Like many of life’s great adventures, our trek into Peru’s Colca Canyon was born not of careful planning but from a spontaneous impulse.
It was our first day in Cabanaconde, a small town nestled in a chasm deeper than the Grand Canyon in southern Peru’s Arequipa region. My boyfriend and I had blocked off several days of our two-month South American backpacking trip to explore the area. We’d just returned from a short day hike and were sipping a cold Arequipeña beer at our bed-and-breakfast while admiring the lush expanse of the canyon.
That’s when I saw it. Far off in the distance, a small white waterfall stood out against the wall of green. Alex and I looked at each other, both struck by the adventure itch. We weren’t leaving until we’d seen that waterfall up close and felt its cool water on our faces.
Details: Peru’s Colca Canyon
As it turned out, the white blip that we’d set our sights on was the Huaruro waterfall, a 250-foot behemoth accessible from the small village of Fure on the opposite side of the canyon.
Though Alex and I pride ourselves on being active, outdoorsy people, we’re far from expert mountaineers. Our four years of dating and living in Washington had been lacking in the nature department. This was unfamiliar territory, so we hired a local guide named Rosas to lead us on our adventure.
The night before our trek, Rosas, a 5-foot-tall Quechua man, came to our hotel to brief us on our trip. Starting at 7:30 the next morning, he said in Spanish as I translated for Alex, we would hike from Cabanaconde down to the bottom of the canyon, a descent of approximately 3,300 feet. We’d cross the Colca River, have lunch in the town of Llahuar, hike up about 1,650 feet to the town of Llatica and then continue up another 600 feet to Fure, where we would sleep that first night.
The next day, we’d set out for the waterfall and then hike back down the canyon to the Sangalle oasis, where we’d spend the night. Then, early in the morning of the third day, we’d leave the oasis to hike up another 3,300 feet back to Cabanaconde and civilization.
It seemed ambitious. Fortunately, we had no real idea of what we were in for.
Into the canyon
The next morning, we awoke at 6 and ate breakfast. Rosas came to our hotel to meet us at around 7:30. We walked through the town of Cabanaconde, passing an empty bullfighting ring and the goal of a now-defunct soccer stadium. From there, we started the descent into the canyon.
Almost immediately, Rosas started pointing out all kinds of indigenous herbs and fruits. A plethora of plants with a variety of uses grow in the canyon: muña for indigestion, cactus fruit for asthma and jatupa for insecticide, for starters. The canyon also hosts an incredible bounty of fruit. Peaches, apples, papaya, several different types of squash, lucuma, corn, mango and figs all flourish there.
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