I was off on a two-day tour of Colca Canyon today. It’s sometimes touted as the deepest canyon in the world (which it isn’t) and is a must-see attraction in Peru. There are a few options open when visiting Colca Canyon. You can experience 2 or 3 days of trekking in the canyon itself or go on a 1 or 2 day sightseeing tour to enjoy the scenery. I had fancied doing the trek but we had to book the tour on Sunday morning. At that time I was a bit hungover so walking up hills at altitude didn’t sound very appealing. The one-day sightseeing tours depart at 3am, so the 2-day sightseeing tour with a much more manageable pickup time of 7.30am was decided upon.
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, albeit with a population only about a tenth the size of Lima. Its historic centre is quite compact although from driving out of the city it seems to go on for miles. According to Alonso, our tour guide for next couple of days, Arequipa has grown too fast for its infrastructure. Until the 1990s people were moving from rural areas in large numbers to escape terrorism. Despite this threat having subsided, they are still moving here to better themselves economically. However they often end up living in slums and shanty towns on the outskirts of the city.
We headed upwards in altitude for a long time with the odd stop to enjoy the scenery and purchase some handicrafts. At one point, a shepherd had brought his group of llamas (I’m not sure of collective name) to the side of the road. For a small donation you could have a llama selfie. They may have possibly been alpacas but I can’t remember how to tell the difference! The animals seemed professionals at this, having probably previously posed for thousands of photos. I had a go but didn’t want to get too close in case I picked a grumpy one that would spit on me or take a nibble at my face.
We reached the highest point of the trip at a pass through the mountains where the altitude was over 4900m. The bus pulled over to give us the opportunity to take some photos of the stunning scenery. Alonso warned us to get straight back onto the bus if we felt faint or dizzy as he’s had people pass out here in the past. I’d come from almost sea level on Sunday and a despite a day at around 2000m in Arequipa yesterday, I felt a bit unwell here. The best way to describe the feeling is that it’s a bit like after being drunk and the alcohol is wearing off. You still feel light-headed, yet conscious of what is happening. I dread to think what my sats must have been. As we drove down into the valley to around a more manageable 3300m I soon perked up.
The Colca Valley is a sight to behold. The surrounding mountains, rock formations and agricultural terraces are breathtaking. We stayed in the largest town in the valley, Chivay. There seems to be lots of tourist infrastructure here for such a relatively small and remote place. The 2-day tour cost only $2 more than the one-day option and this included overnight accommodation. I was curious to see what this lodging would be. It was a pleasant surprise to discover I had a private hotel room rather than a hostel. Although the decor had bit of a 1970s throwback feel, there was hot water and electricity which are not always a given in remote areas. There was no WiFi but what do you expect for that price?
Alonso took us for an afternoon walk. It was nothing too strenuous, about 2km or so. This provided more great views of the area. We finished up at some hot springs that were essentially an outdoor pool containing thermal water. Warning signs advised not to stay in the springs for more than half an hour and to have a good shower afterwards. This was because if minerals from the water were absorbed into the skin we could experience all sorts of effects. These included high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, and other things you could do without. With that warning I didn’t risk more than 15 minutes and didn’t put my head under.
At night we were given the option to attend one of those traditional singing and dancing Inca shows. I gave this a miss as I can’t stand that sort of occasion. They always feel a bit awkward and often people sense my fear and drag me up to dance. This is one my worst nightmares, especially when sober! Instead I decided to contribute to the local economy by having a drink in Chivay’s Irish bar. I only had one though as we were getting picked up at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning. There was no need for an alarm clock as dogs barking and fighting outside my room meant I was wide awake long before daylight.