Peru - Cabanaconde & Colca Canyon

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March 28th 2017
Published: March 29th 2017
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David here...

First of all, I must apologise for the amount of photos and panoramas in this blog. It's not my fault. The Colca Canyon area around Cabanaconde is just so beautiful. The photos don't even do the area justice. Of all the beautiful places we've been in our travels; Switzerland, Austria, Middlesborough, Peru is up there as one of the most stunning places we've ever been, if not the most beautiful.

The trip from Yanque to Cabanaconde wasn't as easy as we thought. We had read, and were told, that buses pass through the main plaza all day. Well, the 09:30 bus we expected never turned up and after 45 minutes of waiting we asked in a local shop. We were told that the next bus was at 15:00 ish. As we were debating what to do, our hotel host drove past and stopped to assist. He spoke to the store owner and told us our options were to go to Chivay to get the bus from there or go to the main road and try to flag a bus or van down. We asked about a taxi but it would've been over £25 so wasn't really an option. We think the 8:30 bus might have come through Yanque, but we'd advise you check with your accommodation the day before. Or just go back to Chivay.

We decided to try our luck in Chivay so jumped into a waiting mini-van and off we went. After 20 minutes we were back in the main plaza of Chivay and we made our way to the bus terminal. The next bus to Cabanaconde was at 14:30, over 3 hours away. We walked through the countryside for an hour trying to find some shade and a place to sit to read, but everywhere was walled off. So we ended up just waiting in the bus station.

The bus was about half full of locals and half full of tourists and traveller types. A couple of Russian travellers at the front of the bus had their shoes off and their feet up against the window and wall of the coach. It was embarrassing. The people behind us were talking utter crap. We were beginning to feel that maybe we should've stayed in Yanque where we barely saw any other tourists. Being thrust into the traveller world again after the peace and quiet of Yanque was a bit of a shock.

The journey to Cabanaconde was around 2 hours and again, was a stunning route. We quickly got off the coach and made our escape away from the other passengers and got to our hotel. The funny thing is, we then barely saw anyone else once we were in the very small town. Our hotel was the Kunter Wassi, which translates as House of the Condor. The room was nice, clean and comfortable, though no matter how hard you tried, the shower would always, always wet the whole bathroom floor due to the design, not because we're mucky pups.

Once settled in we relaxed for a bit before going to the hotel restaurant for our evening meal. It was the 2nd highest rated place in town, and was easy, so that was where we went. The restaurant was strange . Everything was orange, the walls, decoration and table cloths, so it didn't feel relaxing. Plus, the only table laid out that was available for us was huge, the smaller tables were not set at all. Anyway, we got free Pisco Sours as a welcome (I had both as Suzanne was having another dry day) which was nice and our food was pretty good. Suzanne had lasagne and I had chicken cordon bleu. After the meal it was back to the room to relax before a decent nights sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was the usual bread, jam, eggs, coffee and juice but was pretty good. We also got some avocado and cheese which made a change. The 2 reasons to come to Cabanaconde are i) to go down to the bottom of the canyon and ii) to go to the Mirador Cruz del Condor to see the condors early in the morning. We discussed going to the bottom of the canyon, which was a 2-3 hour hike down a steep and often dangerous path and then a 4-5 hour slog back up again. There are 3 hostels at the bottom, however we already had our accommodation booked for our stay. So we decided that we would view the canyon from above only, forgoing the trek down. As for the condor viewing, we had heard that you had to be there at 6am to get the best views and there are always lots of people there, so it is not a relaxing, just you and nature moment. We weren't that fussed in the end so ended up doing neither of the 2 things that you must do at Cabanaconde.

