The path between Chivay and Arequipa is one of the highest elevated passes in the world. Standing at three miles above sea level, the rocky path has been used as a highway for the ancient pre-colombian civilizations of Peru for hundreds of years.
Miles above the Colca Canyon on the pass to Arequipa, are a series of cairns known as Apachetas. Roughly translated from Quechua, Apacheta means “the source where the flow begins,” and marks high points along the mountain path. However, the real value of Apachetas was spiritual, and the piles were used to commune with a higher power while miles above the sea in the mountains. The cairns were built up as more travelers passed the spot.
The stones were picked up and carried along the trail, and then placed on an Apacheta as a sacrifice to the gods. Apachetas were seen as having supernatural powers, and connecting with them through a prayer was said to bring good luck and protection while on the trail. Prayers were often said to Pachamama, the god of the sky, soil and underworld. Those who did not have a rock to carry, often left other belongings behind as a sacrifice. These included coca leaves, shells and even alcohol and sweets.
Hundreds of Apachetas were built, and served as altars to guide people along the path. Today, entire fields on the trail between Arequipa and Chivay are covered with the cairns, some stacked shoulder level and higher. Combined with the bizarre Yareta plants that grow along the arid rocks, the trail takes on a seriously martian landscape set to a dramatic background of volcanic mountains.
Know Before You Go
Buses run between Chivay and Arequipa along the ancient mountain pass