The Colca Valley is an area of astounding scenic beauty, with extensive pre-Inca terraces (andenes) and one of the world's deepest canyons, reaching a depth of 4160 meters. Chivay is the hub of the valley, 160 km. from the regional capital, Arequipa. Between Arequipa and Chivay, visitors will enjoy passing through a range of unique ecological zones, from desert to altiplano to dry tundra. Animals spotted enroute or in the valley itself include herds of vicuñas (a wild relative of llamas and alpacas) and various types of birds, of particular interest the giant hummingbird, eagles, Andean geese, flamingos (September through March), and of course the mighty Andean Condor, which can usually be spotted at "Cruz del Condor."
A journey to the Colca Valley takes at least 3-1/2 hours via public bus, across the high Andean plateau, reaching a high point of 4800 meters (so take care with altitude and cold), at the "Mirador de los Volcanes," which offers fine views of several volcanoes that soar to more than 6,000 meters.
Tourists are required to purchase a "Boleto Turistico" or Tourist ticket (S/.35) when they arrive in Chivay, a nice and very friendly town at the beginning of the canyon, with good hotels and hostels. Chivay is a good place to look for high-quality, locally-produced crafts, in particular goods hand-knitted from 100% alpaca fiber, and elaborately embroidered goods produced by hand on sewing machines (hats, coin purses, belts, etc.). Such crafts are also available in some of the miradors (scenic overlooks) along the highway, and in surrounding towns, but do not be confused by cheaper, industrially-produced knock-offs.
Other towns in the valley offer a range of cultural, adventure sports, archeological, and other activities. Between Callalli, at the high end of the Colca valley, and Tapay, in the depths of the Colca canyon, you'll find a range of accommodations and activities, as well as microclimates that vary with altitude. In the cold, dry, highlands, livestock production predominates, focused on alpaca and llamas; in the middle zone, agriculture is more important, featuring products such as corn, quinua, barley, beans, and a variety of potatoes, as well as dairy production; in the canyon, due to the warmer climate, fruit production is possible, including avocados, lucuma, peaches, and apples.
The Colca valley was first populated by hunters and gatherers, probably about 6,000 years ago. Cave art at Mollepunku, near Callalli, is thought to represent the domestication of the alpaca at about that time. There is little evidence of continual habitation until two cultures arrived at about the same time, about a thousand years ago: the Cabanas, Quechua-speaking descendants of the Wari culture, and the Collaguas, Aymara-speakers from the Puno/Lake Titicaca region. They constructed vast expanses of agricultural terraces in the valley, creating irrigation systems to water their crops.
The region takes its name from the qolqas (colcas) that are found throughout the valley, mud and stone granaries built into cliffs or caves where the dry, cool climate makes for an ideal "refrigerated" storage for crops or seeds.
In the late 14th century, the Inca arrived, taking the Colca valley into their empire through intermarriage. They helped to perfect the construction of irrigation channels and terraces, and their influence is visible, too, in the stonework of some of the archeological sites.
With the Spanish conquest in the 16th century came the "Toledan reductions," in which the local governor demanded that the population be concentrated in a few major towns throughout the valley, instead of dispersed in their small settlements. This was the origin of the towns that are found today.
Flora and fauna
The climate is generally cool and dry. The Andean Summer (May through November)is reliably dry, with sunny days and clear, cold nights. Be prepared for temperatures below freezing, particularly in June, July, and August. The rainy season begins, usually, in December, and lasts through April, with February being the wettest month. Temperatures remain cool, with rain or rain showers most days. The valley is at its most beautiful in April and May, when the fields are green and the mountains snow-capped.
Visitors are legally required to purchase the Boleto Turistico (Tourist Ticket) for 35 soles (USD 12), administered by Autocolca, the regional tourism authority. The Boleto Turistico provides access to the tourist circuit of the Colca, which includes the entire region, both below Chivay (Cruz del Condor, Colca canyon) and above it (Tuti, Sibay, Callalli). The money collected goes for tourism promotion and infrastructure, and development of community-based tourism.
Malata Museo is a small yet interesting insight into village life in the Canyon. 1 sol or so. Worth the 15 minute presentation by the keen Vanessa, in English, Spanish or Quechua.
Colca Canyon Tour
The Colca Valley is an area of astounding scenic beauty, with giant Andean terraces and a deep canyon that reach a depth of 3140 metres. A journey to the Colca valley will take you throughout high Andean plateau, reaching at one point a high pass of 4800 metres, which offers fine views of the Volcanoes. Along the way visitors can enjoy unique natural sceneries, as well as animal life; such as herds of Vicuñas (a wild relative of Llamas and Alpacas) and various types of birds, of which stand out the giant hummingbird, eagles, gooses and the mighty Andean Condor. If you like adventure tours, the Canyon also offers wonderful treks down to its button, descending throughout huge mountains, exploring oasis-like valleys, thermal springs, and camping outdoors.
The tours run from Arequipa cost about 140 soles for 2 nights, not including the entrance fee (35 soles) and have a restricted route. We did three nights on our own, staying in various hospedajes in the canyon and in Cabanaconde (the gateway town for the canyon). The complete cost was 175 soles, but we ate well and drank beer. This is much more fun for the adventure traveller than going on a tour, (as they are mostly lame). Suggested itinerary: get bus to Cabanaconde from Arequipa (5 hours, 16 soles). Stay the night in Cabanaconde. Next morning take the 6.30am truck to Cruz Del Condor (4 soles), watch Condors. Get the 9.30am bus back to Cabanaconde (1-2 soles). Next, walk down the canyon to San Galle and eat lunch and swim in one of the 5 pools there. At 4pm or so walk up to either Malata or Cosñirhua and stay and eat at the Museo or Marizio´s respectivly. Next morning walk to Llahuar and stay there and sit in the hot springs. Next morning get out at 6am and walk to Cabanconde to take the 11.15am bus back to Arequipa (or walk to Solo and take the 6am truck and then the 9am bus from Cabanaconde to Arequipa). All too easy, no guide required. The only bit you might get lost on is finding the right path to Llahuar from the thatch rest area (its straight down), and the last day route to Cabanaconde after the bridge (its a small path near a big rock - ask!). Enjoy. :)
Food is more expensive than in town. You will have to budget around 8 soles per meal in the canyon and around 3.5 soles at the rim such as in Cabanaconde or Chivay.
good drinks by the lomo dam sation
In the Colca Canyon here is an abundance of cheap hospedajes in Chivay and Cabanaconde as well as at the bottom of the canyon, such as in San Galle, Malata, Cosñirhua or in San Juan de Cuccho. Price range around 8 soles per night and person.