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Published: November 24th 2015
After arriving at 5am into Arequipa we managed to crash in the common room area of our hostel before being allowed in our room. We spent a lot of the day sleeping off the overnight bus before venturing into the centre to check out the Plaza de Armas. This was a fairly typical (and well kept) square that had a massive cathedral at one end. The cathedral was flanked by massive snow-capped volcanoes on either side of it (stunning El Misti is visible from all over the city and is around 6,000m high).
In the evening we hung out with some English chaps that had been on the Peru Hop buses with us, drinking Pisco Sours and other local cocktails, and we agreed that we should do a 2 day trek with them into the (relatively) nearby Colca Canyon.
The following day we again pottered around the town but the highlight of the day was going to the Santa Catalina Monastery. This was a very old colonial monastery which still to this day houses a small number of nuns. It was also known as a city within a city as it had high walls which allowed the nuns minimal
contact with the outside world. Within the walls there were plenty of pretty little streets and squares lined with flowers. A lot of the old nun’s rooms had been opened up so we were able to see how they lived back in the day. We went to bed dead early as we were being picked up at 3am for the start of our trek into the Colca Canyon.
After hardly being able to function when our alarm went off at 2:45am we crammed ourselves into a minibus with a number of other trekkers, including the English chaps, three Canadians (one particularly annoying), two Irishmen and our guide David. We first drove about 3.5hrs to Chivay (at around 3,000m above sea level) for a dead basic breakfast and then went onto a view point (about another hour away) that was particularly good for seeing Condors. We waited here for around 40mins seeing no Condors which was pretty annoying as a lovely Norwegian couple we met went on a tour the previous day and said they had seen loads!
This view point was pretty much the start of the canyon. It was simply stunning. Not as wide by any means
as the Grand Canyon but much deeper and had a proper valley shape with a fast flowing river right at the bottom.
Driving for another 20mins along the bumpiest roads ever, we eventually got to the start point of the descent into the canyon – about 3,300m above sea level. We hiked down mainly with Ben and Charlie (the English chaps) taking in the stunning scenery along with putting on buckets of sun cream given the little shade and blistering sun. We got to the bottom in fairly good time after about 7kms until we hit a little village where we had a lunch that included alpaca meat. David told us that he grew up in a village similar to this near the base of the canyon where there was limited electricity and that they pretty much ate what they grew – he said he didn’t see a car until he was 18!
From there we had a fairly flat hike to our destination for the night. On the way David showed us numerous different plants that ranged in properties from helping with digestion to helping with altitude sickness. He also painted our faces using the dust from
a bright red rock mixed with a little water.
After another 7kms of hiking we hit an Oasis at the base of the canyon (around 2,100m). This was an area of lush green grass (fed by natural springs) where people had built houses and a few very basic lodges for people like us to stay in. They even had a spring fed swimming pool which was ace given how dusty we had got on the trek down there. From here we were pretty sure we did see a condor from a massive distance near the top of the canyon. We hit the sack fairly early (after a sadly small dinner but an awesome cup of local leaf tea) ready for the 5am start the following morning.
The trek back up the canyon was tough, especially as Vicks had hurt her knee on the way down. Vicks also spent a lot of the way back up hanging back with a Canadian girl who was really struggling – she hard hardly eaten anything over the last couple of days as she had the flu. Her idiot of a boyfriend didn’t seemed fussed by her struggles as he just left her
and seemed more intent on showing how fit he was by practically pushing everyone out the way as he made his way to the front of our group. Anyway we made it out in about 2.5hrs and headed for large breakfast at Cabanaconde. This was a gorgeous little village around a square with a ridiculous number of stray dogs! From here we drove to a view point that showed loads of terraces built into the side of the canyon where the walls were not so steep. There were some hot springs nearby that we popped into too which was ace as again we were pretty sweaty from the hike in the morning. Some of the springs were so hot they were practically boiling. We then went to the highest viewpoint in the canyon area at 5,000m where we could see some smoking active volcanoes along with Alpacas and Vicuñas (endangered Alpaca breed). We headed back to Arequipa for a good long sleep that evening.
We had the next day to recover from the hike and mooched around Arequipa again. We went to an amazing ceviche place and ended up going to the market. The market was amazing – so
many fruit stalls and so much traffic light jelly!
The following morning (another 5am dead early start) we headed for Puno which is right by Lake Titicaca. The ride took around 7hrs. Puno is around 3,800m up and we both felt the altitude, Vicks in particular spending a large part of the remaining day in bed. We headed to the bay later in the evening and bought some amazing hand knitted gloves in a market from a lovely chatty old lady.
Another early start was required (7am pickup) for a boat trip to some islands within the lake. The first stop was one of the Uros “floating islands”. These are manmade islands in the lake made from reeds and their roots. They have been pretty much taken over by tourism but were still impressive all the same. We then headed to Taquile – this was not a manmade island at all. The 400 or so inhabitants are all farmers and only eat what they grow and catch given the 3 hour boat ride to get out to the main land! This island was stunning and we got to walk from one side to the other, enjoying views out
to Bolivia and over the farming terraces.
Next up is yet another night bus – this time to Cusco where the Inca Trial is waiting for us!
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