Plunging 13,650 feet (4,160 meters) down, Peru’s Colca Canyon is officially one of the world’s deepest canyons—with a breadth of activities to match. Visitors opt to visit this off-the-beaten-track attraction for its opportunities for adventure in a stunning natural environment, its large population of Andean condors, and its pre-Inca historical sites.
Most Colca Canyon tours start in Arequipa, which doubles as a basecamp for 3-day treks through the Andes Mountains (be sure to go with a guide for safety reasons) and for overnight horseback riding or bus tours to the canyon. Upon arrival at the Andean valley, a plethora of options for tours and outdoor activities await: Hike to overlooks such as La Cruz del Condor, bike through the Colca Valley, or kayak or raft down the Colca River.
No matter what sights and activities you choose, guided tours are generally the easiest and most convenient way to travel, as most provide round-trip transportation from Arequipa. But if you’re seeking an independent sightseeing experience, you can book a bus transfer from Arequipa with stops at scenic viewpoints and attractions along the way.
Things to Know Before You Go
Multi-day Colca Canyon tours often include visits to nearby attractions in the Arequipa region, such as Puno on Lake Titicaca or the Pampa Canahuas Reserve, famous for its wild vicunas.
Day trips from Arequipa to the canyon can last up to 14 hours.
Stave off altitude sickness by allowing yourself a couple days to acclimate in Arequipa before attempting any activities.
How to Get There
The closest city to Colca Canyon is Arequipa, roughly 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast. From there you can book a bus or shuttle directly to the canyon, or take public transportation to Chivay or Cabanaconde on either end of the canyon. Chivay is the more popular choice, as it is home to relaxing hot springs. If you have the time and energy, you can make the 3-day hike. You can also reach the canyon via Cusco, though it is a longer journey.
When to Get There
May through September is the driest time of the year in Peru, and therefore it’s the best for hiking and other outdoor activities. December through February is the low season, which promises fewer crowds.
History and Andean Condors in Colca Canyon
Historical attractions—such as pre-Hispanic settlements, the pre-Inca Chimpa fortress, and the caves of Mollepunko above Callalli, where 6,000-year-old rock art shows the domestication of the alpaca—are plentiful in the canyon. Andean Condors are another draw as some of the world’s largest flying birds, with bodies up to four feet (1.2 meters) tall and wingspans of up to 10.5 feet (3.2 meters). Because of their size, they live in windy areas that can help them get off the ground.