Colca Canyon: The Day of the Condor, Cuy and Chicha

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March 13th 2013
Published: March 14th 2013
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I am hoping that the blog title will have captured your interest, because this was an absolutely amazing 2 day tour. For all of the internal freak outs I have had on this trip, my overnight trip to the Colca Canyon was absolutely postcard perfect. Pick up was at 7:30 yesterday morning. When the guide told me that it was a small group, I didn’t expect that it would be only 1 other person on the trip, and he was on a 3 day tour, so today I was the only person on the tour. For someone who doesn’t like crowds, this was an unexpected surprise. Both the guide and the driver were incredibly friendly and helpful. I swear, that driver had eyes like a hawk. He could spot a chinchilla resting on rocks beside the road. I don’t normally advertise hotels or tour companies, but I was so impressed that I am going to go ahead and just say it. I used Giardino Tours and would use them again in a heartbeat.

The road from Arequipa to Coporaque, where we stayed, went through desert and over mountains with cactus, scrub brush and rocks littering the landscape. In the distance were snow-capped mountains and volcanoes. Not too far outside Arequipa we drove through the Reserva Nacional Aguada Blanca y Salinas area where wild vicunas, a member of the llama/alpaca family, live. These vicunas are protected by the government and have the most luxurious wool which is generally woven into very pricy blankets. We stopped to watch an alpha male chase off two smaller males. At times the vicunas would bound across the road in front of us. A little ways past that area, we saw natural springs with herds of alpacas grazing on the grass. I have been on tours when the destination was the whole point of the drive. This drive was about seeing the countryside, watching animals and wildlife. It was so enjoyable that I forgot to backseat drive for a while. Since Peru is just finishing its rainy season, the road was pretty thrashed. At places it was obvious that the road had been covered by a landslide. Potholes were everywhere, so we spent a good part of the trip driving British style, on the left side of the road. I wasn’t worried though. As I said, the driver was very good

We finally reached the

And yes, I asked them if they would please pose for the camera. For wild animals, they were most cooperative.
highest part of our trip at 4910 meters(16,108 feet) above sea level, where we pulled over and took pictures of the Valley of the Volcanoes. From this point it was easy to see El Misti, the snow covered volcano so close to Arequipa. I don’t know if you have seen in the news that a volcano near here is waking up, blowing out clouds of steam, causing earth tremors. We had a clear view of this volcano with plumes of smoke or steam (I am not really sure what it is up to right now, but something is coming out of it). The rest of the trip was pretty much the same. Up, down, around, bump, bump, swerve, up down and so on. I was happy when we reached Chivay, the largest town in the valley and stopped for lunch.

When we arrived at the hotel, it was obvious that we were the only people staying in the hotel. The town of Coporaque is very small and way off the beaten path. The hotel rooms were nice, but the heat was only turned on for certain hours, there was no phone, no tv, no internet. It was the kind of place that had a llama on the back patio. I had hoped for some down time, but after only an hour we went for an hour hike up the dirt alleys, through fields to see some ruins. As we walked, we passed men and woman tending sheep and cattle, including a tiny baby lamb that was full of energy as it jumped and bounced around. It reminded me of when we used to raise sheep back on the farm. Even though I had really wanted to stay in the hotel and read, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike. When we returned, we went to a thermal hot spring for an hour soak. Now I know you are probably wondering if I took my camera and the answer is yes. But please rest assured that I am not posting any pictures. You can open your eyes and breathe easily. I wouldn’t subject you to that. The water was from a volcano and was so warm and relaxing that even I was able to relax and not stress over how I looked in my bathing suit.

The drive back to the hotel was so very different because there are no street lights, only about half of the road is paved and it was pitch black outside. I had hopes of seeing a sky full of stars, but they were not readily visible. Since there were only 4 of us staying in the hotel, the driver and the guide joined us for dinner. I had a 5 AM wake up the following morning, so after dinner and 1 beer, I headed off to bed. Condors tomorrow if luck prevails.

Well, the morning started off a bit bumpy. There had been a problem with the water in the hotel, so I had no water in the shower and only a trickle in the sink. My hair was all wild and out of control from the thermal baths the night before, so I filled the drinking glass with warmish water and used that to wash my hair. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t the most glamorous look, but it served the purpose and to be honest, I really didn’t care. I was off to the second deepest canyon in the world to see condors. Not only that, but I was doing it on my own private tour. How cool was that? I had been warned by other people as well as the guide that just because I was going to the canyon did not mean I would actually see condors. It is the luck of the draw and I accepted that.

It was a beautiful day as we bumped along the rutted dirt road toward the canyon. For a period there was a paved road, but it had several washouts and too many potholes and ruts to count. We stopped at a few small towns and lookout points to take in the beauty of this incredible canyon. The one town we visited is the one most threatened by the volcano. During its last eruption in 1991, the volcano and following earthquakes virtually destroyed the town. The ancient church had extensive damage and even now large cracks and fissures are visible in the mountainside. Finally we reached the condor view point. If you aren’t familiar with condors, they can stand over 4 feet tall and have a wing span of 10 feet. Ah-ha, I thought, if I wasn’t an Inca in a past life, perhaps I was a condor. Unfortunately, condors are so heavy they can’t take off by themselves; they perch on rocks
4910 Meters Up4910 Meters Up4910 Meters Up

The views from here were spectacular
and use the thermal currents to glide gracefully through the sky. Well, the word gracefully put the kabash on my condor past life theory. Graceful I am not.

