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Exploring Colca Canyon

Exploring Colca Canyon

Old Dec 30, 15, 4:52 pm
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Exploring Colca Canyon

Hi gang. I'm doing some initial research for a potential trip to Peru; I'm interested in Colca Canyon. (Actually, I'm interested in Cotahusi Canyon but that's too hard to get to!) I'm under the impression that to get to Colca Canyon, one typically starts in Arequipa then drives (all day!) to Chivay, then drives the next day to the canyon.

I can see there's an airport (airstrip?) in Chivay. There's no IATA code for it though; just an ICAO designation of SPDF. I'm kind of picturing a packed dirt strip as opposed to an actual airport ... Don't imagine they'd have an F lounge there!

Has anyone here:

a) Visited Colca Canyon? Impressions? How did you get there?
b) Flown to / from SPDF?

Thanks!
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Old Dec 30, 15, 8:41 pm
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I have visited the Colca Canyon. It is an amazing experience. If you get there early enough, you may have the opportunity to see a Condor fly. And that looks just incredible. Of course, the timing and everything else depends in if the Condor decides to oversleep or if he's in the mood for a short flight. But overall, it's great.

I got there as you mentioned. I'm from LIM, so I took a LIM-AQP flight, stayed and visited around for a couple days, and then went to Chivay. Spent the night in an eco-hotel (which had no wi-fi, would recommend double checking with them if they have Internet access before booking anything, I personally didn't like that 'relaxing' experience). Then, woke up really early in the morning (probably around 3 or 4), had a quick breakfast, and then a chartered bus took us to the Colca Canyon. We probably were there for a couple hours, and then got back to Arequipa.

Even though it was a short trip, it was a memorable experience. Oh, and it gets pretty cold, though I don't think you'll have a problem with that being from Canada.

WRT SPDF: I don't believe that is actually a commercial airport. Probably something for military planes to land on, or something similar. Even chartered flights. But not commercial planes. And I don't think any (known) airlines around fly to SPDF.

Hope you do get to come to Peru, and visit the Canyon!
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Old Dec 31, 15, 11:40 am
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Originally Posted by joseeantonior View Post
Oh, and it gets pretty cold, though I don't think you'll have a problem with that being from Canada.
Very true!

I'm slowly resigning myself to the fact that to visit the Canyon one must take a day to drive from AQP to Chivay. Ah well - it won't be that bad; gives me a chance to see some Peruvian countryside.

Thanks for your reply!
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Old Jan 3, 16, 1:20 pm
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There are no commercial flights to Chivay. And that's fine cause the road from AQP is interesting and beautiful. I went by tour, departed from Arequipa at 7am aprox, arriving at Chivay at 3pm aprox.

The usual tours program the canyon visit the next day, very early in the morning as joseeantonior said, with the purpose of catching the condors flight. They said they are seen early in the morning and whenever there's no noise nor many people. Well I went on a long weekend and though we arrived early at the canyon, there were LOT of people, and consequently too much noise. Never mind, I saw several condors, big ones, small ones, adults, youngs... took lot of pictures. It was a beautiful spectacle.

The usual tour get you back to Arequipa that second day, so it is a short tour. Too bad, cause there are several places to see along the canyon. Landscapes, trekking, towns, archeaological sites, etc. I spend a third day on my own and enjoyed a lot. If you are planning to go on your own, renting a car, etc., staying 2 nights is recomendable.

I went in 2010, communications were very limited, just one cybercafe and too slow. It may be improved nowadays, but it's wise to doublé check hotels with wifi if you are interested in keeping connected.
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Old Jan 3, 16, 1:26 pm
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Originally Posted by joseeantonior View Post
Oh, and it gets pretty cold, though I don't think you'll have a problem with that being from Canada.
True. I went in july 2010, dry season, but at night very, VERY cold (specially for me, a Lima guy).

By the way, if you want to drive to Chivay, don't go during rainy season. It can be complicated (landslides) and dangerous. Between late may and early september is the best time, dry season.

Another tip, the Casa Andina hotel in Chivay has a small astronomic observatory. If you are not a guest the entrance is cheap, and they do interesting sessions explaining (and watching) the southern hemisphere constellations. But you have to book early, email the hotel in advance.
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Old Jan 5, 16, 12:50 pm
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Good info. Thanks Villavic!

