Location: The city of Arequipa is in southern Peru, elevation 2350 meters, and the Colca Canyon is not far from the city, but at a higher elevation (close to 3000 meters).
The valley was created from a geological fault in the Earth’s crust, eroded for thousands of years by the Colca River, the longest on the Peruvian coastline. The river reaches depths of up to 3400 meters on both slopes and is 200 km long.
The valley’s beauty is not affected at all by this impressive planetary scar we call the Colca Canyon. On the contrary, the incredibly deep fissure complements it. This geological formation that has been sculpted by the hand of nature for thousands of years is home to different animals, such as the majestic condor, the cougar, viscacha, taruka (north Andean deer), and others. All together, the nature, traditions, and history make the Colca Valley and Canyon a mandatory destination when one travels to Peru.
Possibly the most impressive attraction in the Colca Valley are the terraced hillsides that are found throughout the valley and the mountains on either side of the stream forming the canyon. The terraces were built during the 9th and 14th centuries, when the Cabanas and Collaguas created a magnificent network of canals and cultivated different crops on the platforms, like potatoes, corn, lima beans, quinoa, etc. The amazing thing is that they are still being used for agricultural purposes by the descendents of the Cabanas and Collaguas.
There are caves throughout the Colca Valley, as well, and we can see ancient rock paintings and carvings, some more than 7000 years old. These depict hunting scenes, camelids (guanacos, llamas, etc.), foxes, human figures, stars, (the sun and the constellation of the southern cross), birds, and many other figures, constituting evidence of several human settlements that left traces of their existence for thousands of years.
There are plenty of churches sprinkled about the Colca Valley, and in them we can see the best of European architectural and artistic trends as well as the creative decorative elements that the indigenous people contributed. The result was a rich mixed Baroque style influenced by what was happening in both Arequipa and Cusco at the time of their construction. Each building features its own personality. Some are built entirely from sillar, a volcanic stone, while others employ that material just in the façade. Some are treasure chests that upon opening reveal unique paintings and sculptures, and still others are so old that they were built at the very beginning of the Conquest.
The main popular expressions in Colca reflect traditional festivals, like the Wititi, Qamil, Tincachi, Carnival, Turcu, Tusuy, and bull fights, and the artisans show off great creativity in the range of pieces they produce.
The area’s most important handicrafts are the embroidered outfits and hats made by the women. They also produce incredible clothing from alpaca and llama wool, garments that are locally made in towns in the upper reaches of the valley.