Four hours north of Arequipa lies the impressive Colca Valley. The road to the valley crosses the lower slopes of Mount Chachani and runs along plains studded with ichu and yareta (plants used for fuel) and which are home to alpacas and vizcacha rodents. The road crosses a high point of 4,350 meters before dropping down to the valley, an area of breath-taking landscapes surrounded by terracing and snow-capped peaks. Far below, at a depth of 3,400 meters, the Colca River winds along the bottom of the canyon, one of the world's deepest.
The history of the Collaguas region, where the Colca Canyon is placed, begins circa A.D. 200, with familiar groups in charge of a small population. With the arrival of the Wari culture the population density increases, and so does the corn cultivation in terraces.
After the decay of the Wary culture (A.D. 1100 aprox.) the Collaguas, aymará people separated from the Lucana nation, turns up in the region. Finally, with the appearance of the Inca's culture the ethnic chieftainship of the region desided in favour of a political alliance, sealed after a verbal tradition with the marriage between Mama Tancay Yanchi, daughter of the Coporaque's chief, and Inca Mayta Capac.
Starting in 1985, the valley became a touristic attraction, mainly because of the deepness of the Colca Canyon.Nowadays, the ecosystem of the region is experimenting an impact, because of the arrival of the modern society to the Colca Valley. It is the responsibility of the inhabitants, the authorities, and the visitors that arrive to the region, to maintain the ecologic balance of it.
The Colca Valley features archaeological remains left behind by the Collagua, the ancient inhabitants of the area. These include cave paintings and grain storerooms known as colcas. There are 14 towns based on both riverbanks, towns which were founded in the sixteenth century to settle the Collagua natives who were scattered around the area.
Despite the ravages of time, the towns have preserved their original characteristics, such as the outline of their streets, their richly-decorated colonial churches and traditional festivals.
The Colca Valley area stands out for the superb regional arts and crafts such as carpets and embroidered clothing (like the skirts and blouses worn by the local women), which feature colorful designs, as well as items that have been sculpted and embossed in tin. Other folk art includes statuettes such as San Isidro el Labrador, plus candles and wooden sculptures.
Some 40 km from Chivay, the first of the towns along the way, stands a superb natural lookout point from where one can watch the condors wheeling over the Colca Valley, while in the distance one can spot the Coropuna and Ampato volcanoes. Several towns in the valley provide lodging, but one can also camp out and go trekking. The area is ideal for adventure sports.