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South America » Peru » Arequipa » Colca Canyon
March 4th 2008
Published: March 11th 2008
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Boats in Arica harbourBoats in Arica harbourBoats in Arica harbour

Fishing boats waiting to go out for a nights fishing
Rather than following the traditional backpacker route North from La Paz, to Peru via Lake Titicaca, i decided to go West and explore the very North of Chile first. So i hopped on a bus in La Paz and travelled over to Arica in extreme Northern Chile.

Arica...ca...ca...ca

Arriving in Arica is a really nice change after the high altitude, cold nights of Bolivia. Its situated right on the coast, with a lovely warm climate. The Pacific also crashes into the beaches located both North and South of the town. The town has a really nice feel about it, with a lot fewer other tourists than i had been used to seeing in the other places i have visited.

On the day i arrived, i spent a very relaxing afternoon wandering around town, having a late lunch, and then attempting to body board in the afternoon. Having never tried before, i hadn´t really much of an idea what to do, so i tried to copy what all the other kids seemed to be managing to achieve, without much success. Still, another first, to go swimming in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Much more pleasant than the North Atlantic off Ireland´s west coast. The day was rounded off by a spectacular sunset over the ocean, which i watched from the headland over the town.

My main reason for coming back to Chile for a few days was to visit the Lauca National Park. The park, located right on the border between Bolivia and Chile, at altitudes around 3,000m, has some stunning scenery. There are many huge volcanoes, including 3 over 6,000m. All are perfectly cone shaped, with snow covering most of them.

I went on a day trip to explore the park which was really a long day on the bus, interrupted by a few stops. Kind of like a Japanese tourist bus, without the Japanese on the bus. Although the method of exploring the park wasn´t as i would have liked, the scenery did make up for it, and it allowed me to see the pàrk in the short time i had available. The park is really stunning, and very unspoiled too. A few towns lie at the high altitudes, but it´s mainly big high volcanoes and huge deep valleys throughout. The weather was also really clear, giving some great shots. I´d really love
Main volcano in LaucaMain volcano in LaucaMain volcano in Lauca

Shouldn´t be too difficult to climb!
to go back to this area again and do some climbing up one of the volcanoes.

All in all, well worth the diversion over to Chile again. But, after getting up to the park for the day, i then had to head North to get some time in Peru. Following a painless border crossing, i was in country #4 of the trip, Peru, and on a very crowded Peruvian bus for the 7 hour trip to Arequipa.

Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, located in the south of the country. On the bus i read from my guidebook that "The climate is delightful with a mean daytime temperature of 23 deg C .....and the sun shines on 360 days of the year". What more could i ask for? Fantastic.

So imagine my disappointment when, as we pulled into the city, the heavens opened for the most torrential downpour. Streams were running through the streets as i arrived at my hostel. Surely i couldn´t be unlucky enough to get one of the 5 wet days of the year! OK, so it is a leap year, there are 6 wet days
Colca canyon, on the edgeColca canyon, on the edgeColca canyon, on the edge

Its a long way down!
this year....but still, come on!

Thinking this must be bad luck, i consoled myself with the thought that tomorrow will be great. Well, i have to say, it rained in the afternoon every single day i was in Arequipa. I think i need to get Footprints to check up on their facts there! Imagine building someone up like that, only to be disappointed!

Arequipa is a pretty large city, with some great colonial Spanish architecture. Especially around the huge "Plaza de Armas" (I have discovered since, every city, town, or even collection of houses in Peru has a Plaza de Armas!). Its here the old people come to, well vegetate, the touts come to sell junk and the pigeons come to feed. But its also a nice place for a gringo to come and take in the city and its many, many churches.

But, i was only in Arequipa for a short while before i booked myself on a 3 day trip to the nearby Colca Canyon.

The Colca Canyon is a big hole in the ground. OK, a very big hole. The often repeated fact about it is that it is twice as deep as
Where have all the condors gone?Where have all the condors gone?Where have all the condors gone?

Waiting for birds at the top of the canyon.
the Grand Canyon, with parts of the canyon dropping up to 1,300m in places, from the roads along the side to the raging river in the valley floor.

