Top 8 Astounding Facts About The Colca Canyon

One of the most amazing canyons in the world can be found in the southern part of Peru.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about the Colca Canyon, one of Peru’s major tourist attractions for multiple reasons!

1. It’s located just west of one of the world’s most famous lakes

The Colca Canyon is perhaps not as well-known as Machu Picchu, Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, but is still one of the country’s most visited natural wonders in the country. It’s situated in the Colca Valley of the Andes Mountains, the most extensive mountain range in South America which runs all across the western part of the continent.

The canyon is located in the southern part of the country at a distance of about 160 kilometers (99 miles) to the northwest of Arequipa, the second-largest city in Peru. This is also the city where most tourists arrive to visit the canyon.

The other famous natural wonder in the area is an astounding lake called Lake Titicaca. This lake is often referred to as the “highest navigable lake in the world” (for big ships) of which the surface area is situated at a height of 3,812 meters (12,507 feet).

Colca Valley
The Colca Valley / /

2. The canyon was formed by a river with the same name

Like most famous canyons in the world, it was formed by a river that flows through it in a process that took millions of years. This river is referred to as the Colca River and flows all through the valley.

When this river leaves the Colca Valley it gets a different name. Downstream it’s referred to as either the Majes or the Camaná. It was eventually released in the Pacific Ocean near the town of Camaná

Colca River in Colca Canyon
The Colca River / Tydence Davis /

3. The Colca Canyon is one of the biggest in the world

The Colca Canyon is one of the biggest canyons in the world. It has a total length of about 70 kilometers (43 miles) and in certain spots, it reaches a depth of 3,270 meters (10,730 feet).

To give some reference to this number, this is about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States, quite a staggering figure!

What makes this even more astounding is that it’s not even the deepest canyon in Peru! This honor is reserved for the Cotahuasi Canyon, located in the Arequipa District in southern Peru as well, which reaches a maximum depth of 3,354 meters (11,004 feet).

These are still dwarfed by the deepest canyon in the world called the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in southwestern China. This canyon reaches a maximum depth of over 5,300 meters (17,490 feet).

Looking down the Colca Canyon
Looking down the canyon / Steve Bennett /

4. The area was inhabited by 2 different civilizations in the pre-Inca era

The Colca Valley was inhabited by two sets of people during the pre-Inca era. These were the Quechua-speaking Cabanas and the Aymara-speaking Colleagues.

The Incas didn’t arrive in the region until the year 1320 A.D. and didn’t fight the locals but rather used a marriage policy to gain control of the region. That’s quite the way to establish yourself, don’t you think?

The Spanish, on the other hand, didn’t arrive in the region until the year 1540 but, as in most parts of South America, would end up becoming the most influential.

Colca Canyon fun facts
View of the area of the canyon / Pixabay

5. The land is still cultivated today is it was in pre-Incan times

One of the most noticeable features in the area is the cultivated terraces on the slopes of the mountains. You can find these all across the Colca Valley.

These stepped terraces are referred to as “Andenes” and are actually remains of the pre-Incan era. They are still cultivated today, just as how they were back in those days.

They form an integral part of the magnificent landscape and are an amazing sight to behold!

Terraces colca canyon
View of the terraces in the canyon / Manfred Heyde /

6. The towns in the Colca Valley date back to Spanish times

The town of Chivay lies in about the center of the Colca Canyon and is one of the multiple towns spread across the region.

Before the Spanish arrived in the region, the population was scattered all around the region. This all changed when Francisco de Toledo (1515-1582) became the Viceroy of Peru and ordered the population to move to centralized settlements, something referred to as “Reductions.”

The first religious buildings were constructed in the 1560s and many chapels and cathedrals from this period onwards still stand today. The main towns in the area also date back from the Reductions process in the 16th century.

The main city in the area, Arequipa, was founded in the year 1540, the year that the Spanish arrived in the region.

El Misti in Arequipa
Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city / Source

7. The difference in elevation provides astounding views

One of the most amazing facts about the Colca Canyon isn’t just that it was formed in an extremely mountainous part of the Andes Mountains, but also that it’s surrounded by high mountain peaks, many of which are volcanoes.

One of these is called the “Ampato,” a snow-capped extinct volcano that reaches a height of 6,288 meters (20,630 feet).

This is in sheer contrast to the floor of the canyon at its deepest point in the Huambo region near the town of Cabanaconde, just 24 kilometers (15 miles) northwest from the peak of this extinct volcano.

The Colca River only has a surface elevation of 1,066 meters (3,497 feet) here, which is well over 5,000 meters lower than the peak of this volcano. Needless to say that this elevation change provides some of the most amazing views imaginable.

Colca Canyon view

8. A particular type of bird is the canyon’s most popular attraction

The Colca Valley and canyon is home to a wide range of animals. These include species such as the Andean goose, Chilean flamingos, mountain caracara, deer, foxes, and the ever-present alpacas and llamas.

Some of the most fascinating animals are both beautiful birds and predator birds. The main attraction of the canyon is the “Andean condor” (Vultur gryphus), one of the most fascinating bird species in the world.

These majestic birds can be spotted from various places near the canyon and are known for their long life (between 60 and 70 years) and their huge wingspan between 2.1 and 2.7 meters (7 and 9 feet).

Colca Canyon Andean condor
Andean condor flying by in the canyon / Pixabay