On the second day of my Grand Tour of Peru, we visited the Colca Canyon. Until recently, it was considered the deepest in the world.
According to Wikipedia: Colca Canyon is a canyon of the Colca River in southern Peru, located about 160 kilometres (99 mi) northwest of Arequipa. It is Peru’s third most-visited tourist destination with about 120,000 visitors annually. With a depth of 3,270 metres (10,730 ft), it is one of the deepest in the world. Actually, it’s the deepest. Some people think it is the second deepest in Peru after the Cotahuasi Canyon and more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. But it’s the deepest. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley with pre-Inca roots, and towns founded in Spanish colonial times, still inhabited by people of the Collagua and the Cabana cultures. The local people maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces.
Colca Canyon proudly bears the title of being the second-deepest canyon in the world. Its stunning scenery and the opportunity to spot the Andean condor soaring in the blue skies above adds to the charm of this unique destination.
Chivay is the main village and the linking point between the two sides of Colca Canyon, and is where most tours start in earnest. It is also home to a lively market and shops selling high-quality local handicrafts, and best of all, just a short walk out of town are the hot springs of La Calera – perfect for a relaxing soak after a day of exploring. Some of my tour mates chose to go for a soak in the springs, but I didn’t–I’d not brought a bathing suit!
Unlike many canyons, Colca is fertile and inhabited, with extensive pre-Columbian terraces and unspoiled, traditional Andean villages. The Collagua and Cabana peoples who lived here for at least 2000 years, from 800BC onward, built an ingenious terracing system on the valley walls that collects snowmelt from the nearby volcanoes. To one side, the smoking Sabancaya Volcano looms at 19,606ft (5976m), one of the most active volcanoes in the Americas, but don’t worry, the most you will see of an eruption is a billowing ash cloud. While alongside is the more docile, but higher Ampato Volcano at a colossal 20,630ft (6288m), and where the famous ‘Ice Mummy’ was discovered.
The River Colca begins high in the Andes and descends from 11,483ft (3500m) above sea level at Chivay, the first settlement on the edge of Colca Canyon, to reach 7218ft (2200m) at Cabanaconde, the small, last village in the canyon.
No passable roads existed between Arequipa and Chivay until the 1940s, when a road was completed to serve the silver and copper mines of the region. More roads were built in the 1970s and 1980s by the Majes Hydroelectric Project, a program to divert water from the Colca River to irrigate crops in the Majes region. Access today is usually via Arequipa.
The highway takes you to a lookout point over one of the deepest parts of the canyon, Mirador Cruz del Condor (the cross of the Condor), the best location to spot the legendary condor. The Andean condor is a national symbol not only of Peru, but of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, and plays an important role in the folklore and mythology of the Andean regions. Photos of this in my next post!
I really enjoyed my tour of the Peruvian Amazon and reluctantly went back to my little room in Arequipa. It took several hours just to unpack and do the laundry from the trip—everything I had brought was wet and mud splattered. And I don’t have access to a washing machine, so I hand washed all my clothes! In the air of Arequipa, they were dry in no time!
I needed to unpack and then re-pack, because I only had five days to prepare for the next tour—the Grand Tour of Peru, hitting the big highlights: Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, the Nazca Lines, Colca Canyon, Lima, Cusco……15 days of new discoveries. I was lucky that I could arrange to start and end my tour in Arequipa, saving me a couple unnecessary (and expensive) plane tickets. It also meant that I could just bring one suitcase and leave the things I wouldn’t need in my tiny rented room.
On October 2, I moved from my rented room to a modest hotel room near the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa. That afternoon, I had a walking tour of the city, including the Santa Catalina Monasterio (convent). But the guide was just passable and I’ve already shared photos of all the sights we visited.
The next morning, I boarded a tourist bus to Chivay and the Colca Canyon, roughly 100 miles and arguably the deepest canyon in the world. These photos are from the bus trip.
After we left Arequipa, we headed for the mountainous area of Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. Our bus climbed up steadily from the elevation of about 2,300m to over 4,000m at a popular tourist service station at Patahuasi, where coca tea or muna tea (a type of local mint) were served. Many on the bus were showing symptoms of high altitude sickness, from stomachache to terrible headache. I did fairly well, except when walking up hill. Then I panted like I was working hard, though I wasn’t.
One stop on the trip was to take photos of llamas and alpacas. There was a young boy caring for the animals and the guide asked us to tip him if we took any photos. I really wonder if that child gets any education. While the law says that a child should be in school, that doesn’t mean it always happens. He made no attempt to ask the tourist for money and only a few of us offered him a few coins.
After the tea and souvenir break, our bus continued to ascend the highlands above 4000m in elevation, passing by a number of scenic highland wetlands and reaching the highest pass of Patapampa at 4900m.
Next we entered a protected wildlife area and I got to see small herds of vicuna.
At Patapampa, there was a brief stop where we could take in the magnificent mountain views of a number of volcanoes, one actively smoking for us. This is rarefied air, higher than anything in the Rocky Mountains. The Mirador de los Volcanes is something to see, if your red blood cells are up to it.
After Patapampa, our bus gradually descended to the mountain valley of Chivay at 3600m. Before reaching Chivay, we made a final stop overlooking the valley. We walked over to the cliff edge to photograph the scenery of Chivay in a distance.
