Wakened by a knock at our door, I leapt from my bed in a frenzy. Grabbing my phone, “What? It’s only 2:50a.m. They’re early!” Shouting through the door, “We’re coming!” We were downstairs within ten minutes, but the bus was gone. Oh no! This was the ONLY chance we had to see the Colca Canyon.
You can only imagine our relief when they came back for us! Everyone on the 23-seater bus looked as tired as we did so early in the morning. We were grateful when our English/Spanish speaking lady guide handed out blankets for the ride.
Running on just 4.5 hours of sleep fuel, we were about to enjoy the longest day of the trip at the highest altitude. So I will try my best to keep this post as brief as possible, because it’s already going to be an essay of photos. For some reason the bus wasn’t heated so it was a slightly miserable drive on bumpy mountainous, winding roads. Not quite teeth-chattering cold but definitely uncomfortably cold, and I was wearing every piece of clothing I could, including two pairs of pants.
It was a long and sleepy three hours from Arequipa to Chivay (3,700m) where we stopped for a quick breakfast before visiting the small local square. Local girls, all dressed up in their colourful, traditional dresses were dancing around, ready to impress the buses of tourists. Older women waited, confident they’d be able to lure us with their exotic hawks and llamas.
Naturally I gave into those soft eyes and big lashes, and of course I was drawn to the hawks with their supernatural, big claws. Kees and I still couldn’t believe it’d taken us this long to see our first alpacas in Peru. We had the preconceived notion that they would be leaping around every bend in Peru.
There is something bizarre about being in a remote and historic place with so much culture, and then turning to see an equally special, traditionally dressed woman, hawk and cellphone in hand.
From there we drove along the canyon, looking out at the beautiful views and the dry, cacti strewn landscape. There were many rock tunnels along the way, one of which was 480m long. Entirely natural with rock walls and a dirt floor, the driver turned off the headlights and showed us the definition of darkness.
They dropped us off and gave us an hour to watch the condors flying in the Colca Canyon. When we didn’t instantly see a dozen flying around, our hearts nearly stopped. It hadn’t crossed my mind that we may not SEE condors, because the tour had come so highly recommended by everyone we talked to. We were even more nervous when we heard someone say they were there for an hour and didn’t see a single bird. What?
A few anxious minutes passed. Then the crowd, lined along the edge of the canyon, let out a gasp in unison. The Andean Condor, a member of the vulture family, is second only to the albatross when it comes to wingspan. Having that bird, with a whopping 274-310 cm (8.99-10.17 ft) wingspan fly right up close and over the heads of the crowd was surreal. Every time they did so, the crowd would predictable cheer and go “ooohhh, aaahhh”.
The guide had joked on the drive there that normally this bird should be shy, but after generations of tourists, they are now total divas, loving to flaunt their elegant wings at us. I think she may have been right, they seemed to love the attention.
Before heading back to the bus, Kees was drawn to an overland truck parked at the canyon. His travel bug was instantly sparked when he saw the truck had Dutch plates. It had clearly been shipped to South America and his hope of one day doing the same was rekindled.
The family has always talked about doing an Alaska to Argentina trip and when we met Kees in Africa with his big yellow truck, it seemed an obvious next step to ship the truck to South America one day. As time has passed, the truck getting old and dusty in a dark shed, the dream has faded. Seeing this truck definitely inspired him.
“I thought I was done with the whole overland thing. But I’m not.” Because I don’t like jinxing myself, I won’t leak any more of our outrageous travel plans until they’re more concrete.
Back in the bus, we stopped to look up at the rock wall shooting up from the edge of the road. Pointing up, our lady guide explained what we were looking at. The Tumbas de Choque Tico are ancient tombs in the cliffside dating back before the arrival of the Incas in the area in the early 1300’s. There are no signs of stairs or footholds so it’s believed that they must’ve lowered the bodies down from above, then hung from ropes as they closed the tombs with rocks. My goodness! All around the world you see this common trend of putting SO much effort into death and the afterlife… Mankind’s biggest, unsolvable mystery.
