Arequipa and the Colca Canyon Trek

Plaza de Armas Arequipa

Arequipa is an incredibly beautiful city. Surrounded by three volcanos and filled with 19th century Spanish architecture, the city has a charm very different to that of Cuzco. 

The city of nearly 900,000 is also one of Peru’s most affluent and prosperous cities. Arequipa was founded in the 1540’s by the Spanish, and was one of Peru’s first capitals following their independence.

It’s very different than Cuzco. I’ve seen many more white collar workers walking down in the street in Arequipa as opposed to Cuzco. Both cities are very interesting, but both very different. 
And the only perk of Emil and I arriving to the city at 5am is that we got the sunrise all to ourselves.

We didn’t spend much time in the city but we did walk around for several hours over the course of two days. We went to the market and got an incredible lunch; a seafood soup with crawfish, mussels, squash, peppers, and potatoes. The meal also came with a steak stir fry. Only $2!

We also had a chance to visit Museo Santuarios Andinos. This is a mueseum that features Incan artifacts found on top of the nearby volcanos. Extremely interesting to see these well preserved artifacts. The most famous part of the exhibit is the mummy known as Juanita. Juanita was a young Incan girl who was a human sacrifice found at the top of Mount Ampato, a 20,700 foot volcano visible from the city. Juanits we’re climbing 20,000 foot volcanos more than 500 years ago…

In 1995 American archeologists discovered Juanita and two other sacrifices on Ampato. Most likely due to climate change and ash from other volcanos in the 90’s,  Juanita began to thaw and was partially exposed to the sun, making it easy for to be discovered.     10 other sacrifices have been discovered on surrounding volcanos. Here’s a brief description of Juanita.

Seeing the mummy and the artifacts was very powerful. Like the Inca’s I do believe the mountains are sacred. There’s just such a mystical and spiritual feeling while you’re up there. It gives new meaning to climbing in the Andes. 

Our main reason for coming to Arequipa was go trek Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, with a depth of over 11,000 feet. 

Emil and I would both rather do any trek or hike unguided. There were enough people doing this hike that it would be easy to do it alone, but logistically its much easier to do with a guided group. We payed about $75 for the two day guided trek along with accommodations, food, and transportation. I was pleasantly surprised with our guide, as well as the group of 10.

Colca Canyon is the home of the Andean condor. With wing spans between 7-10 feet, this creature is quite magnificent to see. Condors can fly over 20,000 feet, fly more than 55 miles a hour, and can fly a couple hundreds a day!

There’s a well known lookout for condors over the canyon, nearly everyday the condors are flying right over the canyon’s edge to dry their feathers. We were lucky enough to see 10 condors. The Andean condor has become a symbol for many South American countries and I understand why, it is such a beautiful animal.

After making this worth while stop, we drove to the town of Cabanaconde to start the trek. We pretty much did a loop starting and ending in Cabanaconde. Hiking all the way down the canyon the first day, and sleeping at the bottom of the canyon, before hiking about 3,000 feet out of the canyon on the second day.

The town of Cabanaconde
Sabancaya fuming. This is the most active volcano in the area. Our guide assured us this was normal and explained we may even feel a tremor.

The hike itself was not very hard. It was very touristy, but I’m still very happy we went. It’s not everyday you can hike in a canyon that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. 

The green area at the bottom of the canyon is where we spent the night. There are several hostels down there, in the area know as the “Oasis”.
View from the Condor lookout
The trail we took is visible on the right side

Fair amount of overlap in the two pictures, but for perspective, from the top of the snowy mountain to the canyon floor it’s about 11,000 feet.

INCREDIBLE walls…that should be climbed
The green section is the “Oasis” where we stayed for the night. The trail on the left is where we hiked out of the canyon early on the second day.

Terraces used by the locals
The “Oasis”
Probably the best Milky Way shot I have ever gotten! I’ve been checking the lunar calendar for the last month…and I noticed there was going to be a new moon…on the night we were spending in Colca. And wow. I was so happy to capture this incredible moment.

A local herder’s sheep on the Colca Canyon trail

Hiking out of the canyon

Colca canyon at sunrise

Sabancaya fuming again! Here you can see the city of Cabanaconde

Another view from the highest point of Colca

High on the colca plateau

Wild Alpacas! In la Reserva Nacional Salinas Aquas

Sabancaya fuming, also the site of our wonderful hot spring baths on the way back to Arequipa.
The highest point in Colca Canyon, about 16,500 feet.
And here are a few llama pictures to brighten your day. The personality in their face is absolutely hilarious.

Final group picture!

All and all this was a great week. We knew this was going to be a very touristy week but it was very worth it. It’s hard to comprehend just how big Colca Canyon really is. 

For now, Emil and I are back in Cuzco resting up for a big week. On Monday we leave to climb Nevado Jampa, a 18,000 foot peak about 3 hours out of Cuzco. It’ll be our first climb alone.

Stoke levels are high.

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