The Colca Canyon is known as the second deepest dry canyon in the world. Coming second only to Tsangpo Canyon in China, it has a depth of 4160 m and boasts a deeper gorge to that of the Grand Canyon. It is located about 100 miles northwest of Arequipa and our drive took us through arid, volcanic areas sparsely inhabited expect for the Alpacas, Lamas and vicuñas. After stopping off at some look-out points with spectacular views of the surrounding Andean mountain range we arrived in Chivay and made our way to the local hot springs. These were a welcome refuge from the cold and rain. The steaming, outdoor baths had expansive views of mountains and waterfalls and all sorts of wonderful fauna and flora. It was a magical spot in which to relax and soothe any travelling aches and pains. We were so reluctant to leave that the staff had to kick us out so that they could close up! By the time we finally left, everyone was ready for a big dinner and then an early night in preparation for our early start the following morning to see the condors. However, whilst we had been enjoying the hot springs, the rain had been pouring and had turned the gravel track into a mud bath – needless to say, our bus got stuck! The only way out was for us to push – what better team-building experience could there be?! The only problem being that the thermal baths visit had been a predominantly female outing and there is only so much help that 8 girls in flip flops can be when pushing a bus that is churning out mud from its back wheels. Not through lack of trying, we got nowhere. Thankfully a man in a jeep came to the rescue, towed us out and we were back in Chivay in time for dinner!
We started out the next morning very early to make our way to the Colca Canyon in anticipation of spotting some condors. The condor is the largest flying land bird in the western hemisphere and indigenous to only a few place on earth, the Andean mountains being one. The bus ride out to the canyon took us along roads that scaled the sides of mountains and through remote dwellings. On approaching the canyon we took to the footpaths to reach the edge of the canyon. Everyone was on the look-out, desperate to spot one of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. We had been warned that sightings were not guaranteed as the birds only took to the skies when the conditions were perfect for them. Amazingly within minutes we spotted a couple in the distance, soaring through the sky, enjoying the morning thermals of rising warm air. Before long another swooped up from the canyon below and circling directly overhead. We learnt that this was a juvenile bird, distinguishable by the grey/brown feathers as opposed to jet black. Even though it wasn´t fully grown it was an exceptional creature, with a wing span of about 9 feet –to see it in such close proximity that we could hear its wings in the wind was breath-taking. No doubt, a memory that will stick in all of our minds for many years to come.
A trip to the Colca Canyon is included on Tucan Travel’s tours in Peru. View them all here.