Colca cayon, about 150km north from Arequipa, is a large canyon which at 4,160 m deep is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Until a few years ago, this was believed to be the deepest canyon in the world: Now that title goes to the Cañon de Cotahuasi, just 100km to the west, which is deeper by some 150m or so. Still, Cañon del Colca was incredibly impressive in it’s own right; From tiny traditional villages, soaring condors overhead, and huge snow-capped mountains looming in the distance, to the backpacker-mecca of ‘The Oasis’ with its palm-shaded swimming pools in the bottom of the canyon- This was a great mix of rugged nature, culture, and relaxation.
On the first day in the canyon, we met Kevin and Chini (who we had stayed with three months ago in Lima, and randomly bumped into again in Arequipa) in Chivay at the start of the canyon. After a quick night there, we set out the next day by foot to explore some of the smaller villages on the way from Chivay to Cabanaconde at the west end of the canyon. The colca river winds through impressive Inca terraces which are still in use by the villages today, and are reputedly the most extensive terrace system in all of Peru.
From Cabanaconde, we hiked down into the canyon to a place called ‘The Oasis’, which lies near the canyon floor almost 2000m below. Here, after three hours of steep, tiring, downhill walking, you arrive at a lush oasis of Palms, simple thatched huts, and swimming pools, punctuated by the steep canon walls towering thousands of feet overhead. Kevin and Chini had to climb back up the canyon that afternoon, to head back to Lima the next day. We stayed here for two nights, doing mostly nothing but enjoying the surroundings and the sunshine, and eating heaping plates of spaghetti served by our hosts every night.
From the Oasis, we hiked further into the Canyon passing the small village of Malata before continuing on to San Juan de Chuccho. On the way we walked though thick groves of cactus full of ripe fruit which of course we had to try! They were delicious, but as I was unlucky to discover, one has to be extra careful about the tiny spines- If you get too greedy and down’t clean them thoroughly before eating then, the tiny thorns will get stuck in your tounge and are impossible to remove! Lena spent a good half hour cleaning me up after my little incident… It was worth it though- the fruits were sweet and juicy which was perfect for the hot trail!
Cactus fruit past, we continued to Malata and then to San Juan, where we found a great camping spot for the night in a small, grassy meadow, just on the edge of the canyon wall. We stopped here early, in the meadow surrounded by giant cacti and trees covered in Spanish moss, to relax for a while and cook a much-needed hearty dinner of quinua and soup. Sitting in the bottom of the canyon as the sun set and the stars came out was so peaceful, and I wasn’t ready to leave. Staring at the stars and the canyon walls that night, I thought I could easily spend another few days there…
The next day though, we had to face the rough 3 1/2 hour trail climbing back to the top of the canyon. We were awake by 5:00 in hopes that we could beat the morning sun, but by 7:00 we were less than halfway up and the sun was already burning hot. Unfortunately, our heavy bags made this part of the trek even more difficult and the last hour or so of climbing, we were sweaty and our legs were shaking. We had to stop every 15 minutes or so during the last part of the climb to catch our breath and rest our tired legs. By the time we reached Cabanaconde again, Lena was ready to never see the canyon again, and both of us were so exhausted we were having trouble walking! We stopped in the first shop we passed and bought some much-needed bananas for our potassium fix before catching the bus for the bumpy ride back to Arequipa.