Arequipa and The Colca Canyon

Even though we were still removing random finds of sand from our shoes and clothes days after our stint in the desert at Huacachina, we were happily settled in Arequipa for a new adventure. We stayed at a hostel called friendly AQP which certainly lived up to the name and was a friendly family run hostel. They helped us organize our activities for the days to come.

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru and is known as the prettiest. Similar to Lima, the main square is the Plaza de Armas which is dominated by its cathedral.

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Basilica Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Arequipa
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Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru

After a stroll around the ornate streets we were very excited to discover a “la lucha” here, the sandwich bar which we may as well have slept at in Lima. By the time we left Arequipa I’m pretty sure we had tested their full menu between us. And now that I know it’s apparently a chain too there will be no stopping us…searching for best sandwiches in South America!!

The following day we did a free walking tour of Arequipa. We learned of the history of the city. It is known as the “white city” because many of the buildings are constructed from a light-coloured stone named sillar. The city also houses a famous monastery, Santa Catalina Monastery, which served as a cloister for Dominican nuns from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, and still houses a small religious community today. We didn’t visit the monastery on this trip but was highly regarded. During the tour we visited Alpaca World, and learned some facts about alpaca wool, the city’s chief product.

We had booked a tour of the Colca Canyon through our hostel which would take us through the canyon for two days and one night. The canyon is located about 3hours outside Arequipa and is the most popular tourist attraction in Arequipa. The canyon has a total depth of 3,270 meters and is one of the deepest canyons throughout the world, in fact it is over twice as deep as the United State’s Grand Canyon.

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Colca Canyon, Arequipa, Peru

Our first day began with a 3am pickup from the hostel where we travelled for 3hours to breakfast. That morning we hiked down into the canyon for a total of 5-6 hours with a stop off at a local farm on the way for lunch.

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Hiking the Colca Canyon

The Colca Canyon is home to the Andean Condors which can been seen in the canyon soaring through the air hunting for food. The Andean Condor typically lives about 60-70 years, and has a wingspan of about 7-9 feet. It is commonly referred to as the “Eternity Bird,” as the bird is a symbol of long life and eternity.  There is a popular stop on tours where the condors can be spotted at 1,200 metres above the canyon floor, the ‘Cruz del Condor’ viewpoint. Our tour was scheduled to make this stop on day two but I was in huge luck on the first day as one flew through the canyon right in front of us as I was stopped taking photos of the canyon itself and managed to catch him!

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Condor in flight through the Colca Canyon

We reached the oasis in the bottom of the canyon by 5pm that evening. The last hour we were treated to thunder, lightening and torrential rain – nothing like it to make you increase your pace! Our “accommodation” was a bit of a shock to the system. We had a bed alright but it was basically in an outdoor barn, complete with a tin roof to enhance the noise of the rain which was actually leaking through in parts. After the day of hiking and drowning at the end I was looking forward to a hot shower but an ice cold wash in a shed was what I settled for! The best bit however was that there was no electricity!! I was happy we had our torches packed but it made for an entertaining evening. Our guides cooked for the group that night and we had some celebratory beers for making it to the oasis and partly to keep warm. We turned in very early after our 2.30am start, and before our 4.30am one the following morning!

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Fully clothed for bed in the shed, and a very unimpressed Gav with his headlamp!

We began hiking in the dark at 5am the following morning and the entertainment of the whole situation wore off me very quickly when I realized we literally had to walk upwards at altitude for three hours to get out of the canyon and get breakfast! Our torches were necessary for the first hour or so until sunrise and at this point the views looking back into the canyon were amazing and we spent most of the morning above the clouds!

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Very happy looking hiker at 5am!
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Hiking up the Canyon, above the clouds!

There was a definite sense of achievement once back on the top of the canyon, even if our legs were burning! The eggs and bread barely touched our plates before they were devoured for breakfast  and we had a much earned break before hopping on the return bus to Arequipa.

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Relieved, Exhausted, Barely standing!!
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Niamh 1 – Canyon 0

Our return bus to Arequipa stopped at the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint and I was really happy I had been in so much luck to capture the picture of one the previous day because while there was a lovely one perched close on the cliff this time, he refused to fly even though we watched him for over half an hour.

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Cruz Del Condor, Colca Canyon

Finally before returning to Arequipa our tour ended at some thermal baths. This was an amazing welcomed treat for our very sore muscles. The heat was so severe but it was a really nice addition. Once back in Arequipa we just had a short stopover to pickup our bags and stuff our faces before returning to Cruz Del Sur for the next trip. So far we have loved this service and this has been with second class seats so we were in for a treat for the bus to Cusco as the whole bus was a VIP one. The seats were even bigger and reclined to 160 degrees.

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