Canyon Country

Trip Start May 01, 2010
Trip End Apr 30, 2011

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Colca Canyon

Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We must be gluttons for punishment because after five days of tough trekking in the Cordillera Blanca, we decided to travel to Arequipa the next day to do a 3 day trek in the Colca Canyon. Arequipa is in the far south of Peru so we first took a 9 hour bus to Lima and then boarded a 15 hour overnight bus to Arequipa, passing through barren desert country. This time we travelled with Cruz del Sur, the best bus company in Peru and even more luxurious than the last one. We arrived in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, at around midday and checked into a hostal called Home Sweet Home Peru which was not actually all that sweet or homely. The staff were friendly enough but they had lost our booking and so ended up giving us what looked like a spare/storage room complete with weights machine (!) and no lock on the door. It was very cheap though and only for one night so not so bad.

After a short night's sleep we got up at 2.30am, ready for our 3am pickup for the Colca Canyon trek, which annoyingly didn't actually arrive until closer to 4am! The minibus was comfy though so we slept through the 3 hour journey to Chivay, a small town at the head of the Colca Canyon. Here we stopped for breakfast before continuing another 2 hours to Cruz del Condor, a viewpoint where we were lucky to see three Andean condors gliding effortlessly on the thermals that rise up from the canyon floor, passing close to us at eye level. They are magnificent birds with a 3.2 metre wing-span, the largest of any land bird. From there we continued on to the sleepy village of Cabanaconde where we had lunch and met the other people on our trek. We were a motley bunch of 10: us, two South Africans, two French, an Italian, a Kiwi, a Columbian and our helpful and knowledgeable guide Roy.

From Cabanaconde we began the descent into the canyon. Colca Canyon is 100 km long and ranges from 1000-3000 metres in depth (over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) and is surrounded by high volcanoes. It is dry season now and the slopes were dusty brown and covered in San Pedro cactus and prickly pear. After about 4 hours we reached the Rio Colca at the bottom and overnighted in small huts owned by a local family who cooked us dinner, which they told us was carne de condor (it was actually soya)!

When we awoke the next morning we spotted two scorpions scuttling across the floor of our hut. After a breakfast of pancakes, we set off along the canyon, stopping every now and then for Roy to explain about the local plants or inhabitants of the canyon. We passed through two small villages, which are fast becoming depopulated as young people leave to find work in Arequipa or Lima. By lunchtime we reached Sangalle, also known as the Oasis, where there are several natural swimming pools dotted amongst palm trees. We spent the rest of the day chilling by the pool and then had dinner and a Pisco Sour around a campfire.

We were up before sunrise the next day to start the long 1000 metre climb up and out of the canyon. It was a relentless slog along a narrow, vertigo-inducing path that zig-zagged up and up. We were told that it would take about 3 and a half hours to reach the top and so were very pleased with ourselves when we made it in 2 hours. We met our minibus in Cabanaconde and drove back to Chivay where we had a tasty but overpriced buffet lunch and spent an hour at some hot springs, where the waters are naturally heated by the surrounding volcanoes. Then we started the 3 hour journey back to Arequipa passing through an amazing landscape of cone-shaped volcanoes, high altitude rolling grassy plains and bleak rocky areas which looked like the surface of the moon. We were lucky to spot some vicunas too, wild relatives of the domesticated alpacas and llamas that graze this altiplano area in large numbers.

We arrived back in Arequipa by 6pm, with just enough time to grab the rest of our luggage from Home Sweet Home and take a taxi to the bus station, where we boarded the overnight Cruz del Sur bus to Cuzco. Phew!

Notes for travellers

Cruz Del Sur bus company tickets can be easily purchased on the internet in advance. Cost 82 Soles each from Huaraz to Lima (9 hours) and 122 Soles each from Lima to Arequipa (15 hours). All these costs are for VIP lower floor seats (beds!)
Colca Canyon trek (Cost 145 Soles each + 35 Soles each entry to Colca Canyon area and 10 Soles each hot springs entry). Take extra monies for drinks and last meal which was not included.

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Faith on

Superb photos abso brilliant log. One of the best so far.

jennifer on

Just amazing. I love reading about all your experiences and feel a little bit humbled!! I thought I was reasonably travelled but!!!!! I am very proud of you both. I can see a book coming out of this. You both write so well. I particularly like the .san Pedro de Atacama (chile} salt lakes etc. -beautifully written Cath. Keep it up.

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