Cotahuasi Canyon

  • Arequipa Cotahuasi - © From Flickr user Xtremizta

Key information: Cotahuasi Canyon

  • Claimed to be the deepest canyon in the world, Cotahuasi offers some stunning trekking in an area only recently discovered by foreigners.
  • Discover ancient Inca trails, well-preserved terraces, pre-Inca ruins, rock carvings more than a millennia old and comparatively modern Spanish houses and gold mines.
  • Wonderful mountain scenery, vast cliffs, the Cataratas de Sipia (150m waterfall), hot springs and glaciers make this a diverse and thrilling walk.
  • Walks vary from long treks (with camping), to some day walks; the lack of accessibility makes organized treks a good option.
  • This can be a tough walk, where altitude can cause problems. Come prepared.

Walkopedia rating

  • Walkopedia rating90
  • Beauty34
  • Natural interest17
  • Human interest8
  • Charisma34
  • Negative points3
  • Total rating90

Vital Statistics

  • Length: Variable
  • Maximum Altitude: Over 3,000m
  • Level of Difficulty: Strenuous
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WALK SUMMARY

Cotahuasi has is widely accepted as the worlds deepest canyon. Reaching a depth of around 3535m (although sources often differ widely), it dominates the surrounding landscape. Isolation adds to its drama; wonderfully elaborate cacti thrive in the arid climate, sheer cliffs rise abruptly from thunderous rivers, and hanging bridges over the canyon provide a daunting path.

 

The best base from which to explore Cotahuasi is Arequipa, known as La Ciudad Blanca after its grand colonial buildings of white volcanic rock. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the centre has some stunning architecture, and within Peru is considered second in beauty only to Cusco. Make sure you keep in mind, however, that at an altitude of 2,380m, this area will require some acclimatization.

 

Culture and customs in this area are fascinating. The relative isolation has sheltered many traditions which have disappeared elsewhere, and the strongest influences have come from the Peruvian highlands, rather than from the more developed city of Arequipa. As with the more famous Colca canyon nearby, evidence of the Inca empire and of older cultures is strong around Cotahuasi, with ancient trails, agricultural terraces and Wari tombs.

 

There are several good shorter treks; near the deepest part of the canyon, one follows a 1200 year old Inca trail down its side to the Marpa valley, rich with ancient ruins, and it is only a 7­-8 hour round walk from Cotahuasi town to the stunning Cataratas de Sipia. However, difficultly in access makes a guided hike worthwhile. Peru Adventure Tours offer a six day trek which looks particularly good, and covers the canyon's attractions comprehensively.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

See also expedition planning, including our universal expedition checklist. Walkopedia encourages responsible travel.

Guidebooks/maps/background reading

Suggest books and maps

Guidebooks

Trekking in the Central Andes – R. Rachowiecki, G. Dixon, G. Claire (Lonely Planet)

The Rough Guide to Peru – D. Jenkins (Rough Guide)

Peru – C. Miranda (Lonely Planet)

Other books

Canyons and Gorges of Peru – Books Llc

South American Handbook – B. Box (Footprint Handbooks)

Eyewitness Travel Guide: Peru – M. Blacker

1001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die – Eds., M. Bright, J. Barrett
 

Maps

Colca Canyon, Cotahuasi Canyon – Editorial Lima 2000

Peru: 100K Topographic Survey Maps – IGN (Peru Survey)

Arequipa – IGN (Peru Survey)

Rough Guide Map Peru – Reise Know-How Verlag

Peru, Ecuador Nelles Map – Collectif (Nelles Maps) 3865742548

 

Maps can be bought locally, fairly easily.

 

Stanfords: http://www.stanfords.co.uk/. A good online specialist source of worldwide maps (it is also good for guidebooks).

 

Also try http://www.mapsworldwide.com/ and http://www.trektools.com/.

 

 

Best times to walk/weather

 

Best times to walk

Between June and September.

Weather

The rainy season lasts throughout January, February and March, whilst temperatures do not alter much over the year. In Arequipa, daily minimums go down slightly from April to November/December, but tend to stay between around 5.5 and 8.8°C. Maximums vary between 21°C and 22°C, no huge difference. However, the ecosystem of the canyon means that temperatures can vary hugely in the area, whatever the season.

 

 
For detailed weather information, have a look at: www.worldweather.org or www.bbc.co.uk/weather/world/country-guides
 

Getting there/transport/permits

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Those on organised expeditions will generally be transported from/to Arequipa.

 

Arequipa is reasonably easy to reach from the larger cities in Peru, with short domestic flights from Lima, Cusco, Tacna or Juliaca. Trains are available from Cusco, Juliaca or Puno, and buses run regularly from Lima and Tacna as well as from cities in Chile and Argentina. However, public transport is not necessarily quick or reliable in South America, so plan carefully.

 

 
The village of Cotahuasi provides a good base from which to walk the canyon independently, but is very isolated – you will probably need to drive if you have not arranged trekking with a guide.

 

 
No permits are needed to do this walk.
 

Route(s)

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There are various routes for walking in the canyon (see Walk Summary above) – think carefully about which is most likely to suit you.
 
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Possible problems, health, other warnings

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  • Altitude: acclimatize appropriately, come prepared to cope, be ready to evacuate people in extreme cases.
  • Mountain weather: snow, rain, severe cold and wind are possible at any time of year. Heat and strong sun. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
  • Heights: can be dangerous; not for those who have difficulties with heights.
  • This is remote country: you may have to carry all your food and help may be hard to get if things go wrong.
  • Health risks: this is a relatively undeveloped country, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.

See also the websites in our useful linkspage for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.

 

Safety and problems:All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

 
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
 

Guided or independent?

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Independent

You can explore the Cotahuasi Canyon independently, but the inaccessibility of much of it means that a guided walk is recommended, with people to drive you when necessary.

 

Guided/supported

While Cotahuasi can be explored, and some walking undertaken, independently, most people wanting to do any prolonged hiking here form or join organised/supported expeditions. Given the inaccessibility of much of the canyon and difficulty of getting supplies, many will prefer to do it this way, and travelling here with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages. Expedition organisers include:

 

 

Accommodation

 

Camping is the only realistic option for the majority of a long hike in the Cotahuasi Canyon. There are hotels and lodges in Arequipa, in the town of Cotahuasi and in several other small places, but they tend to be fairly basic.
 
Hostelbookers usually has a good selection of cheaper-end accommodation.
 

 

Other information and tips

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Useful websites and information

 

There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.

 

Other things to do in the area

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Other walks

The nearby Colca Canyon offers great walking, and elsewhere in Peru, the Inca Trails are very popular, and are fantastic to trek.

 

Many other amazing walks in Peru.

Other activities

- You mustn’t miss seeing the centre of Arequipa, which is a UNESCO world heritage site due to the excellent preservation of its colonial architecture.

- Rafting in the canyon

- Mountain biking

- Climbing

Shopping, if you must

 

We are not a shopping website. But, anything bought from local people must be of some help to this poor area. So, wallets out!

Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and potential problems, and many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks, dangers and problems. Problems of any sort can arise on any walk. This website does not purport to identify any (or all) actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to any particular walk.

Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.

OTHER ACCOUNTS
share your experiences

Add your experiences, suggestions and photos. We would be delighted to receive your writing and ideas (which will be attributed appropriately where published).

Anyone planning an expedition to this place should see further important information about this walk.

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