Cotahausi is a little covered by LP but I found it more spectacular and interesting than the super touristic Colca. It’s not easy to reach and transportation is not a friend of travellers but it’s not hard to explore around.
ON THE WAY TO COTAHUASI
It’s worth to break your journey in Corire, Aplao or Chuquibamba. From Corire it’s easy to visit the Toro Muerto Petroglyphs as LP says. We found Hotel El Molino (double with bathroom from 35 S) the best hostel in the town. Corire is a dusty desert town, Aplao 25 kms further is a better choice. Here the best accomodation is Hotel Willy (s/d with bathroom 35/60 S), a good and clean cheaper option is Hostal Plaza (s/d with bathroom 20/30 S). Both towns have ATM and eateries. 10 kms from Corire in Querulpa on the left side of the road you will see a huge dinosaur. It’s a small park with a few dinosaur footprints on the rock (admission 2 S). Catch any combi in Corire heading for Aplao and ask the driver to drop you off at the entrance.
40 kms from Aplao you reach Chuquibamba, a main stop for night buses between Arequipa and Cotahuasi. The town itself is not interesting but its surround is worth breaking your journey. The road to Yanaquihua is scenic, the village is worth a half-day-detour. From Chuquibamba a 40 kms trail lead you to the petroglyphs of Illomas. For tour and guide ask at the municipality. You can find basic accomodation in Chuquibamba.
Corire and Aplao is easily reachable from Arequipa (15 S, 4 hours), Pedregal (8 S, 1,5 hours) or Camaná (10 S, 2 hours). Almost every hour depart buses or combis. Between Corire and Aplao frequent combis running (1,40 S, 30 minutes). To Chuquibamba catch any buses coming from Arequipa (every 2 hours, 8 S) or find a seat in a collectivo from Aplao at the petrol station (12 S).
From Chuquibamba frequent combis leave to Yanaquihua (10 S, 2,5 hours). There are at least 2 combis to Camaná (15 S) and various buses to Arequipa in the daytime (20 S).
If you want to get to Cotahausi, pay a seat on one of the night buses. Today there are 3 bus companies heading for the canyon. Cromotex leaves Arequipa at 4pm, Inmaculada and Reyna leave at 5pm. The fare is 30 S. Cromotex arrive at Corire at 7pm (20 S), Aplao at 7:30pm (20 S), Chuquibamba at 9pm (15 S). Inmaculada and Reyna 1 hour later. Buses reach Cotahuasi between 2am and 3am.
If you are heading for the Colca Canyon, catch any bus heading for Pedregal (all buses to Arequipa cross the town) and catch the only bus a day to Cabanaconde between 11am and 12pm (22 S, 5-6 hours).
The main gate of the canyon is the village of Cotahuasi. Here you can find accomodation between 15 and 80 S per night. Hostal Alcala (s/d without bathroom 15/20 S) is one of the cheapest with shared bathroom but hot water. The owner is very helpful and well informed of the canyon. Better and more expensive option is Hostal Justito (s/d with bathroom 20/40 S) just next to Hostal Alcala or Hotel Valle Hermoso (s/d with bathroom 40/80 S), a nice hacienda style hotel with clean rooms and TV. For good mirror-reflecting photos walk 20 minutes to Laguna Chaquicocha.
If you want to discover the entire canyon you need at least one week. Transportation is problem in the canyon, usually buses and combis to small villages leave early in the morning and return early in the afternoon don’t let a lot of time to explore the surroundings.
1 – East of Cotahuasi
Tomepampa 10 kms from Cotahuasi is the nicest small town in the valley. Here, as LP says, the best is Posada Inti (s/d 20/40 S). On every Saturday morning a combi leaves for Achambi village (3700m) and Laguna Apalcocha (4850m). The legend says a bull comes out of the lake every night and climbing up to a rock to stare down the valley.
On the other side of the river there is a small and typical Cotahuasi village, Taurisma. A few kilometers further you’ll
find the thermal baths of Luicho (admission 5 S). 10 kms from Tomepampa is the village of Alca. The best place to stay is the LP recommended Hostal Alcala (s/d with bathroom 25/40 S). From the village you can walk to Cahuana (2700 m), a small settlement on the top of the rock behind Alcala. Turn left at the sign of Ayahuasi and walk until the bridge. Cross the river and hike up 30 minutes on the scale to the look out point for a great view of the valley. From here it’s another 15 minutes walk to the village. On the small peak behind Cahuana you’ll see a small inca ruin, Ccalla. It’s a good 30 minutes walk to here. Just like Cahuana, Ayahuasi (2850m) is another nice adobe village. It’s a longer and tiring walk to get here. There are no stores in these villages so take food and water with you. Another nice walk is from Alca to Tomepampa on the norther bank of the river. On this route you can see the 50 meters high Mimacharka waterfall.
23 kms from Alca you arrive at Puyca (3560m). This is a great place to explore the eastern part of the canyon. 30 minutes walk from the village you reach the inca ruins, Maukallacta. This is the biggest and most beautiful archeological site in Cotahausi. In every June people celebrate the day of potato in the village, it’s a tranquil but colorful fiesta. A dirt road turn north to Churca (3900m), a settlement in the depth of the Inchuquillca Canyon. Here you can see llamas and alpacas. In the end of the road you arrive in the Puyas Raimondi forest. This 10 meters tall high mountain plant is found only here and in Ancash, Huaraz.
