One and a half days of intensive cardio blast alongside Andean condors in one of the world’s deepest canyons, anyone?
It’s about a 14-hour drive from Lima to Arequipa, Peru’s second most populous city. Arequipa (elevation 2,335m) is the starting point of Colca Canyon trekking. Here you can load up some snacks and hiking gear. As soon as I arrived in town, I could feel my lungs were working harder than usual. Since I was traveling from sea level, I wasn’t ready to be in this elevation. We had a day to rest before taking off to Colca Canyon for our trekking trip. By 3am the next morning, we were on our way.
Several hours later, we arrived in Chinay, right after the highest point of the trip. I could feel that my lungs were trying to expand, but the squeezing feeling was new and strange.
Cruz del Condor
The first stop: condor viewing. The viewing platform is 1 hour 20 min from Chivay. We pulled in at the spot where you can see the Andean Condors flying over the canyon. I honestly didn’t expect to see them so close, so easily. We quickened our steps to get to the good spot, and I panted like I just ran 10km. ‘It’s going to be fun trekking’, I thought.
Andean Condors are the third largest birds in the world. I knew that, but I was still impressed by their size. The white fur around the neck is really unique looking. Mostly, they looked so happy in their natural setting. There were about four of them hanging out together, and we saw about ten flying later on.
This is where the trek starts. With a population of 3,000 and extremely fertile soil, this is one of the most important places in Colca Valley. We hiked down 1,100m into the canyon. The landscape itself was worth the trip. With the backdrop of canyon, various kinds of flowers and cactus it created an amazing vista. Nestor, our guide from Cobanaconde, pointed out the Oasis, where we were going to spend the night. It was far-far away.
Downhill hiking wasn’t so bad. Rocks were slippery at times, but it was manageable. Dust was making it harder. Because it was dry season, the hiking trail was very dusty. A handkerchief is the must-bring item. After making it 2/3 of the way down, I could feel my body was getting tired. The lunch place was a bit of an up hill after crossing the river on the bottom of the canyon. We were at about 2,000m elevation.
Going uphill after the bridge, I almost collapsed. This portion required more oxygen but my body wasn’t capable at that moment. My lungs were already in a lot of stress due to the elevation changes for the last two days, and ascending after coming down 1,100m was just too much. I couldn’t breathe and every short exhale made a crying sound. It felt like I was choking on the air. Ironic, isn’t it? With the help of Nestor and Stephen, I could finally start breathing a bit longer each breath. The next seven minutes uphill was not a time I want to remember.
We sat down for lunch with a view over the canyon. The home cooked meal was exactly what we needed. The menu was Inca soup with corn and vegetables, followed by lomo saltado (beef stir fry). From there, the road to the Oasis was mostly descending. The Oasis looked so close, yet so far. I guess the name suits.
We arrived at the Oasis at about 4:20pm after 7 hours of walking. The pool looked so great, but water was a bit chilly. Yet, people jumped in to cool down after walking all day.
Then, I did something I’ve never done before. Nestor suggested that I should ride on a mule for the uphill the next day since I wasn’t acclimatized. We were going out of the canyon, which means climbing 2,200m almost straight up. Honestly I felt a bit embarrassed while everyone else was doing fine. But I also didn’t want to push too hard.
The next morning, I got on a mule. They know where to go, so all I had to do is just enjoy the scenery and try not to fall. My mule, Yula and I walked up the canyon while the sun was coming up. Without a single break, we reached the top in an hour and a half. My knees were quite sore from holding Yula too tight. After breakfast at Canabaconde we went back to Arequipa.
When you go:
The drive between Colca Canyon to Arequipa is about three hours, but it’s a beautiful drive. There are several amazing view points, where you can see the nearby volcanoes and different views of the canyon. If you’re lucky, you might be able to see a few condors too. The drive between Lima to Arequipa is also interesting, since the road goes through Huacachina, Ica, and Nazca. You can divide the trip in those places on the way down to Colca Canyon.