This magical place is located at the northeast region of Arequipa, Peru. Overshadowed by one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu, the Colca Valley is sometimes mistakenly underestimated. Filled with culture, the area is surrounded by gentile local people and beautiful landscapes, but do not be fooled by sunny and warm days, because at night, no matter what time of the year, is always cold. That Andean dry cold so hard to describe may cause your bones to freeze, but there is nothing a good “mate de coca” or coca tea can’t fix.
Reaching the 3,100 meters above sea level, the Colca Valley was created thousands of years ago due to the erosion of the longest river on the Peruvian coast: the Colca River. Throughout the Valley, it is possible to find many small villages, each one of them with its own characteristics. They either perform typical dances or will offer you artisan work, it is always a pleasure to stop for a minute or two in every one of them.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
To get to the Colca Canyon, first you need to arrive by plane (or bus, as you wish) to the city of Arequipa. The Colca Valley does not have an airport nor a heliport (or at least none that I’ve heard about), so you need to arrive by road. You can either take a tour at the Arequipa center (no previous booking necessary, you can book tours twenty four hours before) because there are many tourism agencies around the main square, or you can rent a car. I have done that trip driving and taking a tour, and they are both different experiences. If you do not speak Spanish, then I recommend taking a tour, because you will not be able to rely on technology since there is poor cellphone reception on the road.
Once you’ve got transportation figured out, you will start your trip. The road to the Colca Valley is AMAZING (I have attached some photos I took). Beautiful natural landscapes, you will see gorgeous mountains and wildlife (vicuñas to be exact). Careful! You must know yourself, because many people get high altitude sickness. DO NOT BE FOOLED, the Colca Valley might be around 3,100 meters above sea level, but to get there you must go through a 5,500 meters above sea level area, and even for me (the altitude doesn’t affect me that much) it was tough.
WHAT SHOULDN’T YOU DO?
Regarding the altitude, to prevent feeling sick do the following:
- Drink A LOT of water, ask the tour guide to stop at a small shop to buy water before going on the road.
- Take coca tea at breakfast.
- If you do not mind chewing leaves, buy a small bag of coca leaves to chew (the Andean verb is called “chaqchar”) Careful for side effects!
- Do not eat a lot of greasy stuff such as bacon or any type of fast food because you may get nauseous.
- Just in case you start feeling incredibly sick, buy on a pharmacy on the city a pill called “Sorojchi Pills”, they will help your blood circulate better.
- When you arrive to high areas, DO NOT RUN, don’t do any exercise or physical efforts of any kind. Remember altitude sickness originates for the lack of oxygen and if you make strong physical efforts, you may lose air.
While visiting the villages at the Colca Valley, you may see locals with animals such as eagles or “vicuñas” available to take photos. DON’T. If people start paying and giving tips to villagers that trap those animals, they will continue to do so, and those animals do not belong in captivity.
WHAT TO VISIT?
During your trip to the Colca Valley you will hear of many places to visit, however many of them are a MUST:
1. CHIVAY & COPORAQUE
Chivay is the main village of the area. It is now being filled with cement by local authorities, but it has beautiful watch spots and the church it gorgeous as well. You can find several touristic areas and local restaurants at the main square and walk around to find artisan goods.
Coporaque is another village around fifteen minutes from Chivay, where I stayed both times I went. I LOVE this village because it is not filled with tourists, its quiet and at night, since there is not much light, you will see an INCREDIBLE sky filled with stars.
2. CRUZ DEL CONDOR (CONDOR’S CROSS)
Around one hour drive from the main villages, you will find the Condor’s Cross. A “condor” is an endangered Peruvian bird that lives on caves at the Colca Valley area. You may not be able to see iton the photo attached, but a condor is HUGE. The most majestic and dominant animal I have ever seen in my life.
On this place called the Condor Cross, if your timing is just right and you are lucky enough, you will see these birds going out, soaring beautifully, for a hunt. You should leave from your hotel at around 6 a.m., I know, it is so early, but if you really want to see a condor, then your time in bed should be sacrificed.
3. THERMAL POOLS
You can’t leave the Colca Valley without swimming at a thermal pool. Colca is located around another valley called “the Volcano Valley”, therefore, there is a lot of hot water running underneath the earth. Locals and businesses have managed to create pools with natural hot water, so TAKE BATHING SUITS! Many hotels have pools on their own but if yours doesn’t, you will still find many places to go. Some of them have pools located at the edge of cliffs, so you will have an incredible view while relaxing on a natural Jacuzzi. But remember there is a constant dry and cold wind, so be prepared when you leave the pools otherwise you will catch a cold.
“It’s not just the vastness and depth of the Colca that make it so fantastical, it’s the shifts in its mood. There are more scenery changes along its 100km passage than there are in most European countries.” – Lonely Planet
As I said, the Colca Valley is beautiful. It’s an experience you will never forget. There are many other activities to do. If you enjoy walking, the Colca Valley is filled with beautiful places you can only arrive by foot, but those places will be a story for another article.
PS.: Every picture on this post was taken by me, in case you were wondering.