First navigated by a Polish expedition in 1981 and declared a Zona de Reserva Turística Nacional in 1988, the magnificent COTAHUASI CANYON (Cañon de Cotahuasi), 378km from Arequipa, has since opened up to visits that don’t involve major rafting trips. However, getting to this wild and remote place is even more adventurous and less frequently attempted than the trip to the Valley of the Volcanoes. One of the world’s deepest canyons, along with nearby Colca and the Grand Canyon in the US, it is around 3400m deep and over 100km long.

Arriving from the south along the difficult road from Arequipa (some 375km long) the route passes along the bottom part of the canyon, where the main settlement, Cotahuasi (2684m), can be found. This remote and attractive settlemenet boasts quaint narrow streets and a small seventeenth-century church. It has a variable climate but isn’t particularly cold and is rapidly developing a name as an adventure travel destination, offering by far the best local facilities.

Continuing north to the village of Alca (near the hot springs of Luicho), the road forks. To the right, it heads into the deeper part of the canyon where you’ll find the village of Pucya; further up the valley, heading pretty well northwest you end up at the astonishingly beautiful plateau of Lauripampa, from where you can walk down into the canyon or explore the massive Puya raymondi cacti hereabouts. The left fork continues to the pueblo of Pampamarca, where the locals weave lovely woollen blankets. Above the pueblo there is a fabulous trail that leads to the Uscuni waterfalls on one side of the valley and the natural rock formations of the Bosque de Piedras on the other. A little further on you’ll find the thermal springs of Josla, an ancient spa that’s a joy for tired legs after a long hike.

About 40km from Cotahuasi, the Wari ruins of Marpa can be seen straddling both sides of the river, but another hour away is the larger and better-preserved Wari city of Maucallacta.

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