I booked myself on a 3 day trekking trip which dropped down into the canyon, spending 1.5 nights in the canyon (I´ll explain the half later), before hauling ourselves back out to the road above. I was in a group of 7 (An Aussie, Peruvian, 2 Americans and 2 Germans), along with our guide, Roy (Not a very Spanish name, i know, but i don´t make this stuff up!)

After 6 hours sitting in a cramped bus, with dodgy Peruvian music blasting and no breakfast, i was raring to get going on the trek.

The first day was a pretty easy walk, dropping 1,000m down to the base of the canyon. When there we stayed in a little hostal located near a village in the canyon. The views up the sides of the canyon were great, with sheer basalt cliffs dropping down to the river below. Our legs were all pretty tired after all the downhill, and with no electricity meaning no Peruvian Pop idol to watch on TV,
River at the bottom of Colca canyonRiver at the bottom of Colca canyonRiver at the bottom of Colca canyon

It looked so small from the top!
it was an early night after dinner.

The second day was a walk along the base and sides of the valley. This took us through tiny small villages, and along pretty lush vegetation with various things to eat like cactus fruits and figs. It was a really nice walk through the canyon, and we got a few ideas on how village life was from Roy on the way. They still lead pretty basic lives down there, and nothing really gets wasted. Even to the point where they have managed to make wallets for the men in the villages out of bulls testicle sacks.....nice!

The second day of the walk, we walked down to an oasis in the base of the valley. Although it was hard to make out as the whole of the canyon is green at the moment, so the oasis was kind of disguised by green. Aparently during dry season, everything dries out, except this oasis area. There we had a small pool to swim in and beer to drink, so all were happy.

This happiness was short lived when Roy informed us we were setting off at 2am the following morning for the walk
One for Lee!One for Lee!One for Lee!

Walking along the canyon base
out of the canyon. Why? Well, its cool then, and you can get up to the top of the canyon to see the condors circling at first light. Tenious reasons at best methinks, but there was no convincing Roy otherwise.

So off we set in the dark for the 5 hour slog uphill out of the canyon. I´d love to say it was loads of fun, but in fact it was pretty hard work, zig zagging up the path, with no break from the uphill. Although it was all made up for by seeing....bugger all condors at the top at sunrise!

The idea is its really easy to see Andean condors up close in the early morning, as they rise out of the canyon on the early morning thermals. Although, that morning, they were all sleeping, or had been partying the night before or whatever, they weren´t there. Despite all this, at daybreak, there were some great views out over the canyon, and deep down to the river below, where we had been beside only a few hours earlier.

Overall, a really great trip i thought to get to see the canyon up close, as well as how some of the villagers in the valley live their lives.

After getting back to Arequipa, it was time for a quick freshen up from the 3 showerless walking days, before jumping on the night bus to Cusco, the Incans and all that lark.

BTW: I´ve heard that Wales are now the best rugby team in the world, better than everyone else in Europe, the world and the whole universe. Surely this can't be true. They were as bad as Ireland when i left 3 months ago!



Additional photos below
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The fantastic scenery in LaucaThe fantastic scenery in Lauca
The fantastic scenery in Lauca

Snow covered volcanoes everywhere
Bull´s sack purse anyone?Bull´s sack purse anyone?
Bull´s sack purse anyone?

They will be all the rage in Paris this spring!
The Main Church in AricaThe Main Church in Arica
The Main Church in Arica

When all Arica´s churches were destroyed in a Tsunami, kind Mr. Eiffel, between building towers for Paris, built them a metal church. This is it.
Arica´s Christ the Redeemer statueArica´s Christ the Redeemer statue
Arica´s Christ the Redeemer statue

Less famous than its Brazilian twin, but try telling a Chilean it´s not as good!
Sunset over AricaSunset over Arica
Sunset over Arica

Its not such a bad life!
The long and winding roadThe long and winding road
The long and winding road

The twisting path of the descent into Colca


12th March 2008

Nice
Mike Real good to see the 'thumbs up' picture, if you hadn't posted this on at least one of your blogs I wouldn't have believed it was actually YOU in S. America. Lee

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