Notes From Afar – Discover Colca Canyon
Notes From Afar
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Discover Colca Canyon
By Ben Flotken
With a depth almost twice that of the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, and yet has somehow flown under the radar on a global scale. Resting within the Andes, this majestic canyon runs for over 60 miles, and has provided a home for the Andean people since pre-Incan days.
Only hours away from Arequippa, Peru’s second biggest city, Colca Canyon draws about 120,000 annual visitors looking to take in the majestic mountain panoramas and get a glimpse of the soaring Andean condors, a species that is of great symbolic value to the peoples of the Andes, and plays an important part in their folklore and mythology. However, most of these tourists only drive through in packed buses, stopping at viewing points, such as the Mirador Cruz del Condor, to look over the edge of the canyon and snap a picture of the condors before hopping back on a bus to return to their beds back in Arequippa. For those of a slightly more adventurous spirit, hiking into the canyon is one of the great treks of Peru, guaranteeing a separation from most of the packs of tourists seen everywhere else along the so-called Gringo Trail.
Hiking through the Colca Canyon typically involves a three day trek, with one day of hiking into the canyon, another day through it, and then back up on the final day. This can prove intense, especially due to the elevation of the canyon, and should not be attempted by those who have not yet acclimated to the altitude and don’t have proper footgear. Despite this, a little coca tea and a solid pair of shoes go a long way, and guides are more than happy to assist hikers, allowing them to go at their own pace.
Within the hike, the amount of variation in scenery is truly amazing, and defies what one would expect in so small of a region. From the high plateau of the Andean altiplano, to desolate desert sprinkled with cacti, to the terraced farming that has been practiced in this region for hundreds of years, the sights are ever-changing, and ensure that hikers are constantly wondering what new sight lies around the next turn.
Along with the beautiful scenery is the ability to interact with the local populace, who live much the way they have since before the time of the Incas. Terraced farming, a technological innovation that allowed populations in the Andes to concentrate while preventing environmental degradation, is still practiced, while small guinea pig farms can occasionally be witnessed along the side of the road, providers of cuy, a staple food source of the region, and which tastes similar to duck. Along with this, the two distinct groups that remain to this day can still be distinguished by the types of hat they wear, with the Cabanas in the west wearing rounded felt hats, while the Collaguas sport flat straw hats.
After trekking through Colca Canyon and witnessing its splendor, its nice to relax a little bit in the crisp mountain air. Thankfully, the canyon has another surprise in store for visitors that might help with this endeavor, as there are naturally occurring hot springs in the area that people can soak in. At the end of a long day of hiking, a well-deserved soak is the perfect way to relax.