The deepest canyon in the Americas at 3,535 meters (11,595 ft), the Cotahuasi Canyon is on the rise as a tourist magnet, attracting adventurers form all over the world. The abysses and ravines provide passage for the Cotahuasi River, which begins at the 5,474 meter (17,955 ft) peak of Cerro Supramarca and flows over the spectacular, 150-meter (492-ft) high waterfall, Sipia, This river offers some of the worldâ€™s best Class V whitewater rafting and kayaking. The same area also offers excellent mountain biking and climbing opportunities.
Cotahuasi Canyon became a National Tourist Reserve in 1988. It is home to both the Solimama and Coropuna volcanoes; the latter, at 6,425 meters (21,074 ft), is the highest in Peru. Within the reserve, one will also discover hanging bridges and historical ruins (including Aymara mummies), the remains of such previous civilizations as the Wari and the Inca, as well as glaciers, lakes, medicinal hot springs, and rare flora and fauna. If youâ€™re lucky you may also encounter the locals, whose culture and language has changed little over the years due to their limited contact with the outside world.
The town of Cotahuasi (Altitude: 2,683 m / 8,800 ft, Population: 3,178, Phone Code: 054) is the usual starting point for trips to the canyon, waterfall and reserve, although tours can also be arranged from Arequipa. Services in this city include Banco de la NaciĂłn (Ca Los Cabildos 104), a health post (Av Centenario 2011, Tel: 581-051), hotels and restaurants. Useful websites are: www.portalcotahuasi.com and www.visitacotahuasi.blogspot.com. Cotahuasiâ€™s anniversary and tourism week is observed May 1-7.
At present there is no entry fee for Cotahuasi Canyon. However, once the paved road is finished, a fee similar to what is charged for Colca Canyon may be established. Allow at least three days for visiting Cotahuasi Canyon. Make sure you get a window seat for the 12-hour bus ride north from Arequipa, as on the way you will pass Umahuarco, the legendary â€śplace of execution.â€ť This is one of the places where the Incas bound their prisoners, Prometheus-like, to precipices and made them available as living prey for hungry condors. Amazingly enough, one can still see the sun-bleached skeletons of their victims.