The Colca y Volcanes de Andagua is an area with stunning landscapes and ever-changing geological activity. Located in southern Peru, the area is home to more than twenty-five volcanic cones and the Colcan Canyon, which is one of deepest canyons in the world, at more than 100 km long and 3 km deep. The Geopark covers an area of 6,582.43 km2, incorporating 19 districts of the Castilla and Caylloma provinces. This Geopark’s landscape was formed by erosion and volcanic activity over the past 400 million years, and is the result of the Nazca Plate subducting beneath the South American Plate at a rate of 5-6 cm a year. This movement can trigger powerful earthquakes and landslides in this region.
The Geopark has a variety of climatic-ecological zones as a result of the stark variances in altitude. For instance, the farming on irrigated terraces of the Colca Valley occur primarily within 3,600-3,700 meters above sea level. Much of this landscape has scarce vegetation, which reveals the characteristic colors of the geological formations, facilitating the research and education activities related to the area’s geology.
The city of Arequipa sits below the Hualca-Ampato-Sabancaya volcanic complex, which is where researchers discovered the remains of the "juanita mummy," also known as the Mt Ampato Maiden. The body of Juanita and several other Inca girls in ceremonial robes from the middle of the 13th Century CE were naturally preserved by the frozen environment of Mount Ampato’s summit (6,715 m elevation). The burial site was revealed in 1995 after the volcanic activity melted the snowcap. This discovery has lent itself to a greater understanding of the genetic, cultural, and religious history of this region, and the remains are currently in the Andean Sanctuary Museum in Arequipa.
The geological and archeological findings of these areas indicate that frequent volcanism, including lava flows, dense pumice clouds and lahars from melting icecaps, have threatened the populations in the vicinity for millennia. The geographic context of the early communities in these regions is interwoven with their rituals and beliefs, as some of the sacrificial burials and pilgrimage sites are thought to be in reaction to, or celebration of, volcanic and tectonic activity. For instance, Mount El Misti, also near Arequipa, had a significant eruption in the 15th century which was followed by an increased number of Incan ritual offerings, ceremonies and sacrifices at this site, including inside the volcanic crater. Unfortunately, due to sulfur content in the soil and high temperatures, these archeological remains in El Misti are poorly preserved. The volcano has been active since this event, including its most recent eruption in 1985.
©UNESCO/Colca y Volcanes de Andagua
The purpose of this Geopark is to promote the sustainable development for its inhabitants, conserve its natural resources and landmarks, and establish geo-tourism as an innovative concept in Peru. These changes are expected to benefit the economy of the communities in the regions of Chivay, Achoma, Cabanaconde, Callalli, Coporaque, Huambo, Ichupampa, Lari, Lluta, Maca, Madrigal, Sibayo, Tapay, Tuti and Yanque. This Geopark will encourage the celebration, maintenance and protection of the area’s geological, natural, cultural and intangible heritage.
Much of the region’s income and infrastructure is supported by the gold and silver mines, some of which have been active since ancient times. Today, tourism is becoming an increasingly important source of income in this region, with approximately 250,000 visitors in 2016, although this industry is heavily dependent on the wet and dry season changes. Funds from tourism are partially directed towards environmental and cultural conservation efforts for this site.