Cotahuasi is the largest settlement in canyon country and the first you'll stumble upon. In the hills at 2,680 meters (8,793 feet), whitewashed colonial-style homes line slim, straight lanes before a backdrop of Cerro Hiunao. Most visitors kick off their stay in this Quechua-speaking community of 3,500 residents, where there are a few basic hostels, restaurants, a small grocery store, a 17th-century church with a bell tower, and the Plaza de Armas. Most hiking trails begin or end here. Many families rent burros to tourists to help carry their load, especially kayakers who walk eight hours down to the gorge with their kayaks.
Three hours farther south along a thin track against the canyon wall—which climbs to 400 meters (1,312 feet) above the river—is Chaupo, a settlement surrounded by groves of fruit trees. You can camp here and hike through Velinga to ruins at Huña before reaching Quechualla, where the ancient farming terraces of Maucullachta, an old Wari city, are visible across the gorge.
In Cotahuasi Village the route forks, leading northeast along the Río Cotahuasi or due north. Either way is possible by 4x4, colectivo, or on foot. Heading northeast, about 10 km (6 miles) out of town, is the village of Tomepampa. After that is the small town of Alca, near the hot springs of Luicho. Even farther east is Puica, at 3,700 meters (12,139 feet). Driving northwest from Cotahuasi Village for two hours will lead you to Pampamarca, a town known for exquisite woven rugs; it’s three hours from here to the hot springs of Josla and Uskuni.