June 14-16 Colca Canyon, Peru
I was picked up at 3:00am from the Casona Plaza Hotel near the main square (Plaza de Armas) in Arequipa. I was in a big bus with a lot of people, so I felt a little confused at first. Then I realized that there was a mix of people on the bus and that most were doing a day tour of Colca Canyon, returning the same day. I, on the other hand, would be handed over to a local guide who would take me down into the Canyon. I would be meeting some new people as we would all be going down as a group with our guide.
Ishmael was the guide for the day tour and my first guide of the day. We made a stop at a local village and were treated to some Peruvian dancing. And of course the town had a very elaborate monastery.
We were soon at Cruz del Condor where we would test our luck at condor sightings.
As luck would have it, the condors were all around at Cruz del Condor and I was so happy to be able to get a few clear shots.
Ishmael handed me over to my guide for the next three days. Clever. No, I mean the name of the guide was Clever. He was his namesake – “un personaje” (a character!). Super chill and always smiling.
He was very young (19 years old) but he knew what he was doing, always of cheerful disposition and very attentive of the clients.
With Clever, I boarded a blue minibus to be taken to the rim of Colca Canyon (not too far from Cruz del Condor) where we would begin our long descent into the canyon. Even on this minibus there were multiple groups – some for the three day hike like me and some for the two day hike.
Finally at the rim, I met my companions – a Peruvian couple, Jorge and Fionella, a couple from Canada, Phillippe and Gabrielle, Laura from the Netherlands and Gallego a Spaniard.
We started the descent into the canyon – I was in awe at the sheer depth of the canyon and some draw comparisons with the Grand Canyon.
There were long stretches and switch backs. There were beautiful cacti lining the route every now and then.
This first day we hiked about five miles and descended about 4,000 ft. That’s a massive down climb with no warm up. We walked at a moderate pace and it took us about three and a half hours to reach our destination of San Juan de Chuccho. We were not at all envious of the two day hikers who were making the push to Oasis de Sangalle today to be able to hike out the next day. I am glad I had picked the three day alternative. We would have a leisurely hike the next day to Oasis and also be able to enjoy loads of time there.
San Juan de Chuccho was deep in the Canyon not far from the river and we would spend the night here. There was a small 400 ft climb to get to town. I was at the Hotel Colibri. Accommodations were pretty basic (calling these mountain lodges hotels is a stretch). There was a soccer pitch nearby and I kicked the ball around with the locals. I also enjoyed a beautiful sunset in the valley and I believe we had a full moon that added to the beauty.
Because of the long day we all went to bed fairly early. The next day we rose at about 7:00 am and after a hearty breakfast of bread, juice, fruit and coffee we were on our way again, this time to Oasis de Sangalle. This would entail a climb and then a descent. It would be a much shorter day than yesterday, and we would still be at the depths of the canyon. But the approach into Oasis is a heart-wrencher – the switch backs that would await us the next day are starkly visible and one wonders how on earth we are to tackle those the next day!
Once at a bridge, we knew we did not have much further to go.
Oasis was truly an oasis. I was at the Hotel Tropical – again I had very basic accommodations, but there was a little patch of grass for some yoga and I was also able to go for a swim in the pool with awesome views of the canyon all around.
I would be amiss not to describe my lodging in more detail and also not to mention the owner Guillermo. My room was an end unit and it was right against the canyon wall, so I had the canyon as one of my walls to the room! It was quite a bit of smart engineering and made for an awesome rustic look. Guillermo was a very gracious host and he later showed me some Inca art painted on walls right by his hotel.
My room had an amazing view through the window as well.
At around 5:00 pm my team, who were staying at a different lodge, came down and I gave a short yoga session – something to help us recover from the last two days of hiking and also prepare us for the hike out of the canyon the next day. Being able to do yoga in such a serene setting with the back drop of the canyon walls was such a gift for me. And to be able to share it with others was even more special.
And there was a cat who just climbed onto my lap for some love – and I happily obliged 🙂
The next day would entail another early start and we were off at about 4:30 am in the dark. In four hours I would be at the top of the rim after having ascended 5,000 ft. But the climb took a lot of resolve. I barely rested – I took three stops averaging about 10 min each for rests. It’s hard to get momentum going again with too much stopping, so I just prefer to keep moving. It works for me. Laura was ahead of me and the rest of the group was behind me. So I pretty much had the whole trail to myself for the most part. The trail was crowded in the beginning with the really big groups, but they all got dispersed eventually. I was able to hike with a good rhythm and I was able to contemplate a bit. These hikes are so good for me, mentally. Almost yogic. It helps me link my body with my mind and find that state of focus and being able to let things go.
Once we all gathered at the top it was high fives all around – we had just conquered one of the toughest hikes in the region. We were ready for a big breakfast 🙂
After a lovely breakfast in Cabanaconde, we headed back to Arequipa and we were treated to some incredible views looking back into the Canyon on some stops along the way.
And the fun did not stop. We had a brief stop at some incredible hot springs and a river nearby. We kept going from hot to cold to hot … this really soothed the muscles and was so refreshing!
We got some lovely views of Volcan Ampato, where Juanita’s body had been discovered (the Inca maiden who was sacrificed in the 1400s – see post on “Arequipa”)
We even went by an Alpaca reserve.
And of course we could not get enough of the local kitties. See how this little kitty likes Laura, but when I take the kitty she has the expression “where’s Laura?” 🙂
Well, Colca Canyon was a challenge, a success and another opportunity to bond with new friends (and cats). But being in the presence of Peruvians meant that we would celebrate in proper Peruvian style. After a nice Asado dinner in Arequipa, Jorge and Fiona took the lead and we ventured to the “Museum of Pisco” which of course is just a bar masquerading as a museum – yeah right Jorge, as if you didn’t know 🙂
And Jorge and Fiona made sure we danced the night away in a club! Who would have thought we had just climbed 5,000 ft out of one of the deepest canyons in the world!
Next stop Medellin, Colombia for some R&R.