Among the highlights of visiting the Colca Canyon in southern Peru are majestic condors, adventure activities like trekking, pre-Inca archaeology and terracing, and Colca Canyon churches from the colonial era. For the cultural connoisseur the quaint villages and period buildings are destinations in their own right, and for the outdoor enthusiast they make for delightful stops to the starting point of hikes or horseback rides. Whichever kind of traveler you are, Aracari can arrange the perfect tailormade trip to Peru for you to visit the Colca Canyon churches.
Colca Canyon Churches
A result of the Spanish conquest, and the resettlement of the indigenous people in the 16th century there are 15 churches in small towns along the Colca River. The valley’s village churches attest to the wealth of the Caylloma silver and gold mines that were established during the Colonial period, and many of them are architectural gems filled with valuable art. The prevailing Catholic faith keeps pre-Colombian elements alive with each bearing both its ornate Hispanic inheritance and the architectural sobriety of volcanic stone.
From East to West, they are located in Callalli, Sibayo, Canocota, Tuti, Chivay, Corporaque, Yanque, Ichupampa, Achoma, Lari, Maca, Madrigal, Pinchollo, Tapay, and Cabanaconde. The churches were all built in the same style, what has become known as Andean baroque. Mixing colonial and indigenous elements, they include large sillar (volcanic stone) buildings, the floor shaped in the form of a cross, with the front entrance between two square bell towers complete with small pillars, a bell, and a cupola. Inside, the syncretism, or mix between Inca and Catholic beliefs manifests further in the colorful murals detailed with animals native to the area, mountains and agricultural staples like corn appearing in many of the paintings.
Visiting the Colca Canyon Churches
With churches on both sides of the river, a visit to some (or all if you’re feeling ambitious) is seamless on a trip through Colca. The river’s right hand side is far less visited than the left, and during the dry season from April-November Aracari picks to take guests to the tourist free town of Lari, and sometimes also Madrigal, to visit the colonial church.
The Church of Lari
The churches have survived many earthquakes and some are in the process of slow renovations to preserve their history and increase tourism in the area. One of the most recent to complete renovations and by far the most impressive, is in Lari. The painted murals inside the church were restored entirely by local painters, providing jobs and empowering the locals to take pride in and take care of their town history. Besides the intricate murals inside, a highlight of the church is the colorful trimming contrasting with the white walls on the outside.
In the small towns like Lari, both the main plazas and the churches are authentic and worth a visit. The majority of the locals work in agriculture and are out in the fields during the day, so the main plazas in towns may be peacefully deserted. Sometimes to practice your Spanish you, or your guide, may even need to request that someone unlock the church doors for you so that you can peek in for a visit. Alternatively your visit to the Colca Canyon churches may be bustling with local women dressed in colorful skirts, handwoven shawls and embroidered hats very typical of the area, or children after their school day has ended.
Exploring the Colca Canyon
About a 4 hour drive from Arequipa, Colca is often visited after spending a day or two in the city. Tourism is developing in the Colca Canyon and infrastructure is ever-improving, but the region is still one of the lesser visited areas of Peru making it the perfect place for a few days of relaxation, surrounded by nature and history. In addition to visiting the churches in the area, there are plenty of activities for all kinds of travelers such as bathing in the natural hot springs, hikes to Uyo Uyo Ruins, Canocota Canyon and Madrigal Chimpa Fortress, and horseback riding to Coporaque or Achoma. The Colca Canyon is best enjoyed when staying at one of the best luxury hotels in Colca such as Colca Lodge or Belmond Las Casitas.
If you’re interested in visiting the Colca Canyon and Arequipa, contact us today for a quote and expert travel planning advice.