Saturday, September 5, 2009

Peru: Colca Canyon and Condors

This is my third Peru trip post and it contains photos from our overnight Colca Canyon trip.

We began the day in our Arequipa hotel. The photo above is Caleb and me in the lobby waiting for our tour van and holding coca leaves--we didn't actually chew them. They were in a basket on the breakfast buffet in our hotel as they were at every hotel every morning of our trip. Mate de coca (coca tea) was always available in the reception area. I like the tea.

We were picked up by our guide and driver and then proceeded to pick up two other tourists from their hotels before setting out on the road to Chivay where we would spend the night.


After passing through all the Arequipa traffic, we made a stop at a bodega where the guide encouraged us to buy water, coca leaves and coca candy to help combat altitude sickness. We received a lengthy speech on why coca leaves are good for you. The candy was good ☺ Dan and Caleb did not have any. We drove through and stopped for photos at a nature preserve with llamas, alpacas, geese and wild vicunas.

vicunas in the wild--they round them up for sheering once a year--the most expensive wool in the world


beautiful girl selling handcrafted items at a scenic overlook near Chivay

More lovely little ladies. All over Peru the type of hats the women wear indicate which community they are from

Andean geese

We made several stops throughout the morning and drove over a pass at nearly 15,000 ft elevation. The elevation gave some of us headaches and made us quite tired, but we had no major problems.

We arrived in Chivay for a buffet lunch and were taken to our hotels. Chivay is a small town with mud brick buildings, narrow dirt streets and one gas station. They were preparing in the main square for an all night party for Founders' Day.

getting ready for an all night party in Chivay

our hotel room
observatory that was just steps outside our room in Chivay on the grounds of our hotel

After a little rest, we were taken to the local hot springs where we soaked and swam and then investigated a wooden suspension bridge over the river before being taken back to our hotel for the night. I should have gotten a bottle of water at the hot springs. I got dehydrated and got a bad headache. By the time we arrived back at our hotel I was DONE for the night. Caleb and I stayed in while Dan walked to the main square to watch the party preparations and find us dinner. He returned with excellent rotisserie chicken and fries from a polleria, but had a hard time telling the lady he wanted them "to go" (para llegar we were told later).

With no central heat at high altitude in the Andes, our room was quite cold even with the small space heater. The beds were made up with several warm wool blankets and at 8 PM they came around to all the rooms with hot water bottles. I was expecting the red rubber kind. What we got was a wine bottle, filled with hot water and corked and then placed in a fleece drawstring bag. Caleb was delighted. The concept of a hot water bottle was completely new to him and he loved it!

After a tiring day, a good meal and with nice warm feet, you would have thought we'd have a good night's rest, but no. The party was just getting started in the main square a couple of blocks away and it would last until after dawn with marching bands, loud music, dancing and fireworks. They really know how to have a good time in Chivay. Had we not been so tired we would have joined them for the beginning, but we were beat.

Day Two

The day dawned bright and early as Chivay was finally turning in. We met back up with our small group of travelers for a trip from the beginning of Colca Canyon to Condors' Cross. Colca Canyon was once thought to be the deepest canyon in the world (much deeper than Grand Canyon), but another nearby canyon now has that distinction. Colca Canyon is much more accessible than the other and a great place to watch the condors catch the first morning thermals and rise up out of the canyon. Condors' Cross is a cross set on the canyon rim where many condors usually fly. The guide had it timed perfectly to make an early start and see some sights along the way arriving just before the conditions were right for the condors to fly (if they decided to fly at all that day).

One guy in our group stayed at a hotel in the nearby town of Yanque and joined the procession from the church the evening before. He listened to the mayor of the town give a speech in which he named off all the town's worst sinners and their sins for the enlightenment of the assembled.

Caleb and a little cutie at a church we stopped to tour

saint that was used in a procession at the church the preceding evening and had not been put back in her niche in the church yet

stunning terraces in the canyon

donkeys taking themselves for a walk

Dan zoomed in on this photo. This cliff face is high up on the side of the mountain. The red marks are pigments used to mark the spot long ago. They found burials in the small caves.

The canyon just below Condors' Cross. If you look closely you can see two young condors silhouetted on the rocks. Below is a close-up of them.

and then they flew . . .

condors have the second largest wingspan in the bird world--second only to the albatross

I cropped this photo so you could see these two youngsters playing. One would knock the other's wingtips down so it would begin to fall and have to recover itself.

We didn't get any photos from far enough back, but groups as large as about eight would form a circle and soar on the thermals

us on the edge of the canyon

look closely--it's a vizcacha--a relative of the chincilla

Flowers above the canyon--the first one is prickly

We returned to Chivay for lunch and the drive back to Arequipa. The photo below is of cairns built as a tribute to the mountain at the highest point of the pass.

Caleb getting into the spirit of things with Andean pan pipes. We didn't bother to inform him that you have to direct your breath downward for them to work. We wanted a peaceful ride back.


  1. Breath-taking pictures!! Glad you had a good time!!

  2. Beatiful pictures...Thank you for visit Peru, Thank you for the commets...The people need to know how mistic & special is my country...Thank you very much.

    Gracias...estas fotos tienen mucho sentimiento, cada una de ellas es muy especial.
    Gracias por dar a conocer nuestra cultura, nuestros sitios misticos. Nuestro sencillo pero gran pais.

    Claudia Giraldo