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An introduction to the Colca Canyon, Peru

The Colca Canyon region is a land of extremes.  Snow covered mountain peaks stretch 20,000 feet above sea level, with furrowed mountain slopes turning into terraced agricultural fields before plunging down a staggering 10,470 feet to the canyon floor far below.

On the precipice of this canyon, the second deepest in the world, visitors ponder the magnificence of nature, while swooping condors dazzle with displays of air acrobatics. This is where tours of the Colca Canyon typically cumulate: Cruz del Condor. Although there are numerous outlooks along the main road that winds with the canyon’s ridge, this one is famous for its resident family of condors.


Photo - Tarnished_Plastic

The Andean condor is one of the largest flying birds in the world, and despite its massive wingspan (10 feet!) it still requires a bit of flying assistance, which is where the canyon comes in. The thermal updrafts wafting through the gorge carry the condors along, requiring relatively little flying effort from the hefty birds. Kind of like air surfing.

Although the Cruz del Condor is the destination, when visiting the Colca Canyon, the journey is truly part of the attraction. As you venture through the valley, you’ll pass through Andean villages largely unchanged by modern times. Locals live a rural existence centered on traditional farming and home life. Women wear colorful and layered traditional outfits as they go about their daily tasks, and many are happy to pose for a photo if asked (and appreciate a tip). The vibrant village life is always framed by a backdrop of verdant terraced agricultural fields, many of which have been farmed since pre-Incan times.


Photo - Tomasz Wagner Mananetwork

Separating Arequipa from the Colca Canyon is the National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca, a windswept highland prairie surrounded by towering volcanoes and mountains. The reserve stretches over 366,000 hectares and is a refuge for numerous Andean animals, such as the vicuña a wild relative of the llama (and national animal of Peru); the viscacha a fuzzy creature that looks like a mix between a rabbit and a chinchilla; and the Andean flamingo, one of the rarest flamingos in the world. The Colca Canyon is usually connected with a visit to the colonial city of Arequipa or the highland Lake Titicaca, shared between Peru and Bolivia

Keen to see the Colca Canyon for yourself? Check out our Peru itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

Thanks to Wally Grom for the title image of this blog.

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