Cotahuasi Canyon is located in southern Peru in the Department of Arequipa, Province of La Union, of which the city of Cotahuasi is the capital. Cotahuasi is 379 Km. (234 miles) northeast of the city of Arequipa, the 2nd largest city in Peru. Cotahuasi Canyon is 3,535 meters (11,595 feet) deep near the village of Quechualla, which is about six hours down canyon by foot from Cotahuasi. That makes it a little deeper than its more well known neighbor, Colca Canyon.
The two highest points are Nevado Coropuna at 6,425 m. (21,079 feet) and Nevado Solimana at 6,093 m. (19,990 feet). There is also Nevado Firura at 5,498 m. (18,038 feet).
Besides mountain climbing, there is great hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. The Cotahuasi River boasts many miles of 4th and 5th class rapids, going past ancient Inca and Wari ruins, terraced fields and steep canyon walls. There are many impressive waterfalls, the most famous being Sipia Falls with a drop of 153 m. (502 feet). There are also hot springs, rock and cactus "forests", and large herds of llamas and alpacas, as well as vicuña and condors.
Cotahuasi is currently served by three bus companies, Reyna, Alex and Imaculada Conception, each with one bus daily, to and from Arequipa. Sanchez used to have a direct bus from Lima but they no longer offer this service. My preference is to take a "semi cama" (good reclining seats) bus from Lima to Arequipa, which takes about 14 hours. They usually arrive in the morning so you need to spend the day in Arequipa. Then take the one of the afternoon buses to Cotahuasi, which leave about 5:00 pm. They take about 10 - 12 hours, depending on the weather and therefore the condition of the road. Arrival time is usually around 4:00 to 5:00 am.
If you want to take private transportation, 4x4 vehicles can be rented in Arequipa and are recommended for the drive, as the pavement ends at Chuquibamba. From there it is a dirt/gravel road, which is very rough and during the rainy season can be muddy and wet. The whole trip can take 8 - 10 hours, again depending on the road conditions and how comfortable you are with driving on narrow mountain roads. The good part is that the road passes very near the base of Coropuna and close to Solimana, and the daytime views are fabulous.
From Chuquibamba the road switchbacks up to the high plain, where you are greeted by a panoramic view of Coropuna, Solimana, and Sara Sara in nearby Ayacucho. It takes about three hours to cross the high plain, if you don't spend too much time taking pictures or hiking around. The road gets up to 15,500 feet in a couple of places so don't run around too much!
On arriving at the rim of Cotahuasi Canyon, you will be treated to a view of the city of Cotahuasi and a number of the smaller villages scattered along the sides of the canyon. This also begins an hour-long descent down to the city, which is at 2,683 m. (8,800 feet). If you are on the bus, don't stick you head out of the window when you enter the city as the street is very narrow!
Phone numbers in Arequipa
Transportes Reyna - 430612
Alex Bus - 424605
Cotahuasi's anniversary is May 4th. During that week there are various festivals and celebrations, usually there is an adventure festival with mtn. biking, kayaking, rappelling and sometimes hang gliding. There is also a traditional bullfight.
Adventure Festival Update
The Adventure Festival was a big success, there were over 50 participants and news people here and everyone had a great time. Please see my Trip Report attached to this page to read about it and see some photos.
Sipia Falls if about a 45-minute hike from the bridge at the end of the road going down canyon, which can be reached by minibus or hiking. Below that is a beautiful trail that clings to the edge of the canyon wall before dropping down to the Cotahuasi River just before the hot springs near Velinga. The trail then follows along the river to Quechualla, a village of vineyards and fruit trees. On the way you will pass through a couple of cactus forests, 1,000-year-old Wari ruins and see remnants of old stone steps and trails on the canyon walls.
Many more ancient trails lead up to higher villages and ruins in the various side canyons and plateaus. This area is a dream come true for archaeologists, explorers and hikers, history mingling with the present, waiting to be experienced and enjoyed.
Going up canyon from Cotahuasi are more ruins, terraced fields, many waterfalls, high altitude lakes and wind sculptured rock forests. At the end of the day relax and soothe tired muscles in the hot springs and plan the next day's adventure. The large network of trails that connect all the villages makes possible a wide variety of day hikes or multi day loop hikes, depending on your interests and style of adventure. There are challenging climbs up steep ridges, craters and 16,000 to 17,000 foot peaks.
Cross the high plains on foot and see hundreds of alpacas and llamas grazing, pack trains carrying various goods and products to and from villages at up to 15,000 feet. In addition to all the natural beauty you can see and experience a culture and people living as they have for centuries, in the midst of the change being brought by new roads, electricity and television.
No permits are required. The current mayor of Cotahuasi and those of many on the smaller villages are actively seeking more tourism and are looking for ways to promote it.
There are no official campgrounds but camping is possible almost anywhere. The people in the villages are very hospitable and it is normally not a problem to find a campsite on public land, in someone's field, or even to find someone willing to open there home to strangers. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your things if you are near a village or trail. Up on high mountain camps, it is rare to see anyone else around.
There are many hostels in Cotahuasi, most of them fairly rustic, but they are reasonably priced. They range from 10 to 35 soles per person, some including a continental breakfast, the more expensive include a private bath. All include hot water showers. Tomepampa, Alca, Pampamarca, Puica and Charcana also have hostels with varying degress of rusticness. There is also a hostel near Luicho hot springs. In the smaller villages it is usually possible to find beds to rent in private homes.
Cotahuasi has many restaurants, serving a variety of typical foods. In some of them you get a choice, others it is "el Menu", which is the plate of the day. Most meals come with both rice and french fries. For the less adventuresome, there are a number of places that serve "Pollo ala Brasa", which is rotisserie roasted chicken.
There are also numerous sidewalk vendors serving stir-fried noodles, meat and vegetables, along with french fries. Tomepampa and Alca have a few restaurants, as well as there are two that serve fresh fried trout across the river from Luicho hot springs. Some of the smaller villages have a restaurant or two, often it is necessary to make a request in the morning to make sure they have enough food.
As in all areas of Peru, outside of the nicer or tourist restaurants, it is always wise to be careful with salads and other uncooked foods, as well as the water. Bottled water is available almost everywhere.
Phone numbers (from Arequipa or Cotahuasi)
Hostel Hatunhuasi - 581054
Hostel Chavez - 581028
Looking for your own adventure in Cotahuasi Canyon? Check out a tour or just get more information.
PromPeru information - Cotahuasi
Andean Travel Web Guide to Peru
I am retiring and will be returning to the U.S. on March 1st, 2010. However if you have any questions about Cotahuasi Canyon, or the surrounding mountains, feel free to send me an email at email@example.com, I will try to help you.