Everyone who visits Peru goes to Cusco and Machu Picchu, and the chances are they pass through Lima too. But there’s loads more to do in this incredibly diverse country. From tropical rainforests teeming with wildlife, to pristine powder-white beaches, there really is something for everyone.
For views that will take your breath away, arm’s-length encounters with condors, and an authentic slice of real Andean life, it’s hard to beat the villages and valleys in and around the captivating Colca Canyon.
The 13 650 ft deep Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and – unless you’re a real mountain goat – is best visited by car. The spectacular, serpentine, vertiginous road from Chivay to Cabanaconde ascends to 15 800 feet at the Mirador de los Volcanes: a great place to get out and take in the views of the chasmic canyon below and the immense 20 000 ft volcanic peaks above.
If you’re planning a visit to the canyon, be advised that that it can get quite cloudy in the rainy season (December to March). When I visited there were by no means uninterrupted views, but I thought that – if anything – the clouds added to the atmosphere of the place.
Splendid though the landscapes may be, most travelers get even more excited about the opportunity to get up close and personal with condors at the legendary Cruz del Condor viewpoint. Almost every single day of the year these enormous birds (we’re talking 10 ft wingspans and 30 lb bulk) fly past at eye-level: it really is an experience you will never ever forget.
Although you can visit the canyon on a daytrip from Arequipa, doing so takes some of the joy out of the experience as you’ll spend a huge portion of your time driving. A two day trip with a night in the vicinity of the town of Chivay is a much better option.
Walking down its streets, you’ll be transported to another era. Locals still dress in traditional multi-colored ponchos and they still chew coca pretty much 24-7. The market is as bustling as any you’ll see: farmers haggle over the price of sows while women plait one another’s hair. Take my advice and do some of your curio-shopping here: the locally-made crafts are far superior to what you’ll find in more touristy places, and the prices are better too.
Nearby, llamas graze on the higher slopes, and quinoa and potatoes grow in ancient terraced fields which date back to Inca times, and are still plowed using traditional methods. Just out of town you’ll find the rustic La Calera thermal springs. The combination of pisco sours, 100 degree water, and a spectacular Andean backdrop is hard to beat.
If you’re not quite as lazy as I am, there are some great walks in the area which pass through Incan terraces and lead to towns ever smaller and more otherworldly than Chivay.
The Colca Canyon may be one of the world’s deepest canyons, but the fame doesn’t seem to have got to its head. Life goes on, and the condors still soar the same way they did a thousand years ago. Include the Colca Canyon on your itinerary: you won’t regret it.
Keen to see the Colca Canyon for yourself? Check out our Peru itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.
Thanks to Ogwen for the title image of this blog.