Getting there & around
Cromotex leave Alca to Arequipa at 4pm, Inmaculada and Reyna at 5pm. You can catch the buses in Cotahausi 30 minutes later. The bus ride takes 10-11 hours (30 S). The only daytime option and chance to see the Solimana and Coropuna volcanoes is Transport Lopez from Alca to Lima (90 S, 22 hours) on Tuesday, 6am. This bus usually seems more cargo than bus but don’t worry, they sell tickets. On this route Chuquibamba is 15 S, Aplao and Corire 20 S, Camaná 30 S, Chala 40 S, Nazca 60 S.
From Cotahausi combis leave to Tomepapma and Alca in every hour from 6am to 6pm (1,5/3 S). To Achambi and Laguna Apalcocha you have to wait until Saturday. The combi leaves between 5am and 6am if there is enough passenger and return in the afternoon.
From Alca to Puyca the only combi departs every day at 5am (5 S, 1,5 hours), return at 2pm. If you want to discover the Inchuquillca Canyon and the Puyas Raimondi forest you need your own vehicle.
2 – North of Cotahuasi
18 kms from Cotahuasi you arrive at Huaynacotas (3600m). It’s a good place to start a 7 hours trek to Tecca (3850m) in the Pampamarca Valley. You have to hike up to a 4200 meters high pass but on the way you cross the Llamojas stone forest and a small Inca ruin. If you are acclimatized from here you can make a 5 hours loop to the Laguna Huanzoccocha (4900m). From Tecca it’s a 1 hour walk to the 60 meters high Fuysiri Falls and 4 hours to Pampamarca. There are no villages on the route so take your own tent, sleeping bag and food with you. You can hire a local guide and mules in Huaynacotas.
Pampamarca (3600m) is the only place in North Cotahuasi where you can sleep in bed. Hospedaje Sunquyparurun has super basic rooms without bathroom (10 S per person). 20 minutes walk from the village you find a look out point to the Uskune Waterfalls. The trail is easy to follow. 1,5 hours steep climb takes you to the Huito stone forest (4000m). The view from the shape rocks is amazing.
Between Pampamarca and Cotahuasi the road is scenic, one of the most beautiful in the canyon with great view of Solimana. Half way you get to Mungui, a very small and sleepy settlement.
Getting there & around
To Huaynacotas there are two combis a day. They depart at 5am and 12:30pm and they return after of arriving. To Pampamarca the only bus leaves Cotahuasi at 6:30am and go back aroun 1pm.
3 – West of Cotahuasi
10 kms from Cotahuasi you reach the 100 meters high Sipia Waterfall. It’s the most famous site of the canyon. To get to the look out point follow the sign from the road. Just before the Sipia bridge there is a branch. To north is Charcana, to west is Velinga and Quechualla.
Charcana lies at 3400 meters above the sea, 44 kms northwest of Cotahuasi. There is a small hospedaje (10 S per person) on the main square. There are little visited sites around Charcana and they are hard to reach without a guide. The most mysterious site is the Huancarama pictograms, ancient paintings on rocks. Arco de Pidera Jaisampo is an interesting rock arch a 2 hours walk from the village. There is an 8 hours long trail from Charcana to the depth of the canyon at Velinga.
The road to Velinga is scenic. 10 kms from the Sipia Waterfall, just behind Rosapampa you’ll cross Judiopampa (Jewish field), a nice cacti forest. Another 8 kms further the road ends. Velinga (1900m) is a sleepy village 20 minutes from the bus stop. There is a guesthouse (10 S per person) but you don’t need to stay here, better to hike to Quechualla.
From the end of the road a narrow trail snake down to the deepest point of the canyon. 8 kms from the bus stop you arrive at Quechualla (1600m), a fairytale oasis in the desert. Quechualla is the oldest and most remote settlement in Cotahausi, it was established before the Incas. The village looks very old, the roof of the grey adobe houses is from grass. Here is no electricity, no running water but tonnes of grapes, guayaba and chirimoya. There is a small guaesthouse on the main square (12 S per person) and you camp for free in front of the church. Water and beer is expensive here becuase locals have to bring goods by mules. 30 minutes walk from the village is Ushua, the deepest point (3535m) of the Cotahausi Canyon. Government promises the road from Velinga will reach Quechualla in the end of 2013.
If you want to continue your journey to the coast, Rafael Bernedo Perez is a recommened guide. The 3 days trek to Chauchalla is not easy but marvelous. First day you have to hike up to Huachuy (3500m), the second day to Uusky camp (3400m) and the third day to Chauchalla (1000m). From here combis leave to Ocoña where you can catch buses to Camaná or Arequipa.
Getting there & around
Combi to Charcana leaves Cotahuasi at 3pm and return at 6am on the next day. To Velinga/Quechualla the bus departs Cotahausi at 6:30am and return at 9am. On Monday, Friday and Sunday there is another bus at 1pm, comes back at 4pm.