tour in one of the deepest canyons in the world

tour in one of the deepest canyons in the world

South America

I felt the Colca Valley before I saw it. I got off the bus, zipped up my coat and, with the cold wind pushing in the opposite direction, I walked to the Patapampa Viewpoint.

It took me three steps to realize that my breathing had become more complicated and that the air seemed to be escaping my lungs. These – and a slight headache – were the symptoms of altitude sickness, which afflicts countless tourists who venture into the Andes.

We had left Arequipa early, the second largest city in Peru, and our final destination was the Colca Valley, a journey of around 160 kilometers.

Small but challenging distance. Surrounded by three volcanoes, Arequipa is already on the roof of the world: the average altitude there is 2300 meters. But taking the road towards the Colca Valley means climbing even further.

See too: What to do in Arequipa
Life in the quarries and the Sillar Route, in Peru
Where to stay in Arequipa – best hotels and neighborhoods
Where to stay in Puno – best hotels and neighborhoods

Are you going to travel? Travel Insurance is mandatory in dozens of countries and essential for any trip. Don't be left unprotected in Peru. See how to get the best cost/benefit insurance with our discount code.

Colca Valley: what the tour is like

At the first stop, in the town of Yura, about an hour after we left Arequipa, I drank coca tea, to try to control altitude sickness. I think it was the drink that helped me walk when we arrived at the Patapampa Viewpoint, around the middle of the day. The altitude there is 4900 meters.

The highest point on the route, the Patapampa Viewpoint has become a mandatory stop for anyone traveling between Arequipa and the Colca Valley, which is visited by 150,000 people annually. There are many Peruvian tourists, but foreigners can also be seen in droves.

To get to the Valley you have to cross the Salinas and Aguada Branca National Reserve, an environmental protection area that seems to have been born ready for a road trip. Snow-capped peaks, beautiful plains and friendly vicuñas – the smallest of the Andean camelids – form the backdrop.

Colca Valley, Peru

After a break for photos and contemplation, not necessarily in that order, we left the Patapampa Viewpoint and began to descend towards the valley. Peruvian women selling handicrafts, llamas and small villages take over the region, which has been inhabited for at least a millennium.

The Incas incorporated the Colca Valley into their Empire. And the Spanish, who arrived there in the 16th century, built their cities and churches, creating a different style. And the mestizo baroqueor Andean, which mixes European and American elements in constructions, especially religious ones.

colca valley tour

The 10 churches in the valley, spread across small villages, would already provide enough reasons to go there. Coporaque, Yanque, Maca, Madrigal, Ichupampa, Achoma, Lari, Pinchollo and Chivay are the names of the main towns in Colca, with the last one, which has less than 5 thousand inhabitants, being considered the capital of the region.

Most tourists stay there or in Yanque or Coporaque, which is where I stayed, at Aranwa Pueblito Encantado del Colca.

See too: Other accommodation options in the Colca Valley

colca valley tour

The Colca Canyon and the Condor Cross

The landscape I witnessed from the bus window was fantastic, with volcanoes and snow-capped peaks in the background. Each viewpoint, village and colonial church makes the trip worth it, as do the thermal waters that exist there, the vicuñas and other animals that we see along the way.

But the truth is that the great attraction of the Colca Valley, the one that takes all these people there, is something else: a canyon.

Colca Valley Viewpoint, Peru

To be more exact, the second largest in the world, at 4150 meters deep. The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the internationally famous Grand Canyon in the United States. And it narrowly loses first place in this ranking, to the also Peruvian Cânion de Cotahuasi.

Tourism began in the Colca Valley a few decades ago, more or less after a team of explorers rafted down the Colca River and assured the world that there, in the middle of the Peruvian Andes, was one of the most beautiful canyons on the planet.

Since then, Tourists arriving in Arequipa have the Colca Valley as their top priority, just as Machu Picchu is for those arriving in Cuzco. And the most popular viewpoint in the valley is Cruz do Condor.

colca valley tour

From this place it is possible to see the Andean condor, the largest flying bird on the planet – its 3.20 wingspan! On average, each condor is capable of living for up to 60 years.

Despite being considered a national symbol of several South American countries and being part of Andean mythology, the condor is threatened with extinction, both due to loss of its natural habitat and the action of hunters.

Condors feed on small animals and carrion. From the viewpoint, especially in the early morning, it is possible to observe the flight of the bird, which lives protected there.

colca valley tour

I saw some condors, contemplated the snowy mountains and prepared to return. Before that, Alonso, the guide who accompanied us on the trip, decided to surprise us once again:

“See that snowy peak in the background? It's Nevado Mismi. It is from there, from a small lagoon, that the Amazon River originates.” The source of the largest river in the world is on the outskirts of the Colca Valley.

Colca Valley, Peru

Colca Valley: how to get there, what to do, how long to stay

The best way to get to know the Colca Valley is to spend at least one night in the region. There are even tours offered on a day trip basis, starting from Arequipa, but the day is long. You will leave the hotel early in the morning, around 2 am, and return to Arequipa in the late afternoon.

Add all this rush, altitude sickness, the fantastic landscapes of the Valley and the many tour options there and it becomes clear that the best decision is to discard the day trip, sleep in the Colca Valley and return the next day to Arequipa ( or continue from there to Puno and the beauty of Lake Titicaca).

Will you continue from Arequipa to Puno? Arequipa is 300 km from Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Halfway between the two cities is the Colca Valley.

If you intend to include the Colca Valley and Puno in your itinerary, Here's another fantastic tip: book a tour that picks you up in Arequipa, passes through the Colca Valley and the Chacapi hot springs and ends in Puno.

  • The complete itinerary takes 17 hours and is done on a tourist bus, with several stops for food. It costs R$300 per person and is one of the most reserved experiences in Arequipa. Find out more here.

Colca Valley, Peru

Sign up for our newsletter