Onward deeper into the Andes Mountains of Peru. Welcome to Colca Canyon. Home to some the most spectacular views we have ever seen. It is known as one of the deepest canyons in the world, reaching a depth of approximately 4160 meters, or 13,640′. A little perspective here, that’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the U.S.
Another very interesting bus ride was to be had for us. Our only option for this trip was a public bus as charter buses don’t run the route. We got to share the bus with locals, who were on their way from Arequipa into the smaller villages that surrounded the area. There were many stops along the way. Whether in the small villages, or in areas that seemed to be from our point of view in the middle of nowhere. But what do we know? Like usual the driving was too fast. We traveled along narrow dirt roads, with cliffs on one side that were getting deeper and deeper and little to no guardrails as we drove up the mountains. Once we hit the highest part of the mountain pass at, 4800 meters above sea level, the area was hit with hail storm, the local in the bus didn’t even blink an eye at the pea size ice pellets turned the road and surrounding area into white. Mark and I hunkered down for another anxious bus ride.
The first town we visited was Cabanaconde. A quiet town with only about 3000 residents. We found a great little hostel, Pachamama Home, that is run by a former area tour guide. He was very helpful getting us settled, and showing us where the hiking trails were. If you like hiking, this is the place to go. There are trails for all skill levels. Being inexperienced hikers, and with the kids, we stuck with the easier day trails. We did see people coming out of the canyon who had taken multi day treks, and were battered and burnt (maybe next time). Our first hike was great. There’s a spot a few kilometers from town called “Cruz del Condor”. It’s a viewing point that people pay to go and see the rare Andean Condor in all its glory. We didn’t need to go there because we were lucky enough to see a pair soaring through the canyon within minutes of our hike.
One thing we neglected to do before going to Colca Canyon, was check the weather. February is high raining season. Our guide told us that it normally rains from 10am-5pm every day during this period, but lucky for us El Nino saved us from what surely would’ve been a soggy trip. The rain would hit around 3pm like clockwork every day. Except for one day where Mark went for an afternoon hike by himself, and got caught in a torrential down pour, complete with thunder and lightning. Mark managed to make it back into town, but had to seek shelter in a doorway. That only lasted for a few minutes though because the wind changed direction, and started blowing the rain directly on him. The next challenge was to find another shelter, but with the roads quickly turning into raging rivers, and little to no sidewalks, this was next to impossible. Mark ran one street over, and found another “shelter” with similar results. The storm wasn’t letting up either. Finally, he decided to make a run for it, and found a store where the owner was kind enough to let him ride it out, while she continually swept rain from her doorway. After about an hour, Mark made it back to the hostel only to find that our room had started to flood, which was odd considering we were on the second floor. The owners helped us clean up, and the storm was over.
Next stop on our canyon run was in Yanque. An even smaller village where the only traffic on the roads were the herds of sheep. The hikes here took us to the ancient ruins of Uyi Uyi. Our hostel offered us tours of the site, but we decided to do it on our own…We probably should’ve taken the tour. The ruins were spectacular, and we were actually able to freely walk through them . No ropes, or guards or anybody around. The way back was where we ran into problems. We decided to continue on the road instead of going back the way we came, and ended up not knowing how to cross the canyon back to Yanque. Luckily for us, a local passed by on a bike and told us the way. Once we crossed the valley, we were exhausted. After all, we had been hiking for about 5 hours already. We stopped at a tourist stop along the road and hoped for a taxi, or bus, or anything on wheels to drive us the rest of the way. After about 20 minutes, a truck that we thought was a taxi stopped and picked us up. Once we got back into the main square of town, we realized that he was just a nice man offering 4 tired tourists a free ride. Peruvians really are very friendly.
Our final stop along the canyon was in Chivay. This town is a hub for the locals who live in the canyon. It’s also another scenic place with lots of hiking, and sightseeing. The market there was pretty neat too. We could find anything and everything in there. We also took advantage of a horseback riding tour up into the mountains. It was the kids first time riding horses that were not being led by a handler going around in a circle. It was interesting to watch how the horses were trained, and being trained. The horses followed a certain order, and if they fell out of order, they made sure to get back into place. There was also pony that came along for the walk, He was learning his place in line. Two little dogs belonging to the farmer also followed us the entire way.
Colca Canyon is a must see place to go for anyone looking for adventure. There is so much more to see than what we showed here. Our only recommendation would be to check the weather, and avoid going in February.