on July 10, 2007
At twice the depth of Colorado's Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon, to the northwest of Arequipa, is a tourist favorite. The canyon of the River Colca was once thought to be the deepest in the world, until geologists proved the nearby (but more inaccessible) Cotahausi Canyon was an entire 160m deeper. A trip to Colca gives you three things in my view. First, the feeling that you are really breaking into the unknown as your bus rattles and jars over the untarmacked Pata Pampa Pass. This is a slight over-exaggeration maybe—at rest stops, a crowd of locals will magically appear with alpaca-wool jumpers, gloves, and scarves for sale within a couple of minutes, tour buses do ply the route, and the canyon's main town of Chivay even has, in this most unlikely of places, an Irish pub, Farren's, marked by a Guinness sign! The second thing a trip will give you is a sight of real local life. While tourists are not an unknown quantity you will see elderly men herding llamas, and the younger and stronger still working the terraced fields as the Incas must have done five centuries ago. The third thing is the splendors of the natural world. A word of warning: the canyon is not as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon. It may be twice as deep, but the walls are not sheer, and drop away in jagged moss-green slopes, depriving you of a view of the river at its bottom (it is a classic 'V-shaped valley', for anyone studying GCSE Geography out there, as opposed to glacial 'U-shaped' valleys such as the Urubamba). However, en route you will pass through the Aguada Blanca National Vicuna Reserve, and you may well see herds of the smallest and most timid of the llama family. And Colca is famous for the mirador (viewpoint) of Cruz del Condor. Here the giant Andean condor can be seen swooping overhead. The largest vulture (I'm not sure whether its the largest flying bird, or whether that is the albatross), they can be seen pirouetting lazily on thermals. The best time to see them is around 9am as the earth warms up, followed by early evening as they return from hunting. However, I arrived at noon from Arequipa, and was rewarded with a number of sightings. It is incredibly hard to get a decent photo of one however. They appear from around a peak and glide noiselessly over; several times I only saw one as it swooped past me at a distance of 15m or so. By the time I had my camera ready, the bird was gone. What appeals about Colca is its sense of remoteness. However, this means that you need two days to see it; not ideal if you have a tight timeframe. Local life can be seen in other villages that are easier to get to, such as the Sacred Valley near Cusco. I certainly felt I could have utilized my time better.
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