Condors & the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is one of Peru’s most popular hiking experiences after Machu Picchu, and for good reason. The canyon provides close up viewing opportunities of one of the world’s largest flying birds, the condor.
Colca Canyon tours can be taken from Arequipa as 1, 2 or 3-day tours and cost up to 150 Soles (~54 US) plus the 70 (25 US) Soles park entry fee.
Jen and I decided on the 3 day tour to allow us more time in the canyon and less hiking on the first day. Getting picked up early (around 4:30am) we joined a group of about 10 people and took a 2-hour drive from Arequipa in a minivan to the park entrance. It was freezing the entire way and luckily our Swiss friends had warned us to bring all our llama gear (gloves, socks, beanies etc.).
The first stop was the edge of the canyon where the condors most frequently hang out. This was the reason for the ridiculously early start. The condors are “early birds” although I’m not sure they eat worms, they do like to leave their nests on the cliff faces rather early most likely in search of poor defenceless mice, goats and small Peruvian children. Honestly, these birds are ridiculously large, with wingspans of 2-3 meters and could probably have taken our minivan if they wanted to. As we mere humans huddled together on the couple of cliff face lookout points with our cameras both large and pathetically small and useless for wildlife photography, the big birds put on quite a show hovering above us and perching themselves only meters away on unreachable outcrops. For about 20 mins we watched in awe until the condors tired of our antics and flew off in to the distance.
It was now time for us to put the hiking shoes to use and begin hiking down in to the canyon, a canyon many people argue to be the deepest in the world. I’m not up for an argument so I will just offer this information up and let you do you own research. The hike down was much different to the pristine Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and was well worn and dusty due to the many donkeys and horses taken along it by villagers who live in the canyon. The views however were still spectacular although very dry. By early afternoon we had made our way down to the river and crossed the canyon, walking a short distance to our camp. The 3-day tour is much more relaxed than the 2 day and we had plenty of time to recover from our early start.
Our second day involved hiking down to the “oasis”, a green patch of land alongside the river boasting resort style accommodation complete with swimming pools and palm trees. It was the perfect treat after choking on dust for much of the morning. There were some interesting things to be learnt on the way however including what many of the native plants are used for and an interesting parasite, which lives on the cactus. The parasite could easily be mistaken for some kind of dust or even part of the cactus itself but when the small white balls are picked off the cactus and squashed between the fingers, the result is a bright red blood. These parasites are have been used by the Quechua and Peruvians to dye their llama and alpaca wools for centuries. When the blood is mixed with different substances like lime juice or certain minerals it can make many colours from pinks to reds and purples.
With a quick dip in the pool in the afternoon before the sunshine left the canyon we kicked back in our small private huts complete with bamboo doors and windows. We enjoyed a simple dinner of soup, rice and chicken and a beer before getting to bed early in preparation for our climb out of the canyon early on the final day.
Waking before sunrise the plan is to complete the 3 hour hike and 1000m climb out of the canyon before the sun heats up. The climb was rather difficult, both steep and altitude contributing factors. Oh yeah, that and the fact I was now carrying two packs. Jen was being slapped around by the altitude so I carried her pack and mine to the top. Thank god for coca leaves. Those things work wonders! By the time we made it to the top we were starving and after a final look at the canyon and our progress for the morning we headed off for a quick breakfast and a drive toward the hot springs.
Now after a couple of days of hiking, dust and early starts there are few things better than a buffet lunch and a dip at some hot springs. We felt like kings and enjoyed the relaxing warm waters of the springs before finally heading back to Arequipa. Admiring the sights on the way back we stopped to see the volcanoes Misti and Chachani and witnessed a herd of pecunia (an animal similar to alpaca and llama with the softest fur of the three).
By the time we returned we were ready for a good nights sleep but thoroughly impressed by the experience and quality of the tour. For only $75 US for everything it was one of the best value for money tours we have ever done and our guide was great fun and informative. If you are lucky enough to get to Arequipa you must check out the Colca Canyon and the beautiful condors.
Jen and I booked our tour through Peru Andes in Arequipa only a couple of blocks from Plaza de Armas. Peru Andes did not pay for our tour or give us any discount in exchange for this post and the opinions about the tour are my own.