Photo Series: The Captivating Colca Canyon of Peru

Condor Rising, Colca Canyon

Before my visit to Peru, I only ever really thought of it in terms of Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. I was most definitely naive to the many fantastic historical and natural sights that the country had to offer. My brother had been to Peru a year or two before and had given me a list of suggestions on places to go. One such spot was the city of Arequipa, which is a beautiful colonial city in the country’s south. After doing some research, I learned that one of the most popular activities for visitors to Arequipa is a trip to the somewhat nearby Colca Canyon.

Colca Canyon is a long and winding valley that runs through the Andes Mountains and boasts some breathtaking landscapes and wildlife. What I hadn’t realised was that tours to Colca Canyon are usually at least 2 days. This is because they tend to involve hiking down into the canyon. I hadn’t accounted for that in my plans and was pretty disheartened. Thankfully, I found out at my hostel that there was the option for a day trip that didn’t include the hike. The only down side was that it was going to be a really long day.

Grey Valley Day, Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon Terraces

Colca Canyon Landscape

Colca Canyon Cliffs

The day trip to Colca Canyon began well before sunrise with the minibus picking me up around 4.30am. Soon we were heading out of Arequipa and climbing up into the mountains. Much of the ride was still in the dark, so the landscapes were hidden from us. It wasn’t until we neared the Patapampa pass that began to get a little lighter and we could see the snow covering the ground. The pass is roughly 4900 metres in elevation and being by far the highest I had been at that point, I was struck by some pretty intense headaches for an hour or so.

They did start to dissipate as we arrived at our first stop in the town of Chivay. After exploring the quite pretty city of Arequipa, the towns around Colca Canyon were eye-opening to say the least. It was immediately clear that the standard of living was lower and that we really were out in the countryside. The main reason for stopping in Chivay was to stretch our legs and get some breakfast in us before making our way into the canyon.

Aunque Town, Colca Canyon

Aunque Colca Canyon

Cross on the Hill, Colca Canyon

Aunque Streets, Colca Canyon

Rural Streets, Colca Canyon

With some food in our bellies, we ventured off into the eastern end of the Colca Canyon. It wasn’t long before we were being presented with lush green terraces over the rocky canyon. The terraces actually reminded me of the rice terraces of Sapa in their shape. Scattered about occasionally were little villages sitting at the foot of mountains and totally dwarfed by them. As the valley widened out, the canyon grew deeper and the view just more and more awe-inspiring. There was some patches of fog hovering over parts of the valley adding to the overall atmosphere of the place.

Colca Canyon Landscape

Canyon Town, Colca Canyon

Rio Colca, Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon Town

Colca Canyon

Green Valley of Colca Canyon

As we worked our way into the canyon, we stopped for a short break in the village of Maca. There we found markets with all sorts of knitwear which was perfect as I was in dire need of warmer clothing. After buying a beanie and some gloves, I took a look at the village’s church which seemed to be reflective of the type found in smaller Peruvian towns and villages. Nearby we also had the opportunity to get some photos with some ladies dressed in traditional clothes and their surprisingly sedate llamas.

Maca Church, Colca Canyon

Maca, Colca Canyon

Local Ladies, Colca Canyon

From there it was onwards into the canyon and when we really started to see the region’s mountains come to the foreground. As the canyon runs into the Andes Mountains, there are some significantly massive mountains that it meets. Many of the mountain peaks you can see are well over 5000 metres high. Their height is also amplified by the depth of the canyon itself, which is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. It really is hard to put that sense of scale into words or pictures; you need to see it with your own eyes to grasp it.

Colca Canyon View

Mountains of Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon

Mountains over Colca Canyon

The real highlight in my opinion of visiting Colca Canyon occurs once you’ve reached Condor’s Cross. As the name suggests, this is where you are able to see the majestic Andean Condors soar over the canyon. With a wingspan of roughly 3 metres, these condors are the biggest birds in the world in that regard. As we arrived there was very little movement about but soon the birds emerged from down below us and began to circle overhead and through the canyon. All told we probably saw a dozen condors which is very lucky as there are times when visitors may only see a couple or none at all. You certainly develop a respect for how large they are as they fly over your head; it’s really something.

Condor in Canyon, Colca Canyon

Condor Silhouette, Colca Canyon

Condor Landscape, Colca Canyon

Condor Soaring, Colca Canyon

Condors, Colca Canyon

Two Condors, Colca Canyon

Condors of Colca Canyon

After seeing plenty of the condors and all that Colca Canyon has to offer, we began to make our way back to Arequipa. Along the way we passed the edge of the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve and came across various terrains from plateau wetlands to rocky scrub. Here there were plenty of vicuñas and llamas about grazing, which never grows old. In the end it was a long day of sightseeing but such a great opportunity to see some Peruvian wildlife and dramatic landscapes.

Pampa Canahuas, Colca Canyon

Alpacas, near Colca Canyon

Pampa Canahuas, near Colca Canyon

Rocky Terrain near Colca Canyon

Barren Village near Colca Canyon

Vicuna outside Colca Canyon

Highway to Colca Canyon


Have you visited Peru’s Colca Canyon? What part of the region would most appeal to you? Please share in the comments below.

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Photo Series: The Captivating Colca Canyon of Peru, via @travelsewhere



13 Comment

  1. Absolutely breathtaking! Nice to learn about somewhere else in Peru besides Manchu Picchu! 🙂 #WanderfulWednesday

  2. vanbrune says:

    Wow those landscapes are breath-taking for sure! Mountains, a canyon and then this wide desert-like landscape all so close to each other! Well worth getting up early for I’d say 😉

  3. Ruth says:

    To me, it wouldn’t matter if the trip is long ( I will prefer the two, of course). This scenery is incredible. Natural areas are some of my favorite places to visit. I think I enjoy them more than cities. It is great you got to see the condor from such a close distance. They are very impressive birds. I got to see the North American ones in Big Sur (but is was a quick sight). #wanderfulwednesday

  4. OH WOW!! This landscape is just so incredible, I love the greenery and the mountains – seriously stunning. I didn’t visit when I was in Peru, but I would love to now!

  5. RoarLoud says:

    I have had Peru on my wish list for some time now. I do want to hike the Inca trail but I keep reading about other treks like this that I’d love to do also. At this point I need about a month for everything I’d like to do in Peru!

  6. WOW!! These photos are so gorgeous!! I love how lush the green terraces are, and especially contrasted with the rocky mountains. I would LOVE to see this if I ever make it to Peru. And how amazing that you saw so many condors. You got some really good shots of them flying!

  7. I enjoyed Colca soooo much!! #wkendtravelinspiration

  8. I did not get to Colca or Arequipa on our last foray into Peru, so next time! What time of year were you there? Everything is so green. When we went to Peru everything was so much browner. Love your photos and Happy Holidays!

  9. Allison says:

    Wow! That first photo is stunning. Colca Canyon is breathtaking. I will have to see it for myself when I get to Peru. #wkendtravelinspiration

  10. I hadn’t heard of Colca Canyon, but I can see that is amazing. Fantastic photos too.

  11. Beautiful photos! This makes me want to visit!

  12. natalietanner says:

    We were headed to Peru last summer then thought we would wait till the kids were a little older before tackling possible altitude issues. Thanks for sharing this post…it sure it more than the few things we all put at the top of the list like Machu Pichu.

  13. jill says:

    Beautiful photos! Especially love the condors!

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