I'm curious - how cold is "very, VERY cold"? Below 0ºC?
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Old Jan 5, 16, 4:09 pm
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Originally Posted by RCyyz View Post
I'm curious - how cold is "very, VERY cold"? Below 0ºC?
A friend went there more recently than myself, during the winter. He told me that yes, temperatures may have reached -5 C.
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Old Jan 6, 16, 8:43 am
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Originally Posted by joseeantonior View Post
A friend went there more recently than myself, during the winter. He told me that yes, temperatures may have reached -5 C.
Good to know. Thanks! (Not too cold by Canadian standards though. )
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Old Feb 2, 16, 11:11 pm
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Originally Posted by Villavic View Post
By the way, if you want to drive to Chivay, don't go during rainy season. It can be complicated (landslides) and dangerous. Between late may and early september is the best time, dry season.
Don't be put off. I was in Chivay & Colca Valley a bit over a month ago (late December 2015) and it was gorgeous. Took the bus from Arequipa to Chivay and had no issues at all. Then took a minivan up to the Canyon and even saw condors!
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Old May 30, 16, 9:07 pm
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Hello all. Thought I'd take a moment to follow-up here.

I ended up arranging a tour of Colca Canyon via Arturo Carlos Muñoa Guillen at Carlitos Tours. Email address is [email protected]

Carlos is a nice guy both via email and in person. English is a second language and that comes through in the emails (though not so much in person). His timeliness of emails is not what we're accustomed to here in North America; he does take people out on tours and I think he only replies when he can. Nonetheless, with a little patience my tour was arranged and a USD deposit was made via PayPal. (I paid 40% but he asked for anywhere from 30% to 50% - whatever I was comfortable with.)

Tour costs vary but here's what I got (3 pax):

Day 0 - pickup & transfer from AQP to hotel downtown
Day 1 - drive to Colca Lodge via Chivay & Yanque
Day 2 - Condor del Cruz then drive to Puno

Price paid was $335 per person + an extra $75 per person for the drive to Puno. While that sounds on the expensive side, it should be noted that a night at Colca Lodge costs about $180 (and I needed 2 rooms). Included in all this was a 17-person (!!) minibus for the 3 of us + the driver + a guide. We also had snacks provided and drinks in the bus and along the way when we made stops.

Carlos picked us up at AQP on time. He had a normal car for the pickup and apologized that the car was "small". (I thought it was just fine for a quick pickup / drop off.) He cheerfully noted though that "we have a small car but big hearts. Don't worry - be happy." As he drove us into town we got a mini-tour and commentary. Carlos took us along a bridge where he stopped so we could take pics. He also pointed out some of the highlights around the main square and a couple of good restaurants before finally dropping us off at our hotel (Teirra Viva AQP). Furthermore, he arranged to meet us again later that night to go over the itinerary for the next couple of days before we actually left the next morning.

(Side note: the Teirra Viva AQP is a nice hotel in a convenient location. I recommend the superior room as it's larger / more comfy vs the regular rooms and by our standards, not that much more for the night. It's a good hotel and I will stay there again if I go to AQP.)

When we met later in the evening, Carlos used a detailed map to outline where exactly we'd be going and detailed the time it would take to get from here to there. The expectations were clearly laid out and there were no surprises. We discussed the merits of various start times and settled on a pickup at 08h00 the next morning. Carlos also asked us what we wanted as snacks on board the minibus. We requested mostly fruit and still water. I asked for a bit of sparking water and Carlos said he'd get us some sweets as well. He noted that it would be either him or an associate acting as guide. Carlos cheerfully said that his associate (Jean - pronounced Jam for some reason) and himself would draw straws to see who would get us. I was rather hoping to get Carlos because he was a nice guy and he had climbed Ampato so I had hoped to drill him on what it was like to climb that rather famous peak.

The next morning, bang on time there was our 17-person VW minibus with Carlos and Jean. turns out Jean had drawn the (short? ) straw and got us. But Carlos was there to see us off and make sure all was OK. With that, we were off.

Jean was also a very nice guy. His English was fine and he knew his stuff. Our driver Paul didn't know English but he was competent at driving. (Though he was little tame for my tastes. He would follow slow, 30 km/h trucks until it was 110% safe to overtake them.)

The initial drive out of AQP featured chaotic traffic followed by the aforementioned slow trucks. Paul made a brief stop for petrol and it was here that I learned, to my surprise, that gas is sold by the gallon even though everything else in Peru is metric. No wonder it seems that petrol cost 3x too much!) Eventually we made it to the road less travelled and the traffic thinned out while the scenery really opened up. What a nice drive it was! The hills, the mountains, the rocks, the occasional stream, herds of alpacas and llamas all was wonderful to take in. Jean made some commentary along the way and pointed out relevant facts.

