I was super excited to visit the Colca Canyon. According to Wikipedia it’s Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination with about 120,000 visitors annually. One of the deepest canyons of the world with a good chance to spot the majestic Andean condors. I couldn’t wait!
Since I walked the 5-day Salkantay Trek before I arrived in Arequipa, I decided not to hike the Colca Canyon. My knees were still painful and I heard that hiking the Colca Canyon was pretty tough too. Besides, I figured I would be able to see a lot more while traveling by car than by foot. So, I booked a two-day tour with Giardino Tours to the Colca Canyon.
I was picked up at 7:30 AM from my hotel in Arequipa by Jorge, our guide, and Coco, our driver. There were just to other guests: an older couple from Uruguay.
We left Arequipa and drove the beautiful road towards the Colca Canyon. We passed a lot of trucks transporting copper from the mines. Jorge recommended us to drink plenty of water and to eat sweet foods, like chocolate, regularly, in order to avoid altitude sickness. Well, if I have to… He also encouraged us to chew on coca leaves. I also followed this recommendation but with a bit more reluctance than his advice to eat chocolate.
Vicuñas, a market and amazing food
We saw vicuñas on the way. Vicuñas are family of the camels, llamas and alpacas and they have beautiful fur; their wool can be bought in Arequipa and is very expensive. At the highest point, at 4,900 meters, we were able to spot 5 volcanos. Pretty impressive!
We stopped at a market where Jorge told us about the fruits, vegetables and about the dress codes in the Colca Canyon. Here, all women wear white hats and one flower on the hat means ‘single’ and two flowers mean ‘married
Our lunch was served at the hotel where I would also spend the night: Mamma Yachi. And the food was insane. We had to ‘built’ our appetizer ourselves, which was a great success. I even tried to make it back home, see the recipe here. And we enjoyed a buffet, with grilled Alpaca, and loads of vegetables.
Cuddling alpacas, potatoes and hot springs
After lunch Jorge and I walked to some hot springs. On the way he bought some potatoes, so I could take pictures of the potatoes and of the farmer selling them. And it turned out Jorge was an ‘lama whisperer!’ He was able to make a sound that attracted young lamas. One even jumped into his arms as if it was a dog! And then it jumped into my arms. Too cute!
The hot springs were relaxing, but inside. I think the outside hot springs are more impressive, because inside I missed the idea of bathing in between the mountains.
Traditional dances, churches and beautiful look outs
On the second day, we had our breakfast at 5:15 AM and left half an hour later. We visited a church in a village were people were performing traditional dances and drove to the spot where we would hopefully see a condor: Cruz del Condor. On the way, we stopped a few times at look outs to take a couple of photos.
It was around 7:30 AM when we arrived at the Cruz del Condor. There were 2 spots to sit or stand and Gorge recommended me the highest one. I didn’t have to wait long to see my first condor…s! Not just one! We spotted around 10 condors that morning! It was beautiful to see how they were rising with the thermic. So graceful! And big! There wingspan can be around 2,5 meters! Sometimes they landed and gave us a close up look. And twice a condor flew by so closely that my lens was too zoomed in to take a proper photo! Wow!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only tourist. But the thing with touristy places is that it’s touristy for a good reason. Still, I was able to have a good spot and I enjoyed this great show performed by Andean condors as if I was the only one there!
Touristic? Yes. But for a reason
We left Cruz del Condor after an hour and a half and drove through some small villages where we stopped to take more pictures and buy some souvenirs. These villages are very touristy and commercial as well. If you like to take a picture with an eagle or alpaca you’ll have to pay a small amount (around $1). Normally I’m not a big fan of paying for photos but I decided to take some pictures. A dollar is nothing for me and supporting the local people here felt like the right thing to do.
After another incredible lunch, we drove back to Arequipa, where we arrived around 16:30. I was exhausted, impressed, and about 500 condor pictures richer…
Before I left I was hoping to see one condor, but instead I saw 10 condors! And the views of the beautiful canyon, the cuddling lama and being able to see some of the local life, made it an unforgettable experience!