The flora here is equally unique and varied. It grows most thickly in the lower areas near the river, where the warm, gentle air enables numerous species of cacti to grow
The particular qualities of each of these beautiful species have earned them unique names from the valley’s residents, such as chiri-chiris, cojines de suegra (“mother-in-law’s cushions”), corotillas, cabezas de cholo (“cholo heads”), and the plentiful tuna, or prickly pear. There are also many bushes with colorful flowers, such as the cantuta, chillko, chinchircuma, and sullun sullu.
As one ascends along the steep slopes, the climate grows increasingly drier and colder, limiting the development of flowering plants and providing the conditions for natural grasses such as ichu, chiliwaa, and pilli-pilli. These pastures alternate with isolated thickets of quishuar shrubs and sprawling tolar bushes, commonly used as fuel in residents’ ovens. Above 4,000 m (13,123 ft.), queñual trees and hardier grasses find their ideal climate. Here, there are also bofedals, swampy areas where kunkuna proliferates like an evergreen cushion. The very highest point of the Andes is reserved for the yareta, an extraordinary plant that grows in compact colonies on the rocks at an altitude of 5,000 m (16,404 ft.). Remaining close to the ground to withstand the icy winds and covered in wax to prevent the loss of water through evaporation, the yareta has managed to survive where only lichens remind us that life can thrive in the heavens, too. The price it pays is dear, however: it must grow at the incredibly slow pace of one millimeter (0.04 inches) per year. The Colca is a singular valley, a natural jewel where humans have learned to live in harmony with their surroundings, a laboratory of life where we can observe the best of high Andean flora and fauna, and a paradise for adventure seekers and those who love stunning landscapes. Above all, the Colca is a reminder of the enormous power of the mountains and the grandeur of our rich pre-Hispanic past.