Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon begins gently. A wide valley opens out below the mountain town of Chivay, decked with layer on layer of terracing dating back to pre-Incan times and still actively used. A mountain river speeds along as the valley widens and slowly deepens, with farms and hamlets either side, some with pretty churches glistening white.
The Colca valley has similarities with the Sacred Valley, and was almost as important to the Incas. It has impressive views, there is plenty to see and do, the countryside is excellent for walkers, and there are some lovely places to stay.
You'll meet old men on donkeys, beaming ladies leading a pig on a rope, cherry-cheeked children, small boys herding goats, and wiry farmers and their sturdy wives heads down as they work fields of mostly potatoes or corn bounded by dry stone terracing.
Onwards, the valley bottom sinks deeper and deeper and descends into a sheer-sided canyon formed along a massive geological fault. Soon the river is lost to view and the road rises to follow the canyon's edge.
There's a look-out point on a bluff overlooking the canyon. In the early morning air you can watch condors riding thermals below, then swooping upwards to glide effortlessly at your eye level, turning down and around, before soaring along the canyon into the distance on their daily hunt. Their commute may cover hundreds of miles-perhaps even to the Pacific coast.
Chivay, at 3,600m above sea level, is a pleasant town, with locals in traditional dress, busy stocking up with fresh produce from the stalls in its lively market. A little way out of the town there are thermal pools at La Calera, popular with locals and visitors, with steaming swimming pools alfresco against the backdrop of a rocky gorge.