Re-energized after a week in the “white City” of Arequipa, we climbed up onto the Andean Plateau in search of new adventures. Our first discovery was the imposing Colca Canyon. To experience the canyon and visit the indigenous people inhabiting the floor of the chasm, we set off on a three-day hiking trek.
Upon our arrival at the rim of Colca Canyon, we were greeted by a flock of Andean Condors gliding effortlessly on rising currents of thermal air. Combining its maximum weight of 33 pounds (15 kg) and wingspan of 11 feet (3.3 m), it is the largest flying bird in the world.
At the trailhead, we met our expert guide, Walter. Over the course of the next three days, Walter set a reasonable pace and shared his deep canyon full of knowledge. Besides ensuring our safety and comfort, Walter patiently described the geology, biology, and cultural anthropology of the Colca Canyon.
On the first day, Walter led us down to the bottom of the canyon. Colca Canyon is considered the second deepest canyon in the world. At its deepest, it measures almost 11,000 feet (3,300 m). Thankfully, our descent to the base of the canyon was only a manageable 3,500 feet (1,100 m) in depth.
Winding down the steep trail, alongside walls of volcanic andesite and columnar basalt, we ultimately reached the Colca River, crossed a suspension bridge, and bought a lukewarm Coke from a local woman. When I asked her for a “Colca” Cola, she laughed like I was the first person to ever crack that joke.
With our legs aching from the long downhill descent, we checked into the Colibrí Lodge in the rural canyon village of San Juan de Chuccho. Expecting primitive accommodations, we were astounded by its modern construction, clean luxurious rooms, and delicious gourmet meals.
At the lodge, we met Benito, a local guinea pig farmer, who led us down to the river to fish for rainbow trout. Using only a hook, worm, and spool of fishing line, we unfortunately failed to snare the big one. As consolation, Benito netted six small troutlets, and grilled them for us on a riverside fire as a light snack.
On the second day of our trek, we meandered upstream along the Colca River through lush farmer’s fields and small remote villages. Along the way, we met good-natured canyon dwellers and observed rural life in this unique setting on the canyon floor.
Rising from the fertile base of the canyon, we also marveled at fruitful terraced fields and orchards. Here, water channels, expertly engineered from as far back as pre-Inca times, irrigated the stair-stepped plots with clear ice-melt from the nearby Andes mountains.
For our second night in the canyon, we experienced the primitive accommodations we had expected in the oasis village of Sangalle. After a restless night’s sleep, we set out at 4:00 am to hike out of the canyon. Three hours later, just as the sun was rising over the canyon rim, we concluded our trek, exhausted but triumphant after our three-day adventure in the Colca Canyon.