As we drove, we kept going up. AQP sits at an altitude of 2380m. For a guy who lives more or less at sea level, that's kinda high up. (Air pressure at 0m = 101.3 kPa. At 2300m it's about 76 kPa so you get about 25% less with each breath you take.) We paused at a cafe somewhere around 3800m (63 kPa) to have a cup of coca tea. It's supposed to help with the altitude; I'm not sure if it does but I did like the taste of the tea. It's a pity we can't bring back the coca leaves to make tea at home. And then we kept on going up until we hit Patahuasi at a high of 4910m (54 kPa). At this point, we had a magnificent view of Ampato, Sabancaya and Hualca Hualca all seemingly within reach. We stopped to take pics and I very very very slowly shuffled my way to a vantage to take my pics. I was not in great shape as I did this and vaguely realized that bits of me weren't working the way they should. But I wanted my pics so dammit I was going to get them!

Pics taken, we started our descent to Chivay (3700m) where we had a decent buffet lunch around 13h45. (The fruit etc in the minibus kept us going!) The lunch was included in the tour cost, but it only cost S./30 per pax or about $10 USD. We could drink whatever we wanted (extra cost but included in our package) but I just stuck with sparkling water. Having a beer at altitude didn't seem worth the effort at that point.

I should note that my normal way of travel is to fly somewhere, rent a car, fire up the GPS and go. That would certainly be possible here. When you exit AQP arrivals you see the usual suspects for car rentals so it would be easy to pick the rental agency that gives you the best discount / most bonus points and do this whole program on your own. But you wouldn't know where to stop for the best pics. Also, finding the lunch place in Chivay or anywhere else along the way would be challenging at best. And driving at altitude for someone who lives more or less at sea level is not a great idea. I was rather glad to have someone else do the driving in this case! But if you think you can drive at altitude and not cause an accident, then by all means go for it. You'll likely save some $$$ and have a nice time and you'll get there a bit sooner too. I'd recommend renting a normal car; no need for a 4x4 or anything like that. The roads are paved almost all the way save for a handful of bumpy non-paved sections. But slow down and drive cautiously over the bumpy bits and you'll be fine.

At some point along the way Jean mentioned that they carried a tank of oxygen in the bus and that we could help ourselves if necessary. He recommended 2.5 min on O2, 2.5 min off, then 2 min on and 2 min off, then another 2 min on. They only had one mask but it was cleaned with alcohol before use. Another method of breathing easier was to take some alcohol between your hands, rub them together then sniff the remaining fumes. I didn't try this but I'm told it helped.

Post lunch we went to Colca Lodge via Yanque. Yanque was an interesting little village where we explored the market and the church before heading to the hotel. Getting to Colca Lodge involved turning off the main road onto an otherwise unmarked dusty road that meandered through farmer's fields. (Lots of quinoa being grown there!) Colca Lodge sits deep in a valley with mountains soaring high above. That said, the lodge is still at an altitude of 3250m so the air is correspondingly a bit thin. We were greeted cheerfully in fluent English by the hotel staff. A request for oxygen was made and they immediately produced a tank with a mask. They dialled in a flow of 2 litres / min and told us to take as much as we wanted. They also offered us some cups of coca tea - a drink I found ubiquitous in this region. Like I said, I'm not sure if it did anything but I enjoyed the taste.

The rooms at Colca Lodge are simple but quite nice. My only complaint is that the bed is a bit soft. There was no TV, no radio and no wifi in the room. But the Movistar SIM in my iPhone worked perfectly well and I never watch TV in hotels anyway. Besides, in this place all you have to do is look out your window and you'll have plenty to gaze at. There's a spa at Colca Lodge with the usual array of services. I'm not a spa guy myself so I didn't partake.

Colca Lodge has (free) hot springs. The water comes out of one spring at a strikingly hot 80ºC. Smartly this spring is closed off so no one can do anything stupid to themselves. The water flows into a series of other pools so you basically get to choose what temp you'd like your hot spring to be. I think the temps ranged from 40ºC down to 30ºC. Most people seemed to stick to the 37º pool. A little further on from the hot springs is an alpaca farm where you can get close (but not too close) to the animals and take your pics. There's also a very informative mini-museum on alpacas, llamas, vicuñas and another on condors. Colca Lodge is a very nice place to relax, enjoy the view and try to catch your breath!

Lacking any other options we had dinner at the hotel. What a nice dinner it was! I had alpaca and it was very tender served up in a flavourful sauce. Oscar, our waiter, was really good. Like everyone else at the hotel, his English was fine and he was attentive without being obsequious.

