Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru: Global Test Photo Essay

Trekking in one of the world's deepest canyons.

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by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen | 2011-04-26 00:00:00-06

Editor's Note: click here to see all the articles (and a brief synopsis of each) in this excellent series.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 1

Kristin and I traveled through nine Latin American countries before entering Peru.  In those seven months, we met many tourists who had already been to Peru, and more than a few raved about hiking in Colca Canyon.

Honestly, I had never heard of this purported amazing trek in the deepest canyon in the world. I soon learned that Colca Canyon, at 4,160 meters (13,648 feet) from top to bottom, is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. However, there is no consensus on the “deepest” title, as there are a variety of methods to measure a canyon. There are a few canyons in the Himalayas and one other in Peru that some consider deeper. Regardless, Colca Canyon shot to the top of our list of must-see natural wonders.

When we finally arrived in the large city of Arequipa, the best launching point for excursions to the canyon, we made sure to arm ourselves with our traveling protectionist philosophy: low expectations. We were most disappointed when our expectations were built up by other tourists, travel companies, websites, and even government media. Either the travel destination/activity did not live up to the hype, or did not align with our personal preferences.

So, after four days of hiking in Colca Canyon, what is our honest opinion? How much does it matter if it is, or isn’t, the deepest canyon in the world? And most importantly, irrespective of the hype, how was the hiking?

We’ll let the photos do the talking and you can decide for yourself.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 2
These highly terraced fields are below the town of Chivay, the last major settlement before the steep canyon walls make the area nearly inhospitable.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 3
The switchbacks of the main trail are visible on the left side. There is an oasis along the bend in the river, where several sleeping cabins and grassy camp sites are available.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 4
This is one of the more enjoyable camping spots that we’ve happened upon - flat, grassy, private, and with enormous flowers in full bloom.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 5
This lush oasis was replete with small waterfalls and large banana trees, flourishing in a small pocket of an otherwise inhospitable desert.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 6
Away from the oasis, we hiked among hardy desert vegetation.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 7
This cactus had some serious self-defense issues.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 8
The walls of Colca Canyon certainly are tall and steep. However, we often felt like we were hiking in a typical “V” shaped valley, as opposed to the more box-like shape of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is also much more colorful.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 9
There are a few small communities within the steepest section of the canyon and the Catholic church remains at the center of village life.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 10
Despite the harsh climate, forbidding landscape, and numerous pre-Incan ruins, village life still seemed vibrant.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 11
Irrigation from distant glacier melt enables farming in small pockets of the canyon, where the land is relatively flat and receives sufficient sunlight. Farming and tourism are the main economic activities.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 12
The trails were well defined and in relatively good condition. They have been used by locals and pack animals for more than half a millennium.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 13
At the tourist spot of “Cruz del Condors,” several Andean condors reliably ride the updraft along the canyon’s steep walls in the morning, sometimes perching as close as 15 meters.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 14
Watching wildlife wasn’t as satisfying with such a large crowd.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 15
Local women sold hand-woven clothing to the busloads of tourists, many who rode up to 10 hours in one day just to get a glimpse of the condors and the valley.

The Global Test:  Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru - 16
This woman devised a simple method for carrying goods on her back, using only a small sheet and two knots. Backpacking in these areas has introduced us to different methods and ideas, some of which have been cultivated over hundreds of years. This was a good learning experience for me. In the U.S., I often find myself getting caught up in the excitement of the latest gear, and forget that our modern technologies are still completely foreign to many living in less developed countries.


Citation

"Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru: Global Test Photo Essay," by Danny Milks & Kristin Tennessen. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/global_test_colca_canyon_peru.html, 2011-04-26 00:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru: Global Test Photo Essay


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Daniel Paladino
(dtpaladino) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru: Global Test Photo Essay on 04/26/2011 12:38:59 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru: Global Test Photo Essay

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
Tall Tales from Colca Canyon, Peru on 04/26/2011 20:40:15 MDT Print View

Beautiful photos. What an amazing trip that must have been! How I wish I could afford to do something like that, but I'm unemployed with no hopes of a job and so the only "travel" I can do is via articles like this. Thank you for sharing and helping to relieve my empty existence a little bit.

Scott Ireland
(WinterWarlock) - MLife

Locale: Western NY
Headed to Peru in June... on 04/27/2011 11:12:00 MDT Print View

Thank you for your beautiful photo essay...where did you start to get here? Any tips on logistics would be awesome...

Kevin Hanks
(kevin.h56) - F
Re: Headed to Peru in June... on 04/30/2011 18:05:56 MDT Print View

Hey
Scott the logistics are fairly effortless. One can take an organised tour from the Peruvian city of Arequipa, however it's more fun and a little cheaper to do it solo. You take a local bus from Arequipa to a town around 40mins away from there the journey is interesting as you take a second bus for maybe around 2hours, but it's a fight to get a seat on the bus (no seats left, no problem sit on the floor! on and plays a hilarious and interesting ride.

When the 2 hour bus ride is over you spend the night in a small village type place at the top of the Canyon. The following day you fill up with supplies and head down.

At the bottom of the canyon accommodation is readily available for maybe no more than 4/5USD per night. In addition, the hostel down there put on dinner for around another 5USD.

If you decide to take the solo route then while you're at the bottom of the canyon 'grease up' a tour leader as he pull the shoots for a minibus ride back to Arequipa via a natural thermal spring and restaurant. The tour leader will charge probably a dollar or so more than going solo. And plus you'll get to meet people on the bus etc

Any question just ask.

Kind regards

Kevin @Kevinhanks1

Tom J. Hart
(harttj) - MLife
Kit List on 05/01/2011 18:08:30 MDT Print View

Pack seems to be interesting. As well as the shelter, you shoes, water bottle etc. Any chance at a kit list and names of the companies that make them?

Link .
(annapurna) - MLife
Re: Kit List on 05/01/2011 18:23:39 MDT Print View

http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/global_test_gear_list_part_1.html

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Re: Re: Kit List on 05/17/2011 01:13:18 MDT Print View

Anna - thank you for posting the link to our first article, which shows our initial gear list.

Tom - Our follow-up article in the Global Test Series was just published.The final kit list is included, in addition to notes on performance, more photos and a map of highlights from Central and South America.

The Global Test Part II: Evaluating System Efficiency for a Round-the-World Journey