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Colca Canyon, Cruz del Condor & Arequipa

The Colca Canyon is one of the world’s deepest – almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon – with a depth of over 3200-meters. It is a spectacular sight to see, we decided to take it one step further – hike down to the bottom and back again on a 2-day, 18-kilometer hike. We spent a day in Arequipa – the nearest major city – adjusting to the altitude before undertaking the hike.

Our main purpose for our short stop-over in Arequipa was as a base for doing the Colca Canyon Trek, 160-km away. Arequipa is a place that probably deserved much more of our time than we gave it. The city is a perfect mix of Colonial and Modern, something that Peru has mastered. Arequipa is Peru’s second city – around 900,000 people live here – and as a result, is much less hectic than Lima. We essentially had one day to wander around the city and take pictures, and most of it was spent in the historic old town.

After traveling along the coast of Peru for a few days we began to make our way into the mountains. This would be our first taste of the Andes, we were slowly acclimatizing to the new altitude. We would end up spending the next couple of weeks in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. We needed to begin our acclimatization to the altitude and prepare for our upcoming 5-day trek to Machu Picchu. 

What makes Arequipa so Amazing?

What made our stay so enjoyable was just how clean, quiet, and relaxing it was. Especially since we were planning on hiking, we needed a great place to relax. This feels like the type of city you move to for a few weeks or months as opposed to just passing through.

The city is easy to explore, the views were spectacular and the weather was great. Most importantly, the food was incredible. Our first meal was at a small unmarked place that was packed full of locals on a Saturday afternoon. We chose to eat here because it was busy, but once we got inside realized we must have been the only tourists there. It was probably one of the top 3 meals we had in Peru.

We easily could have spent a few more days exploring the city, but we only had a short time and chose to take a few of them and explore the nearby Colca Canyon.

Do not miss out on Cruz del Condor and the Colca Canyon.

Even if you don’t go hiking, the views from the Cruz del Condor are can’t miss. The canyon’s size is beyond description. We did a 2-day (1 night) trek into the Canyon which was challenging (especially at altitude) but super rewarding with the views. Leaving the city to go hiking was our “best” memory, but as we mentioned, the city had an incredible vibe.

The Canyon is about 160 km North-West of Arequipa. The drive between Arequipa and Chivay takes you to a stunning 5000-meters above sea-level, with views of the many surrounding volcanoes. The canyon itself is spectacular. The views from the top of the ridge before you descend are some of the best; It’s hard to put into words or even capture in photos just how big the canyon actually is. It is also one of the few places where you can see the massive Andean Condor in its natural habitat. Inside the valley, are several small local villages, who still live a fairly traditional lifestyle.

The only way in and out of the canyon is by foot or by donkey. Our guide told us a story about how he once won a race against other guides, making the climb from the bottom of the valley to the top in a mere 45 minutes. For a point of reference, this same journey took us just over 3-hours. The locals go up and downhill the way we would walk on flat ground.

Where is Arequipa and how do you get there?

Arequipa sits at 2300-meters above sea level, somewhere in the middle between the coast and the tallest peaks of the Andes. To remind you of how powerful the mountains can be is

Arequipa is located a little bit inland from the Pacific Ocean in Peru, where the lowlands have given way to the rising Andes. To remind you of how powerful nature can be, Volcan Misti and its perfect cone that dominates the skyline above the city. It last erupted in 1985. This 5822-meter stratovolcano can be seen from pretty much everywhere. It showed up in a lot of our pictures. Next time we go back to Arequipa, we plan to climb it!

Our time in Arequipa was short and sweet. We spent a night here on either end of our Colca Canyon Trek, and most of the time was spent just relaxing and enjoying our surroundings. We had a tight timeline to stay on in order to get to Cusco in time for our 5-day trek to Salkantay, the reason we came to South America.

Arequipa:

Just a few shots from around the city.

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Posing for a picture in front of Misti. 2017.
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Doorway. 2017.
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Arches. 2017.
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Locks. 2017.
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Volcan Misti looms over the city of Arequipa. 2017.
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Arequipa Central Plaza. 2017.
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Central Arequipa. 2017.
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Misti in the background. 2017.

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Central Arequipa. 2017.

Cruz del Condor:

We drove through the morning straight from Arequipa and had breakfast just outside of Chivay, the main city for entering the Canyon. After Chivay, we drove towards the canyon, making our entrance around the town of Cabanaconde. Before this, we made a stop at a popular tourist look-out known as the Cruz del Condor (Condor’s Cross). From here we got our first view of the massive canyon and got to see many Condors gliding around the valley. This was very cool. Even if you don’t have the time (or physical ability to make the hike) this is something that you should experience.

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Flight of the Condors. 2017.
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Colca Canyon. 2017.
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Flight of the Condors. 2017.
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 Flight of the Condors. 2017.
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Flight of the Condors. 2017.
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Colca Canyon. 2017.
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The Andean Condors. 2017.

Hiking into the Colca Canyon:

This was a challenging hike. It was hot and dry, and the paths were not easy to traverse. We began the first day of our two-day trek walking down a long winding path into the valley bottom. We descended close to 1200-meters in 3 hours – from 3300 meters to 2100. From here we walked through some of the villages in the valley on our way to the Oasis of Sangale, which sits around 1900 meters. The first day was around 12 kilometers of hiking in total.

We slept in the Oasis. The next day we woke up before sunrise to get up the mountain before it got too hot. This w its back up again, an intense 3 hour uphill hike. A zig-zagging path that took us about 3 hours to climb out of. This was an intense hike fueled by willpower alone. The hike began at 5 am with the help of flashlights and had us at the top in time for breakfast.

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Downward Spiral. 2017.
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The downward trail inside of the Colca Canyon. 2017.
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Norma and Rob on our way into the Colca Canyon. 2017.
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The Colca Canyon. 2017.
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The bridge at the bottom of the valley. 2017.
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Inside the Canyon. 2017.
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Cacti growing in the bottom of the Canyon. 2017.
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Endless Canyon. 2017.
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Hikers. 2017.
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Looking down at our goal for the first day, The Oasis of Sangale. 2017.
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Colca Canyon trail in the morning. 2017.

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Cross at the top of the Colca Canyon. 2017.

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Everyone made it to the bottom and back again. 2017.

Colca Valley and The Road between Chivay & Arequipa:

After our two day trek, we drove back to Arequipa. We first stopped at the hot springs in ___, just outside of Chivay.  After lunch, we had to drive back to Arequipa, which passes a 5000-meter summit, a wide-open plateau which felt like the top of the world. We were surrounded by many volcanoes and the view was spectacular. The altitude was rough; we could definitely feel the effects when we got out of the bus to take some pictures.

Not only did we get to see some amazing views of the surrounding volcanos, we also found some great wildlife to see. We pulled over to the side of the road and found a herd of Llamas, being herded by a local Quechua man. But the real highlight was that we were lucky enough to see some wild Vicunas wandering the plains. We were back in Arequipa in time for dinner.

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The Colca Valley. 2017.
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Volcan Misti. 2017.
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5000 meters above sea level, surrounded by volcanos. 2017.
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Wild Vicunas. 2017.
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Colca Valley. 2017.
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Llamas. 2017.
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Andean Woman herding cows. 2017.
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Colca River. 2017.
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Llama in the Colca Valley. 2017.

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