Colca Canyon in Peru is one of the essential sights if you're going to visit the country. The canyon is about 3,400 metres deep and is one of the largest canyons in the world and the third most visited in Peru.
But the valley contains much more than just the canyon. No wonder, since it's located in the middle of the Andes and surrounded by volcanoes. In fact, some of them are still active. Here are some activities we can recommend. Bear in mind that it's a safe place and while it attracts many travellers, if you leave the most popular parts you can enjoy it in solitude.
To visit the Colca Canyon you must pass through the Salinas Reserve, where you can see alpacas, llamas and vicuñas in the wild. Quite a spectacle, before you even reach your destination. The road that crosses it, with its immense landscapes devoid of people, is an attraction in itself.
Remember that, during the whole visit to the Colca Canyon you will be over 3,000 metres above sea level, and in some cases more than 4,000 metres. Take the necessary precautions against altitude sickness.
The mummy Juanita was found in one of the many volcanoes that can be seen from this look-out point, named Pichu Pichu. The views are spectacular, but don't use all your memory cards here, because you have a lot to see. For example, the terrace of totems, which are actually small piles of rounded pebbles with religious significance for the Incas. You can leave your own stone if you wish.
A little reminder: the look-out point is 5,000 metres above sea level, which means that, even if the sun's shining, it'll be cold. Go prepared.
To visit the Colca Canyon you must stop in Chivay, the most important town in the area and the last "civilised" settlement you will find. Use the cash points if you need to and buy some bottled water just in case.
Despite its location, Chivay has unusual attractions, such as a planetarium, the main square and some hot springs.
This lake gets its name from the effect that light has on its surface. The colour that you see depends on the time of day you visit. Atmospheric factors, such as temperature and the wind, also influence its hue.
Remember that the Colca Canyon is a volcanic area. That's why there are many hot springs. The most visited ones are those of La Calera, about three kilometres from Chivay, so you can get there on foot. What you'll find are natural pools at different temperatures. A unique accompaniment to your visit are the incredible views of the valley.
Near the town of Yanque, where there is a display of traditional dances every morning, is the Uyo Uyo archaeological site. If you like hiking, you'll get there without any problem, even though the walk is uphill. The view of the canyon from above is fantastic.
At the site you'll see the layout of the ancient streets of a city that fell into the hands of the Incas and, if you go a little further, there is a beautiful waterfall.
This is a village of fewer than 2,000 inhabitants notable for the church of Santa Ana, whose interior of mirrors and gold is especially picturesque. In addition, there's a small market held every day where you can taste the inner part of the cactus.
Pinchollo is one of the least visited villages in the Colca Canyon, but it's one you will not want to miss. There's an active geyser nearby and you can take a closer look at the Hualca Hualca volcano.
The Cruz del Condor look-out point is the jewel in the crown of the Colca Canyon. Not only because the views of the valley are spectacular, but because it's common to see the flight of condors from here. The Andean Condor, which has inspired songs such as El Condor Pasa, is the largest flying animal in the world. It can reach a weight of 15 kilos and a wingspan of up to 230 cm.
It is best to arrive early in the morning to avoid hordes of tourists. And remember that although condors often make an appearance, they're wild animals, so their presence is not guaranteed.
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