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Cotahuasi Canyon Trek - Overview, Itinerary and Trek Facts

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Visitors to Peru have been venturing further afield than the Sacred Valley to discover the Colca Canyon area. For the truly adventurous, a little further north of Colca Canyon lies the world’s deepest canyon named Cotahuasi Canyon. This great gorge is so immense that it could fit the Grand Canyon in twice. This gives the benefit of intriguing Cotahuasi Canyon Trekking routes which are off-the-beaten track.

For those willing to make the trip, what lies in wait is a land of traditional village life, cascading waterfalls, dizzying suspension bridges, rarely seen ruins, mysterious ancient petroglyphs, hot springs and the chance to spot elusive Peruvian wildlife – and you will barely see any other tourists the whole time you are there.

Overview

A ‘standard’ tour of the Cotahuasi Canyon does not usually involve trekking from one place to another, sleeping on campsites along the way, but rather sees participants basing themselves at Cotahuasi village and taking day hikes out from there to visit local places of interest. These places of interest are many, and the most frequently visited include the Sipia waterfalls, Inca ruins at Maukallaqta and the hot springs at Luicho. There is also a set of 700-year old petroglyphs which are normally visited on the way to Cotahuasi village from Arequipa on the first day.

Highlights

  • Try to decipher the mysterious ancient petroglyphs en route to Cotahuasi
  • See the Sipia waterfall as it tumbles into the world’s deepest canyon
  • Trek in a region rarely visited by foreign tourists
  • Chance to experience authentic local life
  • Good place to spot wildlife

Lowlights

  • Remote location with very basic medical provision
  • Basic trekking options only offer day-trip hikes, returning to same base to sleep
Cotahuasi Canyon trekking trail
The Cotahuasi Canyon offers diverse trekking trails that can be adopted to the needs of a trekker.

Cotahuasi Canyon Trek Facts

Trek Difficulty: Easy - moderate. Longer treks can be more challenging.
Trek Duration: 4 days. However, one-day hikes to 10 day treks are also possible.
Remoteness: Very remote, few tourists make it out this far but local settlements exist
Maximum Altitude: 3,900 m at Maukallaqta
Accommodation Type: Camping; guesthouses or homestays in Cotahuasi
Best Season: June - September
Start / End Locations: Arequipa - Cotahuasi
Permits: No permits required
Map of Cotahuasi Canyon trek
Overview map of the 7 days Cotahuasi Canyon trek

Cotahuasi Canyon Trek - Trekking Itineraries

The Cotahuasi Canyon has many trekking options that can be adapted to a trekker's needs according to time, ability and budget. As such, there is no ‘classic’ or ‘standard’ trekking route. Furthermore, many tours do not involve a point-to-point trek but are rather based on daily treks out to places of interest from the base of Cotahuasi village. Below are three different itineraries:  

  • Option 1: 4 Days / 3 Nights Itinerary

A common trekking route that takes in the major sites of the area is a 4 Days / 3 Nights trekking tour and could be organised as follows:

Day 1: Drive from Arequipa to Toro Muerto where you can see the 700-year old pre-Incan petroglyphs. Then come back to Cotahuasi village. Accommodation at a hotel or a campsite in Cotahuasi.

Day 2: Trek to Sipia waterfalls (3 hours) and back to Cotahuasi.

Day 3: Drive to Puico village (3,660m), then a short trek to Maukallaqta to visit the Inca ruins (3,900m),  trek for 3 hours to Alca (2,760m), transport to the hot springs at Luicho. Accommodation at tents near Luicho.

Day 4: Transport back to Cotahuasi to visit the suspension bridges near Cotahuasi and then drive back to Arequipa.

  • Option 2: 7 Days / 6 Nights Itinerary

If you would like to go for a challenging experience with more time in the nature, a good option is the below 7 days trek:

Day 1: Arequipa - Toro Muerto -  Cotahuasi

Day one includes a visit to the 700-year old petroglyphs in Toro Muerto on the way to Cotahuasi village.

Day 2: Sipia waterfalls – Vellinga   

Day two takes trekkers across vertiginous hanging bridges and along narrow paths that lead to the impressive Sipia waterfalls (plummeting down 150 m). Camp is at Vellinga village, near the hot springs, where you can relax after the first day’s trek.

