The main reason I ventured to Arequipa was to experience the Colca Canyon, touted as the worlds deepest canyon and home of the Andean condor. It isn’t close, but the journey is well worth the reward. Most people choose to spend two days or more hiking into the canyon and spending the night. We were strapped for time and went for one day only with a tour company to make sure everything went smoothly, and we got to relax a bit on the long bus ride. After much research we decided to book with Pachamama, and everything worked out perfectly. The tour is $40 for one person, but they cut you a deal the more people you go with. It includes pickup from your hotel, transportation, a basic breakfast, and stops along the way with information from your guide. What you need to provide is the entrance fee to the canyon, and also the fee for the hot springs and lunch buffet if you choose to participate. Pick up came on time at 3AM, we slept all the way to breakfast. The meal was meager, but filling, and the coffee worked to wake us up as the sun rose and views started to roll in. The road is wild with hairpin turns and steep drop offs, we even saw a volcano erupting in the distance.
Soon we left the desert, mountains, and started to notice a starkly different landscape – a river of intense green terracing.
It really is a scenic enjoyable drive after the sun comes up. The reason to leave so early in the morning was to get to our next stop, the Viewpoint of Cruz del Condor early enough to witness the majestic Andean condor who are more active in the early morning. Last year while in Salt Lake City, Utah we got the amazing opportunity to get up close and personal with the king of birds, the largest flying bird in the world. Ever since our charming encounter with Andy, we’ve dreamed of seeing his kin in the wild. Our dreams came true with in moments of stepping out to the viewpoint. Gracefully gliding through the purple walls of the canyon almost 4,000 ft deep, a condor came into view!
Just a few fun facts about the Andean condor:
+Wingspan reaches over 10 feet
+Lifespan as long as 70 years
+A national symbol important in folklore
+Considered near threatened due to habitat loss and poisoning from carcasses killed by hunters
From this point we had some free time where we gladly hopped on a seemingly endless rim trail to do some hiking. It is an exceptionally stunning canyon filled with postcard vistas
and so much wildlife. The flora here is exquisite including many cactus flowers and succulents.
The Andean condor isn’t the only impressive bird present. On our hike we were ecstatic to see giant hummingbirds, the largest of their family! Also numerous other birds including flickers and wrens. What we didn’t see, but would have loved to spot, were the Chilean flamingo, mountain caracara, or Andean goose that also inhabit the land. Since we were traveling with a group it was essential to be on time. We got to the meeting point a few minutes early and took some time to peruse crafts the traditional ladies were selling, then we were off for a pit-stop in the village of Maca. This is a bathroom, shopping, church viewing break.
Next stop was a more enticing subject, the Hot springs of Chivay. After many days of traveling on trains, planes, and buses, waking up way too early and not getting enough sleep – a soak sounded like a real vacation! The springs are in such a beautiful setting and on a sunny day the warmer top pools were teeming with locals. Shy at first our crowd went to the bottom pool which was cold, but as we relaxed a bit more ventured to the hottest pools.
Then it was time for lunch and there was an optional stop at a buffet in Chivay. We decided to skip out on that and check out the local market. Ice cream in the square felt like a solid more authentic choice.
The drive home would be three hours from here, but now in the light I was able to see everything I missed before breakfast when I was sleeping (and it was still dark out!). It was freezing in the mountains when we stopped at the Viewpoint of Patapampa, 16,076 ft to look at the surrounding volcanoes Misti, Chachani, Ampato, Sabankaya, and Hualca-Hualca.
The drive continues through the National Reserve of Salinas y Aguada Blanca where there were herds of llama and alpaca,
but more exciting we witnessed wild vicuñas!
Just a few fun facts about the vicuñas:
+A wild camelid relative of the llama, possibly
+National animal of Peru, revered since the Inca times
+They produce extremely fine wool, can only be shorn every three years, and need to be caught from the wild
+In 1974 there were only 6,000 left though conservation efforts have recovered the population to 350,000
We made it back to Arequipa just before nightfall, after a very long day. I feel that the full day tour of the Colca Canyon was a great experience for my limited time frame and I am happy with everything I got to see!