So, what we did on our first day was to walk to a number of viewing points about 90 minutes east out of town along the top of the canyon. Again, the Maps.Me application was invaluable in directing us on both days here. We got to the edge of the canyon where the view took our breath away. We keep saying it in all of our recent blogs but this was something else. We were basically overlooking one of the deepest canyons in the world and the view was astounding. We walked along a path deeper into the canyon and the views round every corner just got better and better. We've not seen anything like it at all. We could also see the Oasis de Sangelle at the bottom of the canyon and felt vindicated as it was between 2 corners of the canyon so the only views you would have while down at the bottom were up and a short distance along the river, while we could see for miles around. I'm sure being at the bottom brings its own rewards but we were happy with our choice.

We walked along the top for a good few hours before making our way back into town, where we picked up a chicken sandwich, a drink and a packet of crisps each and then headed to some more view points to the west of town. Again the views were stunning as we sat and ate our late lunch overlooking the west end of the canyon. And that was all we did for the day, marvel at the startling views at the top of the canyon from 09:30 until 16:30, all within 30 minutes walk from the centre of the town to get to the first viewpoints.

Our evening meal consisted of pizza and garlic bread at the highly rated Pachamama hostel. We arrived at 19:00 to make the most of their 2 x 1 happy hour cocktails and ordered 2 Pisco Sours. We shared a pizza which had salami, local cheese and lots of herbs on it. It tasted like a gourmet pizza more than a traditional cheesy pizza but was pretty good. Both the garlic bread (not enough garlic!) and the pizza had lovely, melt in the mouth bases. We ended up ordering 3 rounds of Sours before paying up and leaving, finding out as we paid that one set of drinks was free, a welcome drink we think. We rounded the night off with a few beers in our own hotel bar before heading back to the room.

On our second full day we headed out to the town square to make sure that the 09:00 bus did infact exist and to see how busy it was ready for us moving on the next day (it did exist and was quiet). We then bought some water and cereal bars as we planned to do some more walking up to some pre-Inca ruins that were 2 hours away. We had read that the Kallimarca ruins were worth going to and had some basic directions to follow. Of course Maps.Me also helped out, but we did go wrong. We left town using the main Southeast road and came to a sign for the ruins along what looked like an old river bed. We followed this up to the main road. This shaved a good 30 minutes off of our expected journey time as the route online took you out of the way and back again.

At the road there was a sign pointing right showing the way to Callimarca (note different spelling) so we took the next right. After about 10 minutes we were in a field with not a ruin in sight. We checked Maps.Me and were completely in the wrong place. Back to the road we went and found a second right, a small, covered over path going the direction we wanted. This was the correct path, but was a very steep, hard slog to the top. At the top, there were some stones that were obviously part of walls in a past life and some intact walls around. The surrounding view was nice but we couldn't see as far as expected as it was quite cloudy. We stayed up there for about an hour, reading and chatting before we felt a few spots of rain and decided to head back down and into town.

After freshening up we popped into town to weigh up our food choices. Within 15 minutes we were back at our hotel restaurant as it seemed our best option. There were more guests this time; a French couple and an English trio, each group also with a guide. We prefer to do things ourselves and rarely make use of tours or guides. We cannot imagine having to spend our time with another person for meals and the whole day as they take you round the area, but each to their own. The meal was nice; I had alpaca saltado again and Suzanne had the chicken cordon bleu. Then it was back to the room to pack up and settle down for the night.

The next morning we had breakfast, packed up and got to the Arequipa bus for 08:50. Typically it didn't leave until 09:20 but we were happy to be on the bus with decent seats. For both our journeys into Cabanaconde and out again we'd used the Andalucia company as we'd read their buses were nice, clean and modern. Not on this route! They were grubby, old and dusty but they did the job and were quite cheap; 17 soles each to get to Arequipa (£4.25 for a 6.5 hour bus journey).

After the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu we didn't expect to see anything more beautiful or scenic in Peru. Colca Canyon blew that out of the water. We've never seen a place as stunning before, maybe Yosemite or Kings Canyon in California come closest. We could quite easily have stayed for much, much longer if we had the time. We even saw condors flying about as we left Cabanaconde for Arequipa, who needs a tour guide? ;-)

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