February 26th, 2008 – by: AndySD
Looking down on Chivay arriving from Arequipa
Everywhere you look the tourist people are advertising Colca Canyon
as the world´s deepest canyon, which is in fact not true. Personally, I dispute the fact that it is a canyon, but I´ll get to that later. The deepest canyon is actually Cotohausi Canyon, several hours north of Colca Canyon, which at its deepest point is about 150m deeper than Colca Canyon. If you believe the numbers, Colca Canyon is around 10,000 feet deep. The reason that I dispute its status as a canyon is that it is really more of a gradually sloping river valley than what you would traditionally think of as a canyon. Rising up from the river is a hillside of terraces which lead up to a bit of a plateau and then from that plateau the mountains rise up to the snow covered peaks, kind of a two-tiered geography.
Terraced hillsides along the river
It is very pretty, with the numerous lush green terraced hillsides (courtesy of the rainy season) and snow covered peaks in the background. And maybe it isn´t as dramatic as it could be because the road along the canyon doesn´t go any where near the heights the snow covered mountains on either side, so you are forced to view the canyon from somewhere in the middle. Some of the photos that I saw of a really narrow canyon were actually taken much further downstream, in a place inaccessible from the road and where even the 2-3 day hiking trips into the canyon don´t go. One of the highlights of the canyon is the opportunity to see condors soaring above the valley. I was lucky to at least see a few of these, although it definitely wasn´t from the Cruz del Condor viewpoint, which is famous for just such views.
Photo of the valley - not really a canyon
The entire 90 minutes that it took our bus to reach the viewpoint, the weather was perfect, crystal clear skies with clouds obscuring only the snow covered mountain peaks located behind the first row of mountains that rise up from the river. The second we started descending towards the viewpoint, we were enveloped in a thick shroud of fog and visibility dropped to twenty or thirty feet. I spent about 15 minutes there seeing nothing but people selling local crafts before catching the first passing bus back to Chivay
for a short layover before heading to Arequipa
, disappointed with the canyon as well as the steep 35 soles entry ticket just to travel along the road.
Amazing views of the fog at Cruz del Condor
The journey to and from Arequipa was very scenic heading over the altiplano and by snow covered peaks (if they weren´t covered in fog) at around 4500m. If you do go to the canyon, here is some free travel advice not in any guide book. See the canyon on Saturday and/or Sunday and then on Monday at 9:30am you can catch the once weekly bus (Andalucia - old and crappy) the makes a big loop from Chivay all the way along the canyon and then back to Arequipa along some back roads and remote villages past Cabanaconde; otherwise you have to return the exact same way you came from Arequipa which is somewhat dull after you have already done it.