Our trip to Colca Canyon began at the unearthly hour of 2.30am. Colca Canyon sits at 5000 meters above sea level which is much much higher than the alps in Europe and is about 3 hours drive from Arequipa. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world and is home to the legendary Andean Condor, the main reason for our trip.
We were picked up by a minibus and set out into the night. We were doing the full day tour which was a killer of a long day but with the advantage of seeing all the main sites of Colca in a short space of time. Again our trip was booked through Find Local Tips with a tour company called Oasis Palmeras tours. We would definitely recommend them as we achieved everything we set out to do, and our guide was friendly, informative and was really dedicated to our experience.
While approaching the highest point, I discovered first hand what a mother trucker altitude sickness is. Our 2.30 am start had left us pretty snoozy and as it was dark I decided to take a little power nap. When I awoke it was like being punched in the face with a hideous wave of nausea and I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to faint or throw up (or maybe both) and it was the worst feeling I’ve ever experienced. Sasha confirmed that I did, in fact, look as horrendous as I felt (some satisfaction there I suppose) and she had to straddle my limp incapable self to get the guide for some assistance. I could barely move my arms and legs which were tingling from lack of blood flow and I had to put all my energy into thinking straight enough to form coherent sentences. I have genuinely never felt so debilitated. Luckily the guide was on hand with the Peruvian magic potion for altitude sickness ( I’m told a mixture of herbs, plants, alcohol and perfumes but it could have been narcotics for all I knew or cared at that point in time) he instructed I dab some of this potion under my nose and on my hands and to breath it in. Do you know, with how I felt, I was sceptical anything could make me feel better but within about 15minutes this miraculous stuff had me feeling partially human again. Definite witchcraft going on, but how or why it worked I don’t care, all I know is I’ve got to get me some of that!
We stopped for a nice breakfast where I sipped some coca tea to aid my recovery and slowly I began to feel back to my normal self, phew! One thing I can tell you from this experience folks is altitude sickness is no giggle! We then set off to find some stunning viewpoints of the canyon for some fantastic opportunities to take some photos of the harsh yet beautiful volcanic landscape.
After a few photo stops we were ready to go condor hunting, which as a self-professed wildlife nerd, I was most anticipating. I have always wanted to see one of the world’s largest flying birds in the wild and I was about to get my chance! I was incredibly disheartened when I realised we had an hour hike to the viewpoint as I wasn’t sure I’d make it given my apparent sensitivity to the altitude. However, maybe stupidly, I decided to try anyway. I’d come all this way and I’d have been gutted if I just gave up without trying.
It was so worth it! Despite my altitude sickness, I managed the walk and when we came to our first viewing station we were rewarded when a condor swooped down mere meters above our heads. They truly are huge, impressive and elegant birds (maybe not quite beautiful with their bald red heads but hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder right? ). You can see why they were worshipped by the Incas, they are truly magnificent! I was like a child on Christmas day, the hideous morning forgotten. I was scampering about trying to capture these magnificent creatures surfing the thermals ( a collision of hot and cold air which creates lift) high above the canyon… While also in my eager distraction, trying not to fall over the cliff edge!
After the viewpoint we wound our way slowly back through the canyon, making frequent stops in small villages, and at viewpoints along the way. We wandered into a church with incredibly garish and colourful alter decorations and saw many men and women in traditional dress selling their wares or tugging a reluctant pom-pom adorned alpaca through the streets. In one of these villages, the guide offered us a cup of Chicha, Peruvian beer made from fermented corn. It had the appearance of milky tea and tasted like a smooth, less bitter beer.
Our next and one of the other most anticipated stops was the volcanic thermal baths. However, getting there was kind of hair-raising as it involved reversing down a steep, convoluted hill next to the sheer drop of a cliff face! Thankfully our driver would get an A+ at reversing and we got down to the bottom unscathed. The baths ranged from 34 -45 degrees and were entirely heated by the volcanoes around us. We donned swimsuits and slipped into what was essentially a large hot bath for a much needed unwind.
After the baths, we made our way back to Arequipa stopping again a few times to observe a field of alpacas (the classic Peruvian postcard scene) and grab some lunch. Thankfully I wasn’t struck down by altitude sickness again so I could enjoy the rest of the trip.
If you’re feeling inspired by this post, check out my ‘complete guide to Colca Canyon’ tips post here!
We arrived back at 5pm and after a bit of sorting decided to visit the Monastery de Santa Catalina, a working nunnery which we had heard was lit up by candlelight two nights a week for late tours. We arrived picturing quite the romantic whimsical scene of walkways illuminated by candles, in reality, it was more like an episode of ‘Most Haunted’ stumbling around an eerily lit maze of corridors with lots of dark corners and gory, bloody images of Jesus on the cross. As it happened, our visit turned much more into ‘Most Haunted’ when a guy decided to play a prank on his girlfriend and jump out from a dark corner, unfortunately, he jumped out on me instead, I screamed and consecutively nearly reflex punched the man in the face and almost wet myself in fright. We then all collapsed into fits of laughter as he was scalded by his girlfriend for frightening unsuspecting women (his embarrassment was slight payback for being scared out of my wits). Though I have to keep asking myself why these things always seem to happen to me!?
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