Night fell rapidly so by 19h00 it would have been quite dark were it not for the brilliant full moon richly bathing the landscape in a silvery shine. Above, the night sky was alight with the brilliance of millions of stars. The stillness of the night was interrupted only by the muted burbling of the river below. I sat quietly on my balcony for countless moments trying to absorb this bucolic scene before ultimately retiring for the night.

[To be continued ...]

Last edited by RCyyz; May 30, 16 at 9:19 pm
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Old Jun 11, 16, 6:40 pm
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There’s a scene in the movie Good Morning Vietnam where Adrian Cronaur (Robin William’s character) bellows “It’s 06h00! What does the 0 stand for? Oh my God it’s early!” It kinda felt like that this morning. Except today’s alarm went off at 05h38. Yikes! Today really was a day for the birds.

Breakfast at Colca Lodge was plentiful and there was a chef there to take the egg orders. As always the Coca tea was in abundant supply. The morning was a brisk (about 10ºC) but pleasant and the altitude of 3250m felt a wee bit better today. It would have been nice to have a day of acclimatization; regrettably time was not on our side so onwards we went.

First stop was the village of Yanque where some folks were dancing in the main square. They were dressed in traditional costumes so it was a colourful site to take in. After that brief stop we continued on our way. The views consisted of picturesque landscapes featuring terraced fields set in a valley with a river below. From our vantage of about 200m above the valley floor, we could really see the fields so skillfully carved from the surrounding slopes along with the different crops being grown in each field. There’s a timeless aspect to this corner of the world; sometimes it seems that modern life has only just touched it. Squinting into the brilliant sunshine, it wasn’t hard imagining the Incas surveying the landscape, deciding where next to build another terraced field.

After a short drive we arrived at Cruz del Condor. This was the first time in Peru that I really saw a hoard of tourists. The goal here was to see the famed Andean Condor soaring in the sky. With a wingspan of about 3.2m, these birds can really soar! Alas, there was but one bird enjoying a morning flight. We stayed an watched him (her?) fly around for a bit, then our guide suggested a drive a little further and try our luck elsewhere.

We drove a kilometer or so down the road to a viewpoint where there was but one other tourist there. No condors mind you but the view was inspiring. It was odd (to me) to be standing at an altitude of 3200 or so metres, but still have a mountain across from me soaring 1000m up and 1000m down at the same time. When they say Colca Canyon is deep, they’re not kidding! Measurements of canyons are somewhat subjective, but it’s generally accepted that Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US. Mankind may revel in his ingenuity at building tall towers and DXB, PVG and the like but Mother Nature works on a different scale entirely.

We drove back to our original viewpoint and found a target-rich environment. Instead of a lone condor out for a morning flight, now there were 15 condors putting on a show. My trusty Nikon D700 went into continuous focus, continuous shooting mode and I had a grand time taking pics as the condors wheeled freely above. One bird in particular seemed to be having fun pulling Immelmann turns, wingovers, doing some close formation flying and generally putting on a display of avian dexterity.

No camera shot can compare to simply watching 15 condors in their true element so after (consciously) shooting too many pics (almost 300) I put the camera down and just viewed the spectacle unfolding around me.

It’s hard to top that experience so the rest of the day seemed much calmer by comparison. We stopped again in Chivay for a simple lunch, then drove to our next destination – Puno. Along the way we passed again through Patahuasi. This time, after having spent a night at 3250m, I was better able to handle walking around at 4910m. I walked very slowly, but I was able to enjoy the view a lot more this time. Then it was back into the van for the drive to Puno. Colca to Puno is less than 300km, but it took about 5h to drive that distance. Our van was limited to only 90 km/h so that made our trip longer than it otherwise might have been. We passed through some higher altitudes on the way to Puno. At one point I took a pic of a sign at a mountain pass called Crucero Alto that said we were at 4528m. One village where we made a petrol stop was perched at 4300m. We also passed a rather picturesque lake (Lago Lagunillas) at 4444m. Finally, after a 5h drive we arrived at our hotel in Puno (altitude 3900m).

Our time in Colca Canyon was perhaps brief but it was certainly memorable. With more time, I would have enjoyed another day of acclimatization at Colca Lodge. This would have also permitted an exploration of Cabanaconde and a more in-depth look at some of the other villages in the region. As mentioned previously, I arranged our tour via Carlitos Tours and everything was easily customized.

I’m glad we made it to Colca Canyon. It’s worth the detour from AQP to experience this very scenic and charming corner of the world.
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