Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon is said to be the deepest in the world, even more so than the Grand Canyon. Its gradual slopes which offer an amazing view on the depths bellow, and the Colca river which runs through it, make it a popular hiking destination. We arrived from Arequipa by bus to Cabanaconde, crossing the desert Reserva National Salinas y Aguas Blancas. Cabanaconde is a remote village surrounded by farming terraces and dirt roads leading to viewpoints and trailheads to the bottom of the canyon. Our Hostal Pachamama offered plenty of useful advice and maps, as well as a lively bar with a selection of home-made piscos macerated in 20+ different exotic fruits. This is where we met a couple from France (Marseille), Leo and Charlotte, and our soon-to-be travel companions for this leg of the trip.

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We started out early the following morning to catch the 7am bus to the famous Cruz del Condor viewpoint, up the road. We were told to get there early to be more likely to spot a few condors, who tend to avoid the hottest times of day. This was not the case for us though. We spotted our first condor after 9:30 am, one flying right over our heads.

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The lack of punctuality of the condors prompted us to miss our 9am return bus, to stay a little longer in hope of spotting one. Unfortunately the subsequent buses never showed either, and our last hope arrived around midday, breaking down right in front of us. A problem with the breaks, which seemed to be the norm with all the buses on these roads (ours from yesterday had to stop a few times to let the burning breaks cool off). By now used to this kind of ‘transport mishap’, we quickly arranged an extra ride for ourselves and some of the stranded passengers, in a chicken-bus which was supposed to bring the market-women back to Cabanaconde.

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So we started walking down the canyon a little later than expected, but quickly made up for lost time, despite the scortching heat and a much-needed lunch break in the only spot of shade we could find. We arrived at the bottom less than 3 hours later, having chatted so much that we almost forgot to take in the beautiful scenery around us.

After the bridge, we walked a few meters up river to check out some hot springs bubbling out of the ground. Colca Canyon being situated in the heart of the Peruvian Ring of Fire, is subject to much seismic and thermal activity. Much to our delight, as we would later benefit from the hot water pools at our hostel in Llahuar!

Another 30 minutes walk and we’ve arrived at the secluded and tiny village of Llahuar, greeted by the resident farm animals!

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This location was recommended to us by the owners at our hostel in Cabanaconde, as a much more quiet and enjoyable alternative to the busy tourist oasis of Sangalle. A cosy cabin with a view, drinks and meals on the outdoor terrace, great conversations with the other guests, and hours enjoying the hot/cold pools and having fun taking underwater selfies by the river: a very enjoyable and restful stay indeed!

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But all good things come to an end eventually, and we decide to leave at midday the following day to move on to Cusco. Fortunately Llahuar is connected by collectivo to Cabanaconde which avoids us a grueling climb back up the canyon. We part ways with Leo and Charlotte to hop directly onto a bus back to Arequipa, and onwards to Cusco from there. The sweltering heat of the day gives way to a big thunderstorm, rain turning into snow as we reach higher altitudes with the bus: quite contrasting climates in a single day!

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