White-water rafting and hiking in the Cotahuasi CanyonJanuary 27, 2009
Another extreme location, another extreme vacation…
The Cotahuasi Canyon in southern Peru is the deepest canyon in the world – 3501m or 11,488 ft. It is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States, but the canyon’s walls are not as vertical as those of the Grand Canyon.
The Canyon is covered with unexplored Incan and Wari ruins. In antiquity, this canyon was the most direct route from Cusco to the Pacific and was used by the Inca for trade with the coast. There are many Inca and pre-Inca terraces remaining, and still cultivated, along the less precipitous canyon walls.
Over the years the old Inca trails have deteriorated and now the best way to explore the canyon is by rafting down the class 3-5 rapids that separate the ruins – this will take 6 days.
You can drive down to the village of Cotahuasi, an extreme journey in itself with its torturous switchbacks, but, since we are into extreme sports and extreme vacations – we would prefer to hike down – following old Inca trails where possible. It is about a 10-hr hike down to the bottom of the canyon and be prepared for the heat – 40 degrees at the bottom.
The large network of ancient trails that connect all the villages makes a wide variety of day hikes or multi day loop hikes possible, depending on your interests and style of adventure. There are challenging climbs up steep ridges, craters and 16,000 to 17,000 ft peaks. And then of course, there’s the opportunity of white-water rafting.
Very little was known about this area and even less about the canyon until a kayak/raft expedition first ran it in 1994. It is considered one of the most dangerous rivers in the world with its combination of icy cold waters and Class 5 rapids.
Very few people have rapided this river, which makes it that much more of an extreme vacation and an extreme challenge. The river flows from 12,000 ft in the Andes, West to the Pacific Ocean. The Canyon was the only link between Cusco, the ancient Inca capital, and the Pacific Ocean.
The adrenaline rush experienced during a 6-day Class IV-V white water rafting trip on the rapids of the Cotahuasi River will be an experience indeed – a non-stop, heart pounding descent, through 80 miles of continuous class 4 technical whitewater. The class 5’s are scouted before running them and some are walked around.
An added bonus is that the canyon is a place of great natural beauty. As stated above, it is the deepest canyon in the world and yet, just 24kms (15 miles) to the southeast, the Nevado Ampato, a snow-capped extinct volcano, rises to 6,288m (20,630 ft). It is also home to the endangered Andean Condor.
This challenging expedition encompasses real adventure with the natural wonders and fascinating ancient history of the region. If I have given you any ideas for an extreme vacation – bon voyage!