Peru a few years ago was considered the best country gastronomically around the world. Having tried their famous ceviche, a traditional dish made of raw fish marinated with lemon, and Lomo saltado (my favourite), it is easy to believe.
We stopped and ate a buffet style lunch, which gave us yet another opportunity to try guinea pig and alpaca. My opinions of both remain the same. Guinea pig tastes like chicken but the eating approach is similar to very small, boney fish. Alpaca is delicious.
During our tour we were also given the chance to try a cactus fruit called sancayo as a tea and also the fruit itself. WOW! That is my new favourite fruit and I hope to import it for my own personal consumption.
The fruit itself looks very similar to kiwi but it’s aggressively sour. Our guide clearly had a lot of good laughs with this. She loves to see the reactions from tourist’s faces when they try it, expect sweet kiwi, only to bite into a lemon bomb. It was the most deliciously sour, juicy thing I’ve ever tried. My mouth is watering as I type.
We stopped at the Chivay hot springs, but while everyone else took a dip in the warm natural spring, Kees and I trekked up a small hill that was comparable to Kilimanjaro at that altitude, and went zip lining across the shimmering river.
When we were finally headed back to Arequipa with full bellies, everyone was exhausted and passed out in the bus.
Though we’d passed over in the morning, we stopped to get out at the high pass of 4,900m (16,070 ft). The last time I was at that altitude was on top of Kala Patthar at 5,640m (18,505ft) in Nepal looking up at Everest and down on base camp. The entire snowy field was filled with stacked rocks. Naturally we had to make our own.
Our guide was very informative throughout our whole trip which was great. She pointed off in the distance and told us that not too far from where we were was Misti Volcano. The glacial stream from Nevado Mismi’s 5,600m peak is the starting point of the Amazon River, the longest river in the world. Amazingly, it is marked by nothing more than a wooden cross. Fortunately, we had zero problem with the altitude! Having gone without any medication or Gingko this time, it only made me more confident that what I had before was just a serious cold with fever. This time around Kees took Diamox and thank goodness had no problems.
We made so many more stops than just the condors which made it a more than fascinating day. Jam packed with information and beauty, I could hardly remember what the morning had held.
Sometimes you can’t quite comprehend why you’re going to a certain destination, the only reason you’re going is because everyone said you had to. This was one of those places that I knew I would feel stupid if I didn’t visit but couldn’t quite grasp how a few birds could make a 3am morning worthwhile. Like everyone else before me said, you have to go. It really is an amazing place!
Without Google cheating, how OLD do condors get? Leave your guesses below.
- If I wasn’t so determined to go on this tour, I may have missed it because others (including tour operators) tried to imply the ONE day tour of Colca Canyon was too difficult, too long. Well, if you have just one day don’t miss this. The early morning wasn’t that bad at all.
- The bus ride in the morning, the breakfast “restaurant” and the high pass are FREEZING. Make sure you dress warmly. But wear layers because it gets warm in the day.
- Don’t forget to hydrate! Bring or buy water. I didn’t see anyone else on the tour drinking water, I couldn’t believe it. We went through a few litres. There are toilet breaks at almost every stop and they let you know how long the drive is between stops.
- We paid 50 soles ($15.50USD), excl. the Colca Canyon entry fee, per person for this ALL DAY (3a.m.-6pm) tour. Once again, a sign that Peru is very affordable. For another 50soles/person ($15.50USD) we took the quick, two-line zip-line. I’d say for that price, it was worth it.
- There is an additional entrance fee to enter the Colca Canyon area. 20 soles for Peruvians, 40S for South Americans and 70S for tourists.
- The sun is intense at that altitude, lather up several times in sunscreen or you will pay.
- Another reminder to HYDRATE. I was drinking constantly and still my lips were cracked and I was so dehydrated.
Categories: Savannah Grace