Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Cotahuasi is the deepest canyon in the world, cutting through the Coropuna (6,435m) and Surimana (6,093m) massifs. With numerous hiking trails and vantages points, Cotahuasi is a beautiful region that few travelers get to see. With single and multi-day tours, you’ll get to hike the length of one of the world’s greatest natural wonders.

Highlights

  • Pass through villages belonging to traditional winemakers and farmers
  • Spot endemic wildlife such as condors, vicuñas, and Andean foxes
  • Witness a region of Southern Peru that few people get to see
  • Cross the roaring Cotahuasi River along a precarious suspension bridge
  • Relax in the thermal hot springs of Niñochaca and Luicho
  • See the cascades of the Sipia Waterfall
  • Taste rich, organic wines and experience a local winemaking process
  • Observe the Toro Muerto Petroglyphs made by the region’s earliest civilization

Overview

The Cotahuasi Canyon region is legendary throughout Peru for its steep cliffs, waterfalls, and its local inhabitants who follow a traditional way of life. Located north of Arequipa, the canyon is an ideal location for trekking and natural sightseeing. Suspension bridges criss-cross over the Cotahuasi River flowing at the bottom of the canyon, connecting regional trails followed by hikers and locals alike.

Because the Cotahuasi Region is remote and lacks consistent transportation, trekking the canyon is quite an off-the-beaten-path experience. This 4-day itinerary is of medium length, longer than single-day options and shorter than 6-day excursions. For those looking for a compact yet intensive trek, this is an ideal option, especially if you have a special interest in wildlife and Andean culture.

Overview map

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Arequipa, Toro Muerto, and Cotahuasi

Remote traditional rural settlements
Remote rural settlements near Pampamarca village

Our journey starts early in the morning as we take the Panamerican highway, passing through the villages of Vítor and Siguas and then taking a detour to the Majes valley. On the way, we stop to see the 700-year-old Wari petroglyphs of Toro Muerto among 5,000 blocks of trachytic rocks (volcanic tuff from the eruptions of the Coropuna). The petroglyphs depict animals, plants, people, and other geometric designs.

We will get to see different villages in Valley of Majes such as Corire and Aplao. Rice farms and vineyards are common sights, from where pisco and wine are made. As we progress, you will climb up to the village of Chuquibamba, where the asphalted road ends and where we’ll take a short lunch break.

The trip continues along the slopes of the impressive volcano Coropuna, the third highest volcano in Peru (6,425 masl).  Solimana and Sara Sara, two surrounding volcanoes, will also be within view. Be on the lookout for the amazing flora and fauna of the area (condors, vicuñas, guanacos, vizcachas, foxes, deer, tarucas, eagles, etc.).

We arrive at the town of Cotahuasi in the afternoon, have dinner, and finally settle into our accommodations.

Day 2: Cotahuasi to Luicho

Remote village
Walking paths between traditional villages

After breakfast, we leave from Cotahuasi, heading towards the town of Taurisma via a suspension bridge across the Cotahuasi River. Along the way, old cedars, colonial churches and broom forests line the route.

Then, we will visit the town of Tomepampa and its beautiful colonial church. Continuing with the tour, we will stop by the farming village of Alca to observe its church, typical balconies, colonial houses, and ancient cedars. We will then ascend more than 500 Inca steps to the community of Cahuana (3,068 masl), a rich, Andean pre-Inca village. From here, you will get spectacular views of flora, wildlife, hills, villages, terraces, and rivers.

Continue ascending to the archaeological site of Calla (3,335 m), where we will find pyramid-shaped steps and walls up to five meters high in Inca and pre-Inca styles. Later, we finally descend towards the thermal baths of Luicho, where you will have a delicious meal of locally-caught trout for lunch.

After lunch, you will enjoy a relaxing bath in the thermal waters of Luicho, which are highly appreciated for their therapeutic properties. Then, we return to Cotahuasi for dinner and overnight accommodations.

Day 3: Cotahuasi, Sipia Waterfall, and Velinga

Cotahuasi Canyon

Very early after breakfast, we will head towards the deepest part of the Cotahuasi Canyon. On this trip, we will observe the fields of Colcan and Piro, which are geologically significant for their warmth and low elevation in a mountainous region. Later, we will visit the Sipia Waterfall, a symbol of the Cotahuasi Landscape Reserve with a height of 150 meters and three falls.

You’ll be able to listen to the sound of water crashing upon the rock as you walk towards the picturesque villages of Chaupo and Rosariopampa. You will then pass the Cactus forest of Judiopampa (1,936 m), where 10-meter tall columnar cactaceae, hummingbirds, and longirostros bats thrive.  

Finally, we will arrive at the village of Velinga (1,972 m), where we will have lunch and stay overnight. Here, you can visit the ruins of Ayahuasi, observe the 40 types of locally harvested fruits, the Eco museum, and the "Valle Bello" vineyards. Taste the rich, organic wine and experience the winemaking process at the old mills. If you are feeling up to it in the afternoon, we will descend to the thermal baths of Niñochaca (1,729 m) for a relaxing soak. Then, we will return to our lodging in Cotahuasi.

Day 4: Velinga to Arequipa

Cotahuasi Canyon
Looking down into the Cotahuasi Canyon

After breakfast, we will take a short walk through the town and return to the city of Arequipa, stopping for lunch on the way. We will arrive back in Arequipa in the afternoon.

Variations

If you prefer, you can spend the third night in the village of Velinga instead of Cotahuasi. There are also shorter routes you can follow with different itineraries, but you may miss out on the Sipia waterfall and certain bridge crossings as a result. Depending on how much time you have, we can adapt an itinerary that best suits your time frame.

Best season

Trekking in the dry season is recommended, as pleasant, sunny weather makes for an ideal experience. Temperatures range in the 60s and 70s F (15-25 C) during the day when most of the hiking and activities will take place. However, temperatures can dip into the high 40s (7-8 C) at night, so make sure to bring enough layers and warm clothing.

Visiting Cotahuasi during the rainy season will be less enjoyable as muddy conditions and high water levels make hiking uncomfortable. Additionally, there will be fewer opportunities to see local agricultural traditions and customs.

Getting there & away

Cotahuasi is relatively remote compared to other regions in Southern Peru. A single route connects the Cotahuasi region to Arequipa. If you take a bus or combi to Cotahuasi, expect the trip to take up to 10-12 hours. Most buses will leave in the late afternoon and arrive early next morning, making for an overnight trip (roughly 5 pm to 5 am). Renting your own vehicle is possible and makes for quicker travel, but insurance difficulties and lack of road knowledge make this option more risky.

Getting to Arequipa is most convenient from Cusco or Lima. Flights are quick and easy, while a bus trip can take over half a day. To enter Peru in the first place, you will most likely have to land in Lima’s international airport first. However, if you will be doing other activities in the Cusco area first, Cotahuasi is not too out of the way, although it is not exactly accessible either.

What to bring

Bring plenty of comfortable clothing, including long sleeves and layers for the nights. A hat and sunscreen (high SPF) is recommended for sun protection. Bug spray is also necessary if you want to avoid the various biting flies in the shade. Make sure your shoes are sturdy and appropriate for hiking, and that your overall belongings are lightweight.