Exploring Colca: A Guide to Hiking the World's Second Deepest Canyon
(by Vincent)

The views from the rim of Peru's Colca Canyon are nothing short of astonishing.  The 13,650 foot canyon carved out by a river of the same name is situated in southern Peru along the edge of the Andes, about 160 miles northwest of Arequipa.  The canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon---it's actually the second deepest canyon in the world, only a bit shallower than its neighbor, the Cotahausi Canyon.  The surrounding landscape is beautiful, riveted by Incan terraces and dotted by snow-capped mountain peaks, and the canyon itself is full of ancient history, old ruins, and rich cultural traditions.

Geographically speaking, the canyon is actually quite young, formed less than 100 million years ago as the Colca River cut into beds of volcanic rocks deposited along a major fault line in the earth's crust.  the descent into the canyon is marked by an astounding diversity.  The hills above the canyon tend to be cool, cloudy and dry, while the weather on the canyon's floor tends to be sunny and humid.  though a difficult trek the journey to the Canyon floor is well worth it.  However if you are planning a hike into Colca there are several things to keep in mind.  Be sure to check out these tips.

When to go: 

You will want to avoid hiking in the rainy season, December through March.  You are probably best off visiting anytime between May and October.  Keep in mind that days tend to warm in the Canyon and the nights are cold so pack appropriately.  Also, make sure you have a sturdy pair of hiking boots.

Where to go:

First you will need to get to a town at the base of the canyon to start your descent.  Chivay is a traditional starting point, though it is often overwhelmed with tourists.  If you're looking for something off the beaten path try Cabanaconde---most organized tours don't make it this far so there aren't as many tourists hanging around.

From Cabanaconde you can easily hike down into the lower canyon, Colca's deepest point.  The Oasis de Sangalle is a great place to stay at the Canyon's base.  The rooms are pretty basic but the views are breathtaking and the grounds feature several natural pools.


Cotahausi Canyon

Safety tips:

Hiking isn't necessarily dangerous, but there are a few common sense precautions to keep in mind.  First of all, never hike the canyon after dark; make sure you allot yourself sufficient time to finish the hike in the daylight.  Make sure you know where you are going.  Though there are marked trails, it is probably a good idea to hire a local guide (there are many in the area, so finding one shouldn't be an issue).

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