"Cabanaconde and Colca Canyon" Cabanaconde by Waxbag

Cabanaconde Travel Guide: 1 reviews and 14 photos

See the video at Colca Canyon

After missing out on the trekking in the altiplano we treated (our tortured) ourselves to a trek into the second deepest canyon in the world. Colca Canyon is an unfathomable 3191m (10,500ft) deep. It only missed out to be number one by a mere 160m to its neighbor Cotahuasi Canyon. We began our trek 5 hours out of Arequipa in the small town of Cabanaconde which is already part way into the canyon. The women here are among the most colorfully dressed we’ve seen in South America. Their hats and vests in particular are painstakingly woven with tightly knit designs and like all altiplano women, they dress with appalling amounts of layers despite the desert climate. After a filling lunch we left our cool local restaurant to the afternoon heat of the desert. We walked to the rim of the canyon passing the many agricultural terraces that are fed by numerous aqueducts that bring snowmelt from the towering volcanoes of over 6000m. At first, the view of Colca Canyon does not impress. The brown earth and rock, already dulled by the afternoon sun and thin veil of haze, gave the viewer little sense of depth. It lacked grandness that a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon should certainly possess. Entertained by lizards darting amongst the rocks and humming birds floating between the spiny cacti tipped with yellow flowers we followed the mule trail down the steep slope. Pounded by the hundreds of years of foot and hoof traffic the trail is a mix of fine powdery rock and polished fist-sized stones. The locals nearly run down the trail using a hopping technique that must be taught at birth. We practiced our ‘fall on our ass technique’ each time painting our bum with the chalky rock flower. After two hours of nonstop walking down and passing through a couple of different climatic zones each supporting its own flora and fauna we finally made the 1300m (4300ft) descent. Along the base of the canyon are verdant villages fed by springs that transform the barren earth into a micro paradise. No vehicles, nor rush hour, and no smog; only avocado trees, fig trees, papaya trees, terraced fields of corn, and the occasional mule biscuit along the trail. We followed a path that ran alongside a small aqueduct.

From down here in the waning afternoon light the canyon looks massive with a startling contrast. On one side of the mountain lie pockets of brown dull earth dotted with cacti below high walls of black crystallized stone that are remnants of ancient magma. On the other side lies the Garden of Eden. Barely able to walk, we finally reached our family-run accommodation in a small village. We nearly fell asleep where we fell, but managed to squeeze out the last of our energies for showering and eating. Our Israeli companion entertained us greatly by telling his stories of volunteering in Ecuador and his insights on South America in general (Welcome to the ‘Lust’ Tomer). The following day we walked to the “Oasis” a small town that has several natural pools for the tourist to enjoy before hiking out of the canyon. Along the way we were educated by our guide, Alvaro, on the various medicinal plants of the region. There isn’t exactly a pharmacy nearby so the villagers continue to practice the ancient art of healing with what has been provided to them by Pachamama (the goddess of the earth). One particular cactus is used to feed pigs and clean them of parasites while the insects on the very same cactus are used for making red dyes for textiles and for lipstick. Another plant is for cleaning wool but it also very poisonous. We speculated on how trial an error must have led to disastrous results over the hundreds if not thousands of years it took to learn all the uses and misuses of the native plants. After cooling off in the flower fringed pools fed by a nearby waterfall we made the journey out of the canyon. Cara elected to hire a mule and save her knees while I used the biped method. Despite being the last down the canyon I was the first up it. My cardiovascular system must be in better shape than my knees. While waiting for the rest of the crew to join me as my body temperature rapidly decreased on the 3400m edge I enjoyed watching a distant condor use the fierce updrafts to lift its massive 24 kilo (50lbs) body on its 3m wings.

  • Last visit to Cabanaconde: Oct 2006
  • Intro Updated Aug 16, 2007
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