The Colca Canyon in southern Peru's Arequipa region is an area of astounding scenic beauty, and one of Peru's top tourist destinations. It is best known as one of the world's deepest canyons, reaching a depth of 4,160 m (13,640 ft), whose depth can most easily be appreciated from the Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint where Andean Condors can be seen most days throughout the year. It also offers a vibrant indigenous culture, high-quality handicrafts, and a range of activities from adventure sports to mystical tourism and tourist home-stays. The valley also features an incredible amount of Inca and pre-Inca agricultural terraces and the irrigation systems necessary to operate them.
Chivay is the hub of the valley, 160 km from the regional capital, Arequipa, and most visitors will want to take advantage of the La Calera hot springs 3 km outside of town. Between Arequipa and Chivay, visitors will enjoy passing through a range of unique ecological zones, from desert to altiplano to dry tundra. Animals spotted en route or in the valley include herds of vicuñas (a wild relative of llamas and alpacas) and a variety of birds, of particular interest the giant hummingbird, eagles, Andean geese, flamingos (September through March), and of course the mighty Andean Condor, which can usually be spotted at Cruz del Condor.
A journey to the Colca Valley usually takes about 3½ hours via public bus, across the high Andean plateau, reaching a high point of 4800 meters (15,800 ft) — so take care with altitude and cold — at the "Mirador de los Volcanes," which offers fine views of several volcanoes that soar to more than 6,000 m (20,600 ft).
Tourists generally arrive in Chivay, a nice and very friendly town at the beginning of the canyon, with plenty of hotels and hostels, and restaurants--as well as La Calera hot springs. Chivay is a good place to look for high-quality, locally-produced crafts, in particular goods hand-knitted from 100% alpaca fiber, and elaborately embroidered goods produced by hand on sewing machines (hats, coin purses, belts, etc.) Such crafts are also available in some of the miradors (scenic overlooks) along the highway, and in surrounding towns, but do not be confused by cheaper, industrially-produced knock-offs.
Other towns in the valley offer a range of cultural, adventure sports, archaeological, and other activities. Between Callalli, at the high end of the Colca valley, and Tapay, in the depths of the Colca canyon, you'll find a range of accommodations and activities, as well as microclimates that vary with altitude. In the cold, dry, highlands, livestock production predominates, focused on alpaca and llamas; in the middle zone, agriculture is more important, featuring products such as corn, quinoa, barley, beans, and a variety of potatoes, as well as dairy production; in the canyon, due to the warmer climate, fruit production is possible, including avocados, lucuma, peaches, and apples.