Condors, canyons and… crepes?!

Trip Start Feb 06, 2011
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines

Flag of Peru  ,
Monday, March 28, 2011

Our experience of South American buses took an unfortunate turn once again, when we ended up on a stuffy, packed coach into Peru and through to Arequipa. It seems we have got too used to free blankets and flatbed seating! Fortunately it was not too long a journey and we arrived in the "White City" – which BBC-ites will be pleased to hear is nothing like the West London version – late in the evening. Arequipa is actually called the White City due to the widespread use of the volcanic white stone sillar, which makes for some magical and beautiful architecture. We were in Arequipa to meet up with my house mate Amanda, visit the world's deepest canyon – Colca Canyon – and hopefully catch sight of some Andean condors.

After catching up with a slightly jet lagged Amanda over breakfast (and after she had doled out some unexpected cream eggs!) we decided spend the day exploring the city. Arequipa is a beautiful city with one of the most impressive central plazas we have seen on our trip to date, complete with huge palm trees, pretty fountain and overlooked by a huge sillar cathedral. The city itself is overlooked by three huge volcanoes – El Misti, Chachani and Picchu Picchu – which peek out between streets at the most unexpected moments. One of the main sights of the city is the Santa Catalina nunnery, which was only opened to the public in 1970 after nearly four centuries of secrecy and – as it turned out – a rather salubrious reputation. It seems the nunnery housed the second daughters of many Spanish nobles who were slow to renege on their lifestyles even once entering the convent. As such some of the quarters were far from simplistic, featuring pianos and servant quarters. As it stands the nunnery is a fascinating place to wander round, described as a city within a city complete with its own named streets and multiple airy squares.

Arequipa is also renowned for being the home of the “ice princess” Juanita. In the 1990s a group of explorers climbed one of the surrounding mountains, whose usual snow-capped peak had melted following the explosion of one of the nearby volcanoes. They discovered all number of Inca burial sites and artefacts, the most impressive of which was Juanita, believed to be an Inca princess who was sacrificed to the mountain gods over 400 years before. Juanita is not mummified in the traditional sense, but rather has been naturally preserved by the ice. Although Juanita was away for restoration, we saw many of the beautiful fabrics and artefacts that were buried with her and another ice mummy who was found some years later called Sarita.

After the quiet of Copacabana we were also pleased to discover that Arequipa is quite a lively city of an evening and feels like a much bigger place than we were expecting. As Amanda had just arrived, we wanted to make sure she had a very authentic first night – so went out to, er, a French creperie. They were gourmet crepes in our defence. And as it turned out Peru would bring more than its fair share of local delicacies (yes, including guinea pig…)

For the next few days we decided to go and explore the surrounding area: the Colca valley and, of course, the Colca Canyon. The countryside around Arequipa is very hilly and green, with many fields of maize, wheat and the Andean favourite cereal quinoa. We soon became very familiar with the flora and fauna as we had a tour guide who seemed to have underestimated our age by at least 15 years, forcing us to endure regular tests throughout the trip: What is this? Quinoa. 10 points to James! Nonetheless we got some incredible views of the surrounding volcanoes and came away with some everyday essential knowledge like the difference between quinoa and kiwicha. Someone call Magnus Magnusson! The surrounding area also has many remnants of Inca and pre-Inca cultures, from the terraces where they grew all kinds of crops, to tombs set high in rock cliff faces, to storage areas on the edge of the river where they stored seeds and grains. The Colca Canyon itself was stunning, particularly the viewpoint Cruz del Condor where we were lucky to see a stunning, huge adult condor flying right overheard. The male adults can have wingspans of up to 3 metres in diameter so they really are a stunning sight.

You’ll be pleased to know that our last night in Arequipa was a little more authentic than the creperie. I tried some alpaca - a cuter, smaller version of the llama, Amanda tried some river trout and James wimped out and went for pork. You’ll be pleased to know James did eventually man up and try the cuy (guinea pig) but more on that in subsequent posts…
Slideshow Report as Spam
  • Your comment has been posted. Click here or reload this page to see it below.

  • Please enter a comment.
  • Please provide your name.
  • Please avoid using symbols in your name.
  • This name is a bit long. Please shorten it, or avoid special characters.
  • Please enter your email address to receive notification
  • Please enter a valid email address

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: