September 22-24, 2015
After some research and price comparisons, we decided to use a tour company to visit Colca Canyon instead of doing it on our own. We were able to negotiate a three-day tour down to 150 soles a person ($47). This included 2 nights stay, a tour guide, all transportation (Colca Canyon is 3 hours away), and 7 meals. The cost savings of doing this hike ourselves was not enough so we went with a tour.
The tour company picked us up from our hotel at 3 in the morning and continued picking up other tourists from different hostels until the van was full. In our van there were 12 of us, 8 were doing the 2-day hike and 4 of us were doing the 3-day hike. The distances were the same but the 3-day hike split the first day into two days. We opted to relax a bit more on this excursion so we took the 3-day hike (the cost was essentially the same).The majority of us slept rather uncomfortably on the 3-hour drive to Colca Canyon.
We arrived for breakfast at 6:30am in a small Andean town near the entrance to the canyon (the city was Chivay). For breakfast we had delicious coca leaf tea (which is believed to help with altitude sickness and to fight off hunger), bread, and jam…not quite the energy-rich breakfast any of us were hoping for before hiking. Our tour guide later called the breakfast a joke, telling us how much Peruvians eat and that a couple rolls would never suffice.
After breakfast we entered the canyon for 70 soles a person and drove to The Cruz del Condor (tickets were only 5 soles for Peruvian students). Cruz del Condor offers a vantage point to watch the population of condors that call the canyon home. After elbowing our way through the dense crowd of tourists on the platform we caught a glimpse of several condors. They were rather far away so it was hard to appreciate their size and ten-foot wing-span, but we admired their grace as they soared through the air majestically without even having to flap their giant wings. Overall, seeing the condors was a bit of a waste of time, it was very crowded and we only saw about 3 condors in the distance.
From the Cruz del Condor, we drove a bit more to the starting point of our hike. We broke up into two groups and met with our guide Rafael. Our tour group consisted of Scott, me and a dutch couple. Rafael spoke to us about our itinerary for the next three days as well as safety precautions. He pointed out different towns along the mountain and spoke about the communities that lived there. One town had a population of 600. Two elementary schools exist in the canyon. One school only had 2 students! Rafael spoke with great passion for the region because his father group up there. He has seen the region change a lot, the only road was completed within the last 3 years and electricity ten years ago.
The first days' hike was downhill, the second day was a mix of up, down and flat, and the third day was a grueling 2+ hours uphill. Throughout the hike, Rafael educated us about local and medicinal plants along the trail and showed us a bug that lives on cactuses that is used to make red food coloring. He smushed the bug in his hands and it left a bright red color. While hiking we also walked through several small Andean villages that dotted the mountain side. In these villages Quicha is the dominant language.
Rafael was quite entertaining as we walked. He shared horror stories about other tourists who were injured or killed while hiking the canyon...all relatively recent stories. He also told us an incredible story about how his brother was kidnapped for several hours in a taxi.
After our second day of hiking we finally arrived to the oasis, a lush green area at the base of Colca Canyon. Our lodging, while very primitive, had a nice pool and dining area. We ventured out a bit and I took some photos of adorable piglets while Scott tried desperately to get some avocados from a nearby tree.
On the last day we woke up very early, before the sun, to start the ~3,600ft ascent before the heat of the day kicked in. After arriving at the top we ate breakfast, stopped at the highest point (16.5k feet) to view some volcanoes, passed by an alpaca reserve, saw pre-incas terraces on a mountainside, stopped for lunch, and took a dip in a hot spring...all before our 3 hour ride back to Arequipa.