Cotahuasi Canyon

A road heads northwest off the Panamericana between Camaná and Repartición towards Corire, Aplao and the Cotahuasi Canyon. It passes the Toro Muerto petroglyphs and traverses the western slopes of Nevado Coropuna, Peru's third-highest peak at 6425 m, before winding down into Cotahuasi. Considered one of the most beautiful canyons in the world, as well as the deepest (about 1850 m deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA), Cotahuasi has several traditional communities where ancient customs persist. The river, cutting its way through steep walls, is the focus of some tremendous scenery and top-quality rafting or kayaking. Once part of an Inca route from the coast to Cuzco, it is now a great place for hiking, with no end of ruins, hot springs, cascades and rivers to explore.

Ins and outs

The only way into the canyon is by road; there are bus services from Arequipa. Tour operators run to Toro Muerto and can arrange trips to Cotahuasi. Accommodation and services are basic.

Background

The canyon, in the northwest of the Department of Arequipa, has been cut by the Río Cotahuasi, whose waters are formed by the Río Huayllapaña flowing from the north, above Pampamarca, and the Río Huarcaya from the west, above Tomepampa. The river cuts its way westwards and then southwards through the deepest parts of the canyon, below Quechualla. It flows into the Pacific as the Río Ocuña, having joined with the Río Marán along the way. At its deepest, at Ninochaca (just below the village of Quechualla), the canyon is 3354 m deep, 163 m deeper than the Colca Canyon and the deepest in the world. From this point the only way down the canyon is by kayak and it is through kayakers' reports since 1994 that the area has come to the notice of tourists. It was declared a Zona de Reserva Turística in 1988 and there is pressure to make parts of it into a national park. The vertiginous gradient of the canyon walls and the aridity of its climate allow little agriculture but there are several charming citrus-growing villages downstream, among them
Chaupa
,
Velinga
and
Quechualla
.

In Inca times the road linking Puerto Inca on the Pacific coast and Cuzco ran along much of the canyon's course. It was used for taking fish to the ancient Inca capital. Parts of the road are still intact and there are numerous remains of
andenes
, or terraces, which supported settlement along the route. There are also Huari and other pre-Inca ruins.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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