The Colca Canyon is a spectacular part of Peru offering stunning scenery and one of the best opportunities to see condors in the wild. The name Colca refers to small holes in the cliffs or special buildings in the valley and canyon. These were used in Inca and pre-Inca times to store food, such as potatoes and other Andean crops.
Originally, the area was inhabited by the Collaguas and the Cabanas, and the Incas also occupied the area for a short time. The Collaguas were an industrious and prosperous people, and the terraces throughout the canyon indicate their agricultural and architectural skills. When the Spanish occupied the valley in 1540, Viceroy Toledo ordered that the population, which had been dispersed throughout the valley, be gathered into fourteen villages, which survive today. This made it easier to control and taxes the inhabitants.
The Incas conquered the Colca region in the middle of the 15th century, and one of Inca Mayta Capac’s generals married the ñusta Mama Yacchi. He established his base in Coporaque, where he built a copper palace. However, this was destroyed by Gonzalo Pizarro in 1548 to make harness parts for the Spanish cavalry. The rest of the copper was used to cast the bells for the village church, which still exist. The local people still maintain ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces.
The Colca Canyon runs for over 100km, and the average distance from the peaks of the mountains to the river below is 3,400m. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. However, the canyon’s walls are not as vertical as the ones of the Grand Canyon. Until recently, it was thought that it was the deepest canyon in the world, although it is now generally accepted that the Cotahuasi Canyon, also in the department of Arequipa, is deeper. The depth of the canyon from the Cruz del Condor to the river is approximately 1,500m. The deepest point of the canyon is beyond Cabanaconde, close to the Valley of the Volcanoes. Since they are such major features of the landscape, the Colca and Cotahuasi canyons are both easily recognizable in even low-resolution satellite photos of the region.
The Colca River starts high in the Andes at Condorama Crucero Alto and changes its name to Majes, and then to Camana before reaching the Pacific Ocean. Parts of the canyon are habitable, and Inca and pre-Inca terraces are still cultivated along the less precipitous canyon walls. The small town of Chivay is on the upper Colca River, where the canyon is not so deep but where many terraces are present in the canyon and continue for many kilometers downstream. As the canyon deepens downriver, a series of small villages is spread out over the approximately 35 miles (56 km) between Chivay and the village of Cabanaconde. The canyon reaches its greatest depth and, in contrast, about 15 miles (24 km) to the southeast rises the 20,630-ft (6,288-m) Nevado Ampato, a snow-capped extinct volcano.
Attracting more and more visitors each year to the Colca Canyon, in addition to the awesome sights, are the Andean condors. The Colca Canyon is home of the majestic Condor. Tourists can see the big condors at fairly close range as they fly through the canyon. The canyon is the natural habitat of the great Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), a species that has seen world-wide effort to preserve it.
“Cruz del Condor” is a popular tourist stop to view the condors, the pass where condors soar gracefully on the rising thermals occurring as the air warms. The condors hunt in the early morning and late afternoon, so it is best to be there during those times. At this point the canyon floor is 3,960 ft (1,200 m) below the rim of the canyon.
The Colca Canyon is also ideal for Adventure Sports. In addition, the La Calera natural hot springs is a wonderful way to relax after a day’s touring. The hot springs are located at Chivay, the biggest town in the Colca Canyon.
In addition to the canyon, the area is one of the most volcanically active in Peru, and Sabancay, which erupted in the 1980s, can usually be seem smoking, as can Ubinas.
The name Colca refers to small holes in the cliffs or special buildings in the valley and canyon. These were used in Inca and pre-Inca times to store food, such as potatoes and other Andean crops.