“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 & 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 it’s closed during rainy season (January to March); admission required.
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.
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.
Location: 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.
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 & 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.
Enhance your trip to Arequipa and the Colca Canyon with an overnight stay in one of the valley towns. The following are our preferred hotels.
Carretera Sallihua s/n, Colca Canyon
Residing on the banks of the Colca River and adjacent to farming terraces and waterfalls, the luxurious Aranwa Pueblito Encantado blends delightfully with the dazzling scenery of the Colca Valley. All rooms feature beautiful views over mountains, luxury bathrooms with tub, hairdryer, minibar, and electronic safe. Book a pampering treatment at the spa, unwind with a cocktail at the cozy hotel bar, and sample contemporary Andean cuisine at the restaurant.
Fundo Puye s/n Yanque, Caylloma, Colca Canyon
Colca Lodge is a high-end, eco-friendly hotel architecturally inspired by the Incas. Built on a property overlooking the Colca River, the hotel harmoniously blends in with the spectacular Andean environment. The lodge boasts private thermal springs (open seasonally) and offers premier spa treatments. Each room of a rustic yet chic style has an outdoor terrace with stunning views. A spacious common room with a fireplace and a charming bar provide ideal places for guests to relax.
La Casa de Mama Yacchi
Pueblo de Coporaque, Colca Canyon
Located in Coporaque, one of the Colca Valley’s oldest towns, La Casa de Mama Yacchi is designed to make guests feel right at home in the community. The hotel is built with local materials. Each of the 18 cozy rooms is equipped with private bathroom, hot water, and heating system. Guests are invited to enjoy meals in a spacious dining room, serving freshly-prepared, locally-inspired cuisine in a buffet style.
See all Colca Canyon Hotels
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