From Puno we took the detour to Colca Canyon, one of the world’s deepest canyons. At 3,270 metres deep it is spectacular and at the same time very difficult to photograph effectively.
The canyon has been inhabited for up to 7,000 years and both sides of the canyon are dotted with villages, clinging to steep slopes with seemingly impossible access. Pre-Inca terracing which has been a feature of the landscape since entering Peru is prevalent, designed to manage and distribute water on the steep slopes. Some of this terracing is still being utilized effectively by today’s farmers.
Arriving from Puno, we descended into the canyon from a height of over 4,700metres. The steep, winding descent into the green valley was a stark contrast to the altiplano that we had travelled across – a bleak, harsh, volcanic landscape.
Colca Canyon is heavily promoted as a trekking destination and it’s easy to see why. The small villages dotting the canyon are all welcoming to tourists whilst the scenery is beautiful. We drove from Chivay as far as the village of Cabanaconde and along the winding road we passed people living the way many have lived for centuries, tending small plots of land and small numbers of animals. Common crops today are red, black and white quinoa and black corn , which, along with potatoes are traditional crops of the region.
All this in the shadow of the smoking Sabankaya Volcano.
We left Colca Canyon after our half day drive, exiting the canyon on the road towards Cusco. As the road wound its way around switchbacks up out of the canyon up again to 4,800m, the condition of the road deteriorated and our progress slowed dramatically. The scenery never let up and the sloping land was a picture of farming through the centuries. Littered with rock walled enclosures of all sizes and shapes, some in disrepair, but many still being used today to contain alpacas and llamas.
But the sun was setting, an electrical storm was happening close by and and the road we were on didn’t match the gps or our printed map. To top it off, we were sharing the greasy, pot holed dirt road (that turned into a track) with a convoy of petrol tankers! Needless to say we were very grateful to reach a new bitumen road and roll into the township of Yauri just on dark.