Even the guide was amazed at how many condors were out today. He told me that this was the best day so far this year for watching them. I had lucked out. At first the birds were simply sitting on rocks. Finally they started soaring. It was absolutely amazing to watch these giants birds spread their wings and soar about the canyon. I took over a hundred pictures, but I also stood there and watched and took the sight in without worrying about the camera. I didn’t want to be so focused on documenting it that I forgot to see it. If you are planning on coming to Peru, please try to include this in your plans. It was something I will always remember and always feel fortunate to have been able to see.

After an hour, it was time to head back to Arequipa. We stopped at a restaurant in Chivay for lunch where I was finally able to sample cuy (guinea pig) and chicha. The cuy was similar to rabbit in my mind. I was worried that had I not been able to try it I never would have lived it down. I have to say that it really wasn't bad. The guide ordered fresh chicha, a drink made from corn, and offered me some. Although this chicha was not fermented, it was still good. I will make a point to see if I can find some of the fermented chicha somewhere. Back in the van, I sat quietly and watched the landscape as we passed through the Occidental Andes Mountains. This is a whole different world, one that has a life of its own. All too soon we reached the city of Arequipa where the traffic snarled, horns blared and air was stagnant. I took some time at the hotel to relax and look back on the day. Two American women I had talked with while using the internet in the courtyard invited me to dinner with some of their coworkers. We went to a crepe restaurant and had a very nice time. I am finding that on this trip I am talking with more people, opening myself to new experiences and enjoying myself immensely. I hope
Volcano Waking UpVolcano Waking UpVolcano Waking Up

You can see the steam in the center
you have enjoyed today’s blog and will blog more about Arequipa when I have a chance.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Doing a Little ShoppingDoing a Little Shopping
Doing a Little Shopping

High above the city of Chivay
Colca CanyonColca Canyon
Colca Canyon

It is almost impossible to photograph the depth of this canyon

14th March 2013

Three cheers for talking to people!!
Another great entry! I can definitely tell you're having an amazing time. And don't worry, your hair looks great!
14th March 2013

You have inspired me Anastasia
From reading your blogs and seeing how rich your experiences are, I have made an effort to come out of my shell. Thanks. And thanks about the hair. It was a small problem, but I am glad it wasn´t noticeable.
14th March 2013

I had tears in my eyes when we saw the Condors. It was destiny that allowed you to see so many of the birds of wonder that fly the Colca Canyon. An amazing canyon itself but the real attraction are the Condors. I tried those little rodents in a stew. Couldn't tell you what they really taste like as the piece was microscopic and I was happy about that. Glad you are chatting with new people and making some new friends.
14th March 2013

I thought of you and Dae while I was there
Just as you had luck, so did I. What a great day.
14th March 2013

Glad to see the camera getting a full work out :)
... but where are the cuy photos?
14th March 2013

The poor camera needed a rest
You will have to take me at my word on the cuy lol. It was cut up into small pieces on a buffet, so wouldn´t have made a good picture.
14th March 2013

Amazing shots!
Oh, Brendan, I am loving this trip. The pictures of the condors were amazing! How majestic they must look in reality! You must be pinching yourself at the luck that you had in seeing them like this. I about died laughing when I read about your bad hair experience. I can just see you all wild looking! :0) Your blog is wonderful! Thank you for taking the time to write. Love, Connie
14th March 2013

Thank you for following
I am glad you are enjoying this trip. Yes, I am pinching myself and being so thankful with the good luck on this trip. Luckily I had a baseball hat with me to help hide the hair. lol
14th March 2013

great shot;-)
well done!! now I so regret we did not do there;-) Beata
14th March 2013

I´m sorry you missed them as well
Taracloud and I spoke of your travels while we were together. Thank you for the compliment. I really enjoyed the Colca Canyon, but as you noted, it was not done inexpensively. I am glad you were able to enjoy Arequipa and Machu Picchu. Great pictures, although it is crappy that you lost most of your shots. Thank you for the comment.
15th March 2013

Yay Condors!!
How wonderful to see those amazing majestic birds soaring in there natural environment rather than perched in a tree behind glass, or stiff and unmoving as an ornament at the natural history museum. I must confess I get excited at the site of the turkey buzzards circling in the open space near my house! I don't think I could bring myself to eat rodents but the natural hot springs sounded divine! A pox on the bad hair day that resulted! it was worth it! Carry on traveler Brendan! I await, with great anticipation, your next adventure!
15th March 2013

How do you tell a llama from a vicuna?
I think I need to look that up. Sounds like an absolutely amazing day! Just realised the comment title sounds like the start of a bad joke :)
16th March 2013

So this llama walks into a bar.
I would love to hear the rest of that joke. lol.
15th March 2013
Alpacas Grazing on Natural Springs

that could be painting! love it.
16th March 2013
Alpacas Grazing on Natural Springs

Thank you so much
I really appreciate that. And as for llamas and vicunas, the vicunas are smaller, are pretty much all the same color and are wild. Check them out though, they are pretty interesting.
17th March 2013

Only YOU could get the best day!!!
God was truly blessing you by having that many condors for you to see. You are much closer to a condor than an inca.... LOL! I am so happy that you are out experiencing that amazing country and trying out most of the local delicacies.... Miss you and keep sending these GREAT updates!!
18th March 2013

Brendan, thank you for taking me places that I will never be. Your pictures are fantastic and I anticipate the next days entry!
18th March 2013

Thank you Lisa. I have been having a lot of fun taking the pictures. Hope you continue following the blog and enjoying the sights with me.
23rd August 2013

Dear Sr. We are so glad and happy you enjoy the tour with Giardino Tour Operator. I would like to ask you if you will allow us to show the link of your blogg in our facebook page, as a reference for our Colca services. Please let me know. and Thanks again for your great comments. Kind Regards. Carmen Rosa Medina Travel planner & Operations Giardino Tour Operator.

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