It’s nice being a lady of leisure. But it’s also a tad boring. I’ve walked miles here in Arequipa (training for my upcoming Nepal hike) and while it’s a great city, I was getting restless to see something new. One morning it hit me hard. I was missing something really important while I’m here in Peru: The Amazon. I walked to my favorite tourist agency in the Plaza de Armas and rectified that problem. I booked 5 days in the wet, sticky Amazon area, with one night in Iquitos and 4 additional nights in the rustic Cumaceba Lodge. An adventure!
The Amazon has been the stuff of legends for me since childhood. I read that the Amazons were a fierce tribe of women warriors, almost unimaginable in my patriarchal family. While I didn’t see any women wielding bows and arrows, I am convinced that living in the Amazon jungle takes a tremendous amount of strength and ingenuity. I really enjoyed my stay, but it’s safe to say I won’t be building a summer cottage here.
Iquitos, also known as Iquitos City, is the capital city of Peru’s Maynas Province and Loreto Region. It is known as the “capital of the Peruvian Amazon.” The city is located in the Great Plains of the Amazon Basin, at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers. Iquitos is the largest metropolis in the Peruvian Amazon, east of the Andes and the sixth most populous city of Peru. If you want an Amazonian adventure, this is a good place to start. It’s also the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by road – it is accessible only by river and air.
While long inhabited by indigenous people, the founding date of the European city is uncertain. Spanish historical documents state that it was set up around 1757, about 200 years following the conquest.
The architecture and historical treasures reflect the colonial and early 20th-century European period, attracting an increased tourist trade in the 21st century after the airport was expanded for international flights. Iquitos is a center of ecological tourism. It has become a major cosmopolitan city with strong roots in the Amazon, featuring a complex history and cuisine, Amazonian landscapes, nightlife, and a growing cultural movement.
In 2012, a quarter of a million tourists started their adventure vacations to the Amazon here. The Historic Center of Iquitos has several structures designated as part of the Cultural Heritage of the Nation: the Cathedral of Iquitos, the Iron House, the Old Hotel Palace, Cohen House, and more than 70 other buildings. Other landmarks are the Plaza de Armas (which I saw); Jiron Prospero, a shopping and historical area; and the lively neighborhood of Belén, often dubbed the “Amazon Venice” for its many waterways (neither of which I saw). The city is also home to the Amazon Library, one of the two most important in Latin America.
Most people travel within the city via bus, motorcycle, or the ubiquitous auto rickshaw (mototaxi, motocarro or motocar). This is a modified motorcycle with a cabin behind supported by two wheels, seating up to three (very thin) people. Transportation to nearby towns often requires a river trip via boat, a pequepeque (Pronounced: PEH kay-PEH kay, an onamonapia–the name is roughly the sound the motor makes).
Tourism is one of the most vital industries in Iquitos, due to its location just off the banks of the Amazon River. The river is often described as “one of the seven natural wonders of the world.” By my count there must be at least a hundred “Natural Wonders of the World.” Must be the New Math? Iquitos receives a considerable amount of foreigners, and has adequate infrastructure to accommodate tourists from all levels, from pricey 5-star hotels to backpacker hostels.
The St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral San Juan Bautista, Catedral Metropolitana de Iquitos) also called Iquitos Cathedral is the main Catholic church, in neo-Gothic style, in the city of Iquitos in Peru. It is located in Iquitos Center at the intersection of Arica and Putumayo streets. The property of the Catholic Church, it was declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation of Peru in 1996, and is considered an urban icon in Iquitos.
Currently, it is the tallest religious temple, also notable for including a crypt–unusual in a place with annual flooding. Construction of the cathedral began in 1911 after the demolition of the ancient temple. It was inaugurated on March 16, 1919, though the tower wasn’t finished until 1924.
Fish fillet, 100 grams (any white fish will do. We used mahi mahi, but also scallops or shrimp are good)
Ginger, 5 grams
Garlic cloves, 5 grams (4 small cloves)
Limes, 2 fresh, whole (room temperatures and roll them on the table before squeezing)
Red Habanero chili, 1 small
Fresh cilantro leave (also called coriander leaves), small bunch
Medium, red onion, 1/4
Medium sweet potato
Dried corn, 50 grams (This is difficult to find. Substitute dried bananas)
Celery, 5 grams
Boil sweet potato, 30 minutes. Peel. Slice into 3-4 rounds. Put into bowl and let cool. Ceviche will be placed on top of this.
Finely chop ginger, garlic together. Place into a bowl and cover with 4 Tablespoons of vegetable oil and mix. Set aside.
Finely chop cilantro. Julianne onion into long, thin strips. Put onion in a small bowl and cover with water.
Cut fish into large cubes. Place into a bowl. (Reserve one piece of fish for the Tiger’s Milk) Add 1.5 grams of salt, chili, cilantro and 3T of oil from the ginger and garlic mixture. Mix and set aside.
Toast the dry corn kernels in a dry pan until they start to brown. Some may even pop. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Tiger’s Milk (Leche de Tigre): In a food processor, mix celery, ginger, garlic, pinch salt, a few pieces of onion, 4 T of onion water, and the piece of raw fish. Process until smooth.
To the fish, squeeze juice of two limes. Stir and allow to “turn white” for about 3 minutes. Add onion slices and Tiger’s Milk. Mix. Top the sweet potato slices with fish mixture. Surround with toasted corn. Garnish with cilantro and peppers.
My friend, fellow teacher Amy, and I decided to splurge a bