Condor Sightings in Colca Canyon

Andean condor sightings at the Cruz del Condor viewpoint
Andean condor sightings at the Cruz del Condor viewpoint

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.

Definitely not in Kansas anymore...or Arequipa for that matter
Definitely not in Kansas anymore…or Arequipa for that matter
Cool lunaresque landscape at the highest point leading into the canyon
Cool lunaresque landscape at the highest point leading into the canyon

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.

Entrance gate to Chivay, the largest village within Colca Canyon
Entrance gate to Chivay, the largest village inside the Colca Canyon
Outside Chivay, valleys would soon morph into dramatic canyon walls
Outside Chivay, valleys would soon morph into dramatic canyon walls
Fertile land for growing corn and potatoes
Fertile land for growing corn and potatoes

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.

Hi
Literally only an hour later into our drive, we were at the heart of the canyon
Trying to capture the depth of the canyon without actually falling off the edge
Trying to capture the depth of the canyon without actually falling off the edge
Bottom of the canyon where the condors would eventually emerge out of
Bottom of the canyon where the condors would eventually emerge out of
Cool little welcome sign/rock
Cool little welcome sign/rock
First sighting of
First sighting of the Andean condor emerging from the canyon’s walls
Some of these guys got REALLY up close and personal
Some of these guys got REALLY up close and personal
Soaring
They would literally just soar in circles, rising with the thermal currents until they could clear the top of the canyon to go scavenge for food
More condors
Even though they looked pretty and elegant in their flight, up close they were actually pretty ugly looking (check out this fellow’s head!)
Doug's canyon
Doug’s 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!

On the back end of the canyon, we then encountered incredible panoramic views of the valley
On the back end of the canyon, we then encountered incredible panoramic views of the valley
Doug's valley
Doug’s valley.  Apparently Doug owns everything here.
Pre-Inca terraces
Pre-Inca terraces
Kinda scary hanging bridge en route to the hot springs.  Maximum capacity was 2 people at a time, spaced out..we did not test this limit.
Kinda scary hanging bridge en route to the hot springs. Maximum capacity was 2 people at a time, spaced out..we did not test this limit.
Hot springs
Some hot springs over to the left

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.

Little boy and his llama
Little boy and his pet alpaca
Ecological reserve with llamas, alpacas, and vicunas openly grazing
Ecological reserve with llamas, alpacas, and vicunas openly grazing
Jack-knifed semi...the scariest part of it all?  In lieu of waiting for him to get towed (likely hours), we went AROUND him to the right.  There was nothing between us and the treacherous drop to the canyon bottom!
Jack-knifed semi…the scariest part of it all? In lieu of waiting for him to get towed (likely hours), we went AROUND him to the right. Without any guardrails, there was nothing between us and the treacherous drop to the canyon bottom!
And on the 8th day in Peru, we discovered tequenos.  Best discovery ever!  These were fried dough pockets filled with ham and cheese and served with fresh guacamole.  $5 got you approx. 20 of these!
And on the 8th day in Peru, we discovered tequenos. Best discovery ever! These were fried dough pockets filled with ham and cheese and served with fresh guacamole. $5 got you approx. 15 of these, what a deal!
"Zingaro Trout"
“Zingaro Trout,” stuffed with mint and bacon and covered in an Andean cream sauce with elderberries…maybe I shouldn’t have eaten all 7 of my share of tequenos…

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