country. Enjoy the astonishing views while soaking in the swimming pool directly overlooking the valley. If you are looking forward to pampering yourself, stay in one of the luxurious suites equipped with a private jacuzzi.
Fundo Puye s/n, Yanque, Caylloma
Affiliated with the renowned Hotel Libertador chain and located on the banks of the Colca River, Colca Lodge is a cozy eco-friendly hotel architecturally inspired by the Incas. Built into the landscape, the hotel harmoniously blends in with the spectacular Colca Canyon environment. Each room offers an outdoor terrace with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. A spacious common room with a fireplace and a charming bar provide ideal places for guests to relax. In addition to its tranquil atmosphere, the lodge boasts naturally heated hot springs, great personalized service, and one of the best spas in the country. Enjoy the astonishing views while soaking in the swimming pool directly overlooking the valley. If you are looking forward to pampering yourself, stay in one of the luxurious suites equipped with a private jacuzzi.
La Casa De Mama Yacchi
Pueblo de Coporaque
Deep amidst the vast and stunning green scenery of the Colca Canyon, this quaint lodge is located in the tiny village of Coporaque. A unique destination, this charming town is the oldest village in the area and still retains many of its traditions and customs. La Casa de Mama Yacchi was constructed entirely with native materials from the surrounding area and offers an authentic Colca Canyon experience complete with a traditional restaurant that serves excellent, locally-inspired cuisine. The lodge offers simple but inviting and comfortable rooms, remarkable views, and a cozy fireplace lounge.
The weather in the Colca Canyon is typical of the Andes. During the day, temperatures vary with elevation. The lowest portions of the valley can get quite warm in the dry season, especially on hiking trails exposed to strong sunlight. The higher you go, the colder and windier it gets. Mornings and evenings tend to be quite chilly, especially in the dry season. A fleece and a windbreaker are essential.
Where to eat
Choices for dining in the Colca Canyon are limited, but adequate for one or two nights. Most Colca Canyon lodges offer on-site restaurants serving a la carte or buffet style meals. Towns such as Chivay and Yanque offer a greater selection.
La Granja del Colca
Address: Km 9.5 carretera Cruz del Condor, Cabanaconde
Prepares delicious dishes using homegrown organic ingredients.
Hours: 7 am to 2pm (open for breakfast and lunch; cash only)
Address: Calle Cruz Blanca, Cabanaconde
Part of Hotel Kuntur Wassi, prepares Peruvian dishes and fresh-baked pizzas.
Address: San Pedro 209, Cabanaconde
Wood-fired pizza and Peruvian food along with cocktails and a warm environment great for meeting other travelers.
Happy hour from 19:00 to 20:00 hrs.
Address: Salaverry 105, 3rd floor, located in front of the Chivay Market
Specializes in steaks and pizzas cooked on hot stones as well as soups and pastas.
El Balcon de Don Zacarias
Address: Av. 22 de Agosto 102, Plaza de Armas, Chivay
>Serves classic Peruvian dishes a la carte; buffet option for lunch.
Address: Plaza de Armas, Chivay
Satisfy your cravings for coffee, teas, fruit juices, hot chocolate, cakes and desserts.
Address: Calle Francisco Bolognesi 1026, Chivay
Felicious and varied buffet lunch.
Urpicha del Colca
Address: Mariano Melgar 500, Yanque
Great place to try Peruvian staples like trout and alpaca; menu includes vegetarian options, too.
Address: M. Malaga 107
Try traditional Colca Canyon dishes.
Hours: 7:00 to 21:00 hrs
Colca Canyon Entrance Fee
All visitors to Colca Canyon must pay a 70 soles entrance fee. You can buy the ticket at any checkpoint. Hold on to the ticket, as park officials will ask to see it at various checkpoints along the typical tourist route.
Distances from Arequipa, Plaza de Armas
- to Chivay - 162 km ( about 3 hrs by car)
- to Yanque - 168 km ( about 3 hrs by car)
- to Coporaque - 169 km (about 3 hrs by car)
- to Mirador Cruz del Condor - is 201km (4 hrs by car)
- to Cabanaconde (via Chivay) - 224 km (about 5 hrs by car)
- Minivans depart at 3:00 am and reach Mirador Cruz del Condor in time to see condors in flights. Drop-off is at Cabanaconde around 10:00 am.
- Public buses leave from Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa every few hours until 2pm. Advisable to buy tickets in advance.
Onward to Puno/Lake Titicaca
- The company "4M - Express” provides safe and reliable service between the Chivay and Puno. Buses depart at 13:15 hrs and arrive at Terminal Terrestre in Puno at 19:30 hrs. There are 3 stops along the way at various viewpoints.
Many towns of the Colca Canyon are higher in elevation that Arequipa (2,335 m or 7,661 ft) and about the same as Cusco (3,400 m or 11,150 ft). Take the same precautions as you would in Cusco - stay hydrated, avoid heavy meals or alcohol on your first days at altitude, and drink the local remedy coca leaf tea. Take a few days to acclimate before attempting any strenuous activity.
Chivay has on ATM on the Plaza de Armas. Even so, you might want to stock up on cash in Arequipa before you travel to the Colca Canyon. The smaller towns of the Colca Canyon do not yet have ATMs.
When is the best time to visit Colca Canyon?
May to November is the high season for tourism to the Colca Canyon. The weather is warm during the day and cold at night. Be sure to make reservations for accommodation in advance. The end of the rainy season (April and May) is also a great time to visit because the terraces will be brilliantly green with crops and flowering plant life.
Is it possible to hike in the Canyon independently?
In most cases, yes. For 2-3 day hikes, the trails that crisscross the canyon are sufficiently well-marked and transited so that independent hikers can easily find their way. Cabanaconde town is the ideal place to start. Many trekking groups gather here and restaurants such as Pachamama provide maps and up to date information on trail conditions.
Which Colca Canyon trek should I do?
For a taste of high altitude Andean trekking, many travelers choose a Colca Canyon trek as a less expensive, less crowded alternative to the Inca Trail. The most popular route departs from Cabanaconde descends to the oasis resort town Sangalle. It’s an unrelentingly slope whether you are going up or down — usually 3 hours for the descent and 5 hours for the ascent. Mules are available for hire from any of the lodges in Sangalle.