Text by Walter M. Wust, photos by James Poso and Walter M. Wust
(LIP-jl) — Discovered by adventurers just 20 years ago, the Cotahuasi Valley is a blend of a rich pre-Colombian heritage and the tradition of picturesque villages surrounded by a breath-taking landscape. Come with us and discover the wonders of the Cotahuasi Canyon.
The glacial highland wind slaps us in the face as we jump put of our cars. Dawn broke just minutes ago, and the clouds are only just beginning to light up in a range of hues. The frost-covered ichu grass glitters in the sunlight before melting away under the rays of a highland sun that today seems to be more intense than ever.
Before us, still wreathed in early morning mist, stretches a dizzying gouge in the Andes, a gigantic wound slashed into the rough skin of the majestic mountains. From the bottom of the valley drifts bird song, carried by the mist which drifts uphill at surprising speed.
We would have liked to stop a moment longer to gaze upon this dawn spectacle in this solitary waste, but we are pulled away by the burning desire to plunge into the past down the zig-zagging road that leads to Cotahuasi Valley, our final destination.
The narrow valley, located some 375 km northwest of the city of Arequipa, is the result of the rushing waters of the Cotahuasi River between two hulking mountains: Mount Coropuna (at 6,425 masl, Peru’s highest volcano) and Solimana (6,093 meters).
From its origin in the pretty lake of Huanzococha, at more than 4,750 meters, the Cotahuasi is further swelled by the Huayllapaña River, near Pampamarca, to the north, and Huarcaya, near Tomepampa to the west. Its waters growing ever-more turbulent, the river heads west and then south, flowing through the deepest areas of the canyon. Finally, the river merges with the waters of the Marán before flowing into the Pacific Ocean near Ocoña, from where it gets its name for the final stretch.