Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, but nowhere near the size of Lima. It’s surrounded by three large volcanos, and is famous for its spicy food, warm climate, big mountains, and giant holes in the ground. We arrived, got settled, and went in search of a tour guide for the main attraction to the area for us, the Colca Canyon, which depending on who you ask, is the worlds second deepest canyon or the worlds largest canyon or just a really big canyon. Whichever it really is, we wanted to go see it, hike down into it, and we wanted someone guiding us this time, as the memories of Lake Titicaca still festered.
After visiting with a few agencies, we settled on the one that had a variety of things to do, and visited some areas no one else went to, instead of just walking around the canyon. More adventure for your sole, I suppose.
So our first stop was the high alpine desert outside of Arequipa, which was a giant flat expanse with the occasional volcano popping up. The only thing really moving up there were the Vicuna, which are a little bit like the famous Alpaca and Llama, but are fully wild, and call the area home.
The first big stop was visiting a rock forest caused by erosion.
We had been to things like this before in the US, but never on this scale. After walking around a bit we hopped back into the van and headed up to a mountain pass, Abra Patapampa, which is pretty high at 16,109ft, and had a view of eight volcanos.
We arrived to our overnight location in Pinchollo, and headed out for a walk down to watch the sunset in the canyon.
The next day was our big day of hopefully seeing the condors fly through the canyon. We woke up early and were on the trail at seven to walk to the main view area.
Mirador Cruz del Condor is popular. Its a spot with large cliff drops and a perfect place for thermals to form, an ideal place for these birds to nest in large numbers.
We have no real interest in birds. We know a few, we like to watch eagles hunting and all that, but this was not a huge reason we came here. Kinda of a bonus. That was before we saw it. It’s one thing to see a picture of a bird with a ten foot wingspan. It’s another to watch it in person, and to have them swoop only a few feet above you. Really special. For both of us the highlight of the trip. No contest. Absolutely amazing. Reluctantly, we left the viewpoint and met up with our group to mount up on mountain bikes and ride down the road to the next town, Cabanaconde. I hadn’t ridden a bike in 10 years, and doing it on a South American road, with our own condor family flying overhead, and surrounded by amazing scenery, made it hard not to crash. But we made it down, and started out on our big hike down into the canyon itself. It was about 10am when we started, so the sun was out in force the whole way down, making for a rough walk.
At the bottom of the canyon was Sangalle, the oasis. The canyon is so deep it has multiple climates capable of growing different crops. Down this far was a tropical climate, and fruit trees abounded. As did rustic cabins and freezing pools, which felt amazing after overheating on the hike down.
We had a 5am start in order to beat the sun heading back up to the top the next day. My stomach of course decided now was a perfect time to feel terrible, so the journey up wasn’t much fun, but with task master Jess in the lead we made it up in two hours 15 minutes. Two miles and 4,000 ft of climbing. It took us three hours the first time to come down, so we were happy with that time, and very glad not to have to hike in the brutal sun again.
Our time in Colca canyon was short, and there was so much to explore in the area. It was hard to leave, but we reluctantly got on the bus back to Arequipa, and headed for the final part of our journey.