T R E K K I N G P E R U
Situated in the southwest of Peru, the department of Arequipa could well be a separate country. Unlike Ancash or Cuzco with their long cordilleras and gentle green valleys, Arequipa’s geography is dominated by massive volcanoes up to 6425 m above sea level. Several of these volcanoes are active (the Instituto Geofísico del Perú website posts current activity levels; see Appendix A), and they tower above the world’s deepest canyons. The people of Arequipa are also distinct, generally of more European stock than elsewhere in the Peruvian highlands and intensely proud of their regional identity. Even in remote areas here, villagers may speak more Spanish than Quechua.
Arequipa is a popular tourist destination and known for its regional gastronomy. Its charming colonial capital, of the same name, is Peru’s second-largest city and provides all services and comforts when preparing for a trek or relaxing afterward. The city has good road connections and frequent flights to Lima, Cuzco, and Puno. Many Arequipa agencies offer trekking tours, mostly to the Colca Canyon. The Casa de Guías provides information from June to September. Another useful contact is KAT, which can help arrange guides and pack animals. See Appendix A for both of the above ...
EXPLORING THE ABYSS
IT IS NOT EASY to get a grip on something as big as the world’s deepest canyon, and taking a selfie from the rim, however glorious, does not suffice. You need to observe it from different angles, from above and below. You need to experience its chilly heights and its hot, dry depths. Only as you gingerly make your way down or grunt up the steep cactus-covered slopes and watch the Río Cotahuasi roaring over the rainbow-crowned 150-m Sipia waterfall, do you gradually come to appreciate the immensity and wonder of it all ...
COTAHUASI TO VALLEY OF THE VOLCANOES
THIS TREK IS IDEAL for those who enjoy wide open country, crossing the high plateau that separates the Cotahuasi canyon from the Orcopampa valley, also known as the Valley of the Volcanoes. The unobstructed vantage points and clear air provide endless and unsurpassed views of many giant glaciated peaks. Coropuna (6425 m, the highest volcano in Peru and its third-highest mountain) and Firura (5498 m) are but two of your constant companions. Toward the end of the trek, the Valley of the Volcanoes offers an entirely different landscape: eighty-five relatively small volcanic cones, only a few hundred meters from their base, poking up through the broad, flat valley floor below.
There is not much population along the route, only a few herdsmen living on isolated estancias, tending to large flocks of brightly tasseled llamas and alpacas that graze the bofedales. A special treat would be to meet one of the few llameros who still drive their llama caravans across the puna, carrying agricultural products for barter, as their ancestors have done since time immemorial ...
VALLEY OF THE VOLCANOES TO COLCA
THE VERTICAL LIFE
WHILE TREKKING THIS ROUTE the dominant words in your vocabulary become “up” and “down,” for you are always walking and looking, even dreaming, in one of these two directions. The steep gradients are partly mitigated by good trails, but there is enough cross-country travel to test both your physical endurance and navigation skills. On more than one occasion we wished we had the wings of the condors circling overhead, to take in the boundless beauty by gliding through it. Yet the hard work required to complete this trek is amply rewarded by a wealth of unforgettable experiences.
The bonsai volcanoes around Andagua make a fitting starting point as you set off in the direction of their snow-capped big brothers: Ampato (6265 m), Hualca Hualca (6025 m), and smoking Sabancaya (5976 m). These big three look down on you from afar throughout the trek, while beneath them yawn the depths of the great Colca Canyon to which you are headed. Understandably, you rapidly come to appreciate the immense geological forces that continue to shape this dramatic landscape. No less impressive, however, are the people who live hidden behind its walls, thriving in the isolation wrought by such formidable geographic barriers ...
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