About Colca Canyon and Arequipa
No adventure in southern Peru is complete without including a few days in Arequipa and the Colca River valley. Spellbinding scenery, delicious regional cuisine, fascinating museums, delightful country inns, open-air hot springs, inspiring day-hikes, and a vivid local culture reward the visitor. Our programs are custom-tailored to optimize your experience with excellent private guides and drivers.
Arequipa, Peru's second largest city after Lima, enjoys a privileged location at 7,800 feet (2,380 m) elevation against the backdrop of the perfect cone of 19,000-foot (5,822 m) El Misti Volcano. Founded by the Spanish in 1540 on the site of an existing pre-Inca settlement, this attractive city is graced with many handsome colonial buildings constructed from light-colored volcanic stone called sillar (pronounced "seal-yar")
Arequipa's most remarkable visitor site is the Convent of Santa Catalina. Throughout colonial times, the Convent accepted a daughter from every generation of every prominent southern Peruvian family. Over time, this important institution grew to occupy several city blocks in a walled maze of cloisters and gardens. The Catholic Church declined in importance in the 19th century republican era, such that the nuns of today's convent occupy only a small area within the extensive original property. The remaining complex has been open to the public only since 1970. It is a beautiful, ethereal world of intimate courtyards, fountains, narrow alleys, and austere but ample living quarters: a fascinating and timeless glimpse into colonial life at the boundary between affluence and piety.
Another popular highlight is the Museo de Santuarios Andinos, better known as the Inca Mummy Museum. The exhibit of artifacts recovered from ritual burial sites at the tops of Andean volcanoes includes some otherworldly Inca royal woven garments, in addition to the mummies themselves.
Traveling northwest from Arequipa on excellent, mainly paved highways, we climb to a high plateau and traverse Pampa Cañahuas, an extension of the Aguadas Blancas Reserve, a protected area for vicuñas (the graceful relative of llamas and alpacas). We cross 15,830-foot Patapampa Pass amid spectacular snow-peaks, before descending into the eastern end of the valley to Chivay (11,480 ft), the most important town in the Colca Valley. From its source in the Andean glaciers, the river descends rapidly to the Pacific Ocean, cutting through the soft volcanic rock an immense canyon--said to be twice as deep as the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. On both sides of the valley, high above the river in its canyon far below, you explore intriguing villages inhabited by the original Cabana and Collagua groups. The valley contains numerous pre-Inca agricultural terrace complexes, many of which are still in use today. There are geoglyphs, cliff tombs and other archeological remains. We stop at the Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint where condors nesting in the cliffs spiral up on the morning’s thermal air currents. Our visitors enjoy many hiking options, ranging from moderate to challenging.
Natural hot springs and a variety of delightful country inns make the Colca Canyon a memorable complement to a visit to Cuzco and Lake Titicaca. More adventuresome visitors can reach the headwaters of the Amazon River, a glacial tributary on the northern slope of El Mismi Volcano.
Our tours include private English-speaking guide and transport, daily breakfast and lunch, park fees and entrance to indicated sites. They exclude dinners, tips, airport departure taxes, and charges for personal items such as laundry, long distance telephone, etc.