Exploring Peru’s epic Colca Canyon
For iron-legged hikers who make it back to Cabanaconde, Hotel Kuntur Wassi has warm, modest rooms and an exceptional restaurant where the plucky chef puts his own novel spin on Peruvian fusion food, enlivening alpaca steaks and trout with interesting sweet and savoury sauces.
Heading back to Arequipa, it is worth visiting some of the isolated settlements on the north side of the Colca River, reachable by a rough single-track road. Colonised by the Spanish in the 16th Century, Colca harbours more than a dozen of these small villages notable for their ornate churches, soporific main squares and esoteric agricultural and artisanal specialties, including embroidery and alpaca wool products. In pre-Inca days, the valley was inhabited by two linguistically different groups, the Cabanas and the Collaguas, and their descendants can still be distinguished by their traditional hats: flat straw hats embroidered with a lace band for the Collaguas in the east and rounded felt hats intricately embroidered with cotton for the Cabanas in the west. Although, population movement in the canyon is more fluid these days, you can still get a good idea of where you are by looking at the hat shapes.
Delve deeper into Colca’s cultural nuances in settlements like end-of-the-road Madrigal, a bucolic backwater perfect for a slow unflustered digestion of traditional life; sleepy Lari, where one-day treks set off for the source of the Amazon River; or Coporaque where you can enjoy lunch and a dip in the hot springs of the luxury Colca Lodge. If you can tear yourself away before the sun sets, it is a straight three-to-four hour drive back to Arequipa.