OYOP: Colca Canyon
Now that we have visited the Colca Canyon, I’m not sure I would think that our trip to Peru would have been complete without it. Once again, I’m completely blown away by the diverse landscapes and beauty that this country has to offer.
We left Arequipa on the bus ride to Cabanaconde, one of the towns from which you can explore the canyon. The 6 hour bus ride became an 8 hour trip once you factored in the hour late arrival and multiple stops, but that’s Peruvian time, and we didn’t have anywhere else to be anyway. With nice views through a national park spotting vacunas (another animal in the camelid family) and a good book, it wasn’t a bad ride at all.
Cabanaconde was the smallest town we’ve stayed in so far. There are a couple of hostals that also operate as restaurants and some snack shops, then it’s farmlands followed by vast desert in which you can hike to Colca Canyon.
Our hostel, Pachamama’s, had staff that spoke Spanish, English, and French and seemed to house almost all of the backpackers from many countries coming in to hike the canyon. The restaurant area was full and John, one of the Peruvian staffers, played his guitar and tried to pressure everyone into karaoke of 80s and 90s English rock during dinner. It was a great place for laughs and relaxation.
We opted to spend two nights in Cabaconde, taking the one day hike into the canyon to Sangalle and back up to Cabaconde. Maybe because we just hiked the Inka trail a couple of weeks ago, I made an incorrect assumption that this hike would be easy. Actually, it was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done.
Hiking in the desert in the middle of summer was a whole new ballgame. The sun is brutal, and there is little relief of shade or breeze. This hike was 1,200 meters (about 4,000 feet) straight down then straight up again. The hike downhill took us about 2 1/2 hours and the reward was the immaculate oasis that is Sangalle at the bottom of the canyon.
I was completely blown away by the lush green plants, colorful flowers blooming, tall Palm trees, a pool, and a lodge that served lunch to everyone down there at 1:30pm. James laid in the hammock (he was a little affected by the altitude) and I read in the pool, which I had to myself for about 45 minutes until many other hikers from other trails joined us around lunchtime.
When we started the hike back up, we immediately realized how the endless uphill in the blazing sun would be extremely difficult. We went at a steady pace, taking water breaks frequently. We crossed paths the entire route with four Peruvian guys from Lima in their early 20s and often took breaks with them to rest. They even kindly shared their “head water” with us- water to pour on our heads to keep them cool from the sun.
Along the way, we saw other people who opted to take the mules all the way up, and at times it was very tempting. Even on the guys from Lima didn’t quite make the walk all the way up and hopped on a mule for the last leg. We heard so many people say how it was the most difficult hike they’d done, and when we reached the top, I was so proud of us for making it the entire way.
I was surprised that this hike, a total of 6 1/2 hours, brought me back to the 9 days that we hiked on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. It reminded me that I could do much more than I thought I was capable of, no matter how difficult it may seem. Walking the Camino was the reason I continued to pursue a different career path I wanted even when it seemed impossible, and it gave me the confidence to push through even when I felt like I had no idea what I was in for at first. This hike was a great reminder to constantly pursue and have confidence in whatever it is that is next- I guess right now that is just whatever challenges come up in spending a year abroad.
The next day after our hike, we visited the famous Cruz del Condor, a beautiful site where Andean condors, the largest flying birds (their wingspan is over 3 meters, about 10 feet) frequently pass through. We saw a few in the distance flying by but none right next to us. I’m not sure how close they get if you’re lucky. Then, we caught the bus to Chivay, the other popular town to visit if you are coming to Colca Canyon.
We stayed in Chivay for a night to see the town, and we also found out there is a bus straight to Puno, the gateway city to visit Lake Titicaca from the Peruvian side. So, we are able to skip a bus trip back to Arequipa by being able to go straight to Puno. This means our stay is Peru is that much closer to coming to an end, which is bittersweet. I am excited to move on to Bolivia, but we have been living in Peru for a month, and it’s been unforgettable.