Day 3: Vellinga – Quechualla (1,300m) – Huachuay (2,900m)

On the third day, trekkers continue along the Cotahuasi river to Quechualla, the lowest point of the trek. This is wine-growing region, so do sample the local wines. After this, the trek continues up to Huachuay for fine views and the night’s camp.

Day 4: Huachuay – Marpo

Day four involves another descent into the canyon following ancient pre-Inca paths, crossing the river and then more wine and pisco tasting at the night’s campsite at Marpo.

Day 5: Marpo – Yachau Oasis  

In day five, explore the vine and fruit plantations as well as five different species of cactus on your way to Yachau Oasis where you camp for the night.

Day 6: Yachau – Chaucalla

This day’s walking is a little shorter and the highlight is the impressive basalt rock formations along the route to Chaucalla.

Day 7: Chaucalla – Arequipa or Nazca

The final day involves six hours of walking to the pick-up point. You can then drive to back to Arequipa or even to Nazca.

  • Option 3: 1 Day Hike

If you are short on time, a one-day trek to the Sipia waterfalls starting from Cotahuasi is a popular option as well.

River running at Cotahuasi Canyon
A river running underneath a wooden bridge at Cotahuasi Canyon
Mountain range in Cotahuasi Canyon
While trekking the Cotahuasi Canyon trail, you will come across beautiful rugged mountain scenary

Cotahuasi Canyon Trek - Alternative trekking options

  • Colca Canyon trek: If you have no time to travel to this remote corner of the country but want a similar trekking experience, then a good alternative is the Colca Canyon Trek. It offers similar trekking experience but with easier access. If not for trekking, the Colca Canyon is a great place for exploration. 
  • Sacred Valley treks: If you are interested in more intense and challenging treks, the Sacred Valley  boasts a number of tough, high-altitude treks that can last up to a week, most of which can be combined with a visit to Machu Picchu on the final day. Recommended walks include the Salkantay Trek, the Choquequirao Trek, the Lares Trek and the Ausangate Trek among others.
Salkantay trek is one of the best treks in Peru
Salkatay trek offers a more wilder and perhaps another authentic alternative to the Inca Trail
An indigenous woman walking on the Ausangate trekking trail
An indigenous woman walking on the foothills of Ausangate
The Yanama Pass in the Choquequirao trek trail
The Yanama Pass is the highest point of Choquequirao Trek
Lares Trek is one of the best treks Peru has to offer
The small town of Ollyantambo is where the Lares Trek begins

Safety Considerations

Altitude Sickness

Altitude sickness can strike at altitudes of above around 2,000 m to 2,400 m and there is no way to tell in advance who will be affected. The altitude of Cusco is high enough for acclimatisation and anybody spending a few days there before travelling to Arequipa should have no trouble.

Although some sections of the Cotahuasi Canyon Trek reach relatively high altitudes, you will not be spending a lot of time in the high altitudes. Therefore, trekkers who have acclimatised properly should show no more than minor symptoms at worst. For anybody who does show symptoms of altitude sickness, which can include nausea, dizziness, headaches and others, the best remedy is to descend to a lower altitudes to recover. The local traditional remedy is to chew coca leaves or to drink tea brewed from them. This may temporarily alleviate the symptoms but is no substitute for descending to lower altitude. For click here more information about Altitude Sickness.

Physical Fitness

The Cotahuasi Canyon Trek is not considered difficult and anyone with a moderate level of physical fitness should be able to manage. For those undertaking more difficult routes, higher fitness levels may be required and participants should inform themselves of the difficulty level of a trek in order to judge whether the trek is suitable.

Good To Know

  • Cotahuasi Canyon is remote destination in rural Peru where medical facilities are rudimentary at best. If something unexpected happens, emergency services are limited and evacuation to a hospital may be difficult. Anybody requiring medication should ensure they are well supplied before setting off.
  • It is possible to tour the Cotahuasi Canyon area independently but it is recommended to hire a guide, even for one-day trips, since access to some places can be tricky and guides know the best routes.

For those who crave originality and authenticity, they will certainly find it in the Cotahuasi Canyon. In a country that now receives a high volume of international visitors, this region has been preserved by its remoteness, and those willing to make the effort will discover unspoilt beauty.

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