It just seems as though our mornings keep getting earlier and earlier. In order to jam in all the sights of the Colca Canyon in one day’s time, we had to leave Arequipa in the middle of the night. Our bus picked us up at 3:30am, and along with about 18 others, we embarked on the 3 hour drive to the beginning of the canyon. As we were all passed out on the entire ride up, I was surprised to wake up to snow-covered peaks upon our arrival. In the mere 3 hours we’d been driving, we had already gone to 4800m/15800ft in altitude. Here we were at the highest point in the canyon, with temperatures around the 20’s, surrounded by volcanoes, in the area appropriately named “Mirador de los Volcanes.” Since we were all half asleep and it was freezing, we lasted 5 minutes outside and then promptly resorted back into the bus for warmth and sleep.
At 13,650 feet deep, the Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon. Having never been to the Grand Canyon, or any canyon for that matter, the Colca Canyon was near the top of my list of must-do’s for my trip to Peru. Over the next 3 hours, as we made our way into the canyon, we made several stops at a few small villages along the way, including the towns of Chivay and Yanque. These villages were part of the valley within the Colca Canyon, and thrived primarily from agriculture and farming, as seen through their pre-Inca terraces throughout the valley. According to our guide, who was kind of all over the place with his explanations, there were over 80 different types of potatoes and 35 types of corn grown in this valley alone.
By 9:15am, we’d reached the main stop on our tour, Cruz del Condor (Condor Cross), where we would get an up close glimpse at the indigenous Andean Condor. With a wingspan of 10 feet, these condors were known to utilize heat thermals found in this particular area of the valley to glide up through the air without having to flap their wings. For some reason, the best time to catch this activity was from 9-10am, so we got there just in time for the show. We must’ve seen at least 15 of these guys soaring gracefully through the air here in one of the deeper points in the canyon.
After the flight of the condors, we continued on through the valley, stopping at a few more viewpoints to see the valley in near-entirety, with the Colca River bisecting the many intricate terraces built right into the canyon’s walls. After a few stops at these viewpoints, we got to wander out for a longer side trip to the La Calera hot springs to soak our sore muscles in some VERY hot mineral springs situated right outside. There were probably 8 or so “tubs” for visitors to sit in, serviced by the mineral springs nearby and flowing from one tub into another, that each varied in temperature. If you can overlook algae turning some of the pools a bizarre shade of green (this is what they recreate in spas anyways right?!), it was actually a pretty cool experience!
By this point, it was finally time for lunch. Though it sounds like our day should be over by this point, because of our super early rise and the proximity of everything within the valley, it was actually only about 1pm. We stopped at a popular buffet spot called Chapaq Nan, where I tried a variety of traditional Peruvian food across the board: pumpkin soup, fried wontons, alpaca saltado, chicharron (fried pork rinds, kind of like bacon), jumbo corn, more sexy sauce, and even some fresh donuts.
The last stop we made for the day was a brief one at an ecological reserve on our way back to Arequipa, where we could see alpacas, llamas, and vicunas (another relative of the llama) in the wild. At this point, everyone was pretty spent from our long day, so we went outside to snap a few pics and then off we went again. After a slight delay caused by a jack-knifed semi (see below), we finally got dropped back off at our hotel by 5pm. By this point, most attractions were closed, but since we knew we had tomorrow to see a few sights, we just did some gift shopping and enjoyed a chill night getting a nice dinner. On the way to dinner, we encountered a very bizarre sight – young girls started running out onto the streets from a restaurant, squealing and taking pictures, some even crying. We figured it must’ve been some kind of celebrity, and it turned out to be a cute young Asian chick, completely unrecognizable to us. We had no idea what was going on! After we moved on from that bizarre experience, we ended our night at a restaurant called Zingaro, that had some awesome sangria and some innovative fish and steak dishes.