The Cotahuasi Sub-basin Landscape Reserve is a protected natural area (ANP) located in the province of La Unión, 9 hours and 30 minutes by car from Arequipa. It has one of the deepest canyons in the world, the Cotahuasi Canyon, also called «The Canyon of wonders», with 3,562 meters deep.
The landscape reserve is a representative sample of the Tropical Andes of southern Peru, which, due to its location in the Southern Andes and in the upper parts of the Ocoña River, has unique geographical conditions that give rise to a biological diversity of global importance in each one of its twelve life zones, which are distributed in a space that ranges from 950 meters above sea level and rises through the canyon to snow-capped mountains above 6,100 meters above sea level.
In the surroundings of the canyon, temples and archaeological zones with extensive and ancient platforms have been identified that reflect the ingenuity of the native peoples in adapting to their environment while conserving the ecosystem in a harmonious way.
It has impressive landscapes surrounded by the snowy Coropuna, Solimana and the Sipia Waterfall, which has a free fall of 150 meters and forms a permanent rainbow to the delight of tourists who love nature tourism. It is a perfect setting for adventure sports such as trekking, canoeing, paragliding, hang gliding, mountain biking, rock climbing, fishing, and horseback riding.
Among the important tourist attractions that the area offers is the Luicho Hot Springs Tourist Complex, which consists of three pools with waters that flow from the hill of the same name, which vary between 33 and 38 ° C. They are known for their medicinal and relaxing properties, ideal for people suffering from stress and muscle pain.
There is also the stone forest of Santo Santo, whose extension is 5 square kilometers, at 4,200 meters above sea level, the Puyas Raimondi forest in the town of Lauripampa and the Giant Cactus forest of Judío Pampa in the town of Quechualla, a town that It is also famous for the vineyards and variety of fruits that it owns. The peculiarity of these giant cacti is that they can measure approximately 12 to 13 meters.
On the other hand, you can see several typical towns of the Peruvian highlands, with narrow streets, whitewashed houses and rustic balconies. It is important to note that the best season to visit the Cotahuasi Canyon is between the months of May and November, months in which the days are sunny, the nights cool and the rains are scarce.
Created by the erosion of the Cotahuasi River, the depth of this canyon is only surpassed by the Yarlung Tsangpo Canyon with 5,590 meters, Kali Gandaki Canyon with 4,375 and the Apurímac Canyon with 4,691 meters, the latter also located in Peru.
Owner of 12 ecosystems where unique species of flora and fauna inhabit, the Cotahuasi Canyon is an ideal tourist destination for extreme adventure sports.
The Cotahuasi Subcuenta Landscape Reserve is located in the province of La Unión, 9 hours and 30 minutes by car from Arequipa.
The splendid Cotahuasi Canyon is 3,562 meters deep in the Ninancocha sector and is one of the largest in the world.
It has three possible origins:
The union of the Quechua words «ccoto» and «huasi», in Castilian «meeting» and «house», which would mean «meeting of the houses».
According to Antonio Raimondi, «ccoto» refers to goiter disease (inflammation of the thyroid due to the consumption of salt from mines that lack iodine), so Cotahuasi would mean «house of the goiter», or also from the Quechua word that means «ccoto» reunited or together, which would mean houses together.
Another version, taking into consideration the Aymara word «cota», whose translation into Spanish is «laguna», would result in «casa de la laguna». This possibility supposes that in times belonging to the formative there was Aymara occupation in these territories, when the Chaquicocha lagoon was much larger.
The Grand Canyon is the most famous canyon in the world, but one of the most spectacular and deep is not in the United States, but in Peru, 400 kilometers from Arequipa. It is the imposing Cotahuasi canyon.
At twice the size of the Grand Canyon, Peru’s Cotahuasi is one of the most amazing. Its depth is 3,535 meters and it was created by the erosion of the river. It sinks between the Coropuna mountains (whose peak reaches 6,425 meters high) and Solimana (6,093 meters).
The Cotahuasi Canyon was formed by the erosion of the waters of the river of the same name plus the influx of the Huayllapaña and Huarcayatiene rivers. It has a depth of 3,535 meters, in the Ninancocha sector.
This canyon is part of the province of La Unión and is located within the Cotahuasi Sub-basin Landscape Reserve. It comprises twelve life zones and three ecological regions, and, along the 100 kilometers of extension that the valley forms, different elevational levels can be appreciated, each one of them possessing endemic species of both flora and fauna.
The Cotahuasi Canyon is a unique landscape in the world, since it houses traditional Andean farms, fields and terraces, walls, steep slopes, deep ravines and remains of pre-Inca and Inca constructions, testimonies of the wonders of the ancient civilizations that inhabited this area.
The village of Quechualla is its deepest point, 6 or 7 hours from the town of Cotahuasi. Nearby is the highest point: the extinct volcanic massif of Nevado Solimana.
Being such a remote place and almost without traces of the hand of man, it maintains the incredible landscapes of what could be a virgin land. It has 12 ecosystems that include unique species of flora and fauna, among which the Andean condors stand out.
The deep canyon is protected by the Cotahuasi Sub-Basin Landscape Reserve, which not only cares for and watches over the local flora and fauna, but also favors a traditional lifestyle supported by the crops of the inhabitants of the region.
Higher up, almost at the top, the dominant crop is corn, as well as kiwicha, quinoa, and tarwi. Above are colder and higher areas, where the most important crop is potatoes and other tubers.
However, on the top of the plateau it is not possible to cultivate anything, since it is a very arid and cold area, which forces the farmers to raise alpacas, llamas, sheep and cattle. The inhabitants of Cotahuasi preserved their traditions and customs, the farmers still use very old tools and perform ancestral rituals to protect the land and bring abundant crops.
Although this canyon is ideal for extreme sports such as rafting, mountaineering and kayaking, due to its depth, the many rapids of the Cotahuasi River and the rugged landscape make it a challenging place where you have to be very careful and experienced.
Sipia: The Sipia waterfall begins its journey at a point where the Cotahuasi River abruptly reduces its course to only 5 m wide and plunges in 150 m of free fall, crashing violently with the rocks.
Luicho: The Luicho hot springs tourist complex consists of three pools with waters that flow from the hill of the same name, which vary between 33 and 38 ° C. They are known for medicinal and relaxing properties so they are ideal for people who suffer from stress.
The stone forest of Santo Santo, whose extension is 5 square kilometers, located at 4,200 meters above sea level, 17 kilometers away from the town of Cotahuasi.
Puyas Raimondi in the town of Lauripampa.
Cactus Gigantes de Judío Pampa in the town of Quechualla, a town that is also famous for the vineyards and variety of fruits that it owns. The peculiarity of these giant cacti is that they can measure approximately between 12 and 13 meters, in addition to living with a type of bat with which they establish a symbiosis.
Several typical towns in the Peruvian highlands, with narrow streets, whitewashed houses and rustic balconies.
The Cotahuasi river is born in the Huanzococha lagoon at more than 4,750 meters above sea level, later receiving the contribution of the Huayllapaña river in the vicinity of Pampamarca.
When to go?
The best season to visit Cotahuasi is between the months of May and November, months in which the days are sunny, the nights cool and the rains are scarce.
On the other hand, the rainy seasons go from December to March; Due to the fact that the area has different altitude levels, the temperature varies from 8 to 28 ° C.
The best season to visit Cotahuasi is during the months of May and November, when the days are sunny, the nights cool and the rains are scarce. On the other hand, the rainy seasons go from December to March. Because the area has different elevational levels, it has a temperature range that ranges from 8 ° C to 28 ° C.
How to get?
On your own: From Arequipa take the Arequipa – Chuquibamba – Cotahuasi highway north of Arequipa. The 375 km journey takes 9 hours by public bus and 7 hours and 30 minutes by private mobility.
Hiring a travel operator: Definitely the safest and most recommended option would be this, because they take care of the transfer to this archaeological zone in a better way and solve any inconvenience in a better way.
If you travel to Perú, we also recommend you to visit another impressive destinations in the city of Cusco like the tour to rainbow mountain peru or the humantay lake tour from cusco, which only takes one day. But if you are gonna to stay more days in Cusco, other archaeological places you can know will be the choquequirao trek peru, the salkantay trek to machu picchu, and the classic inca trail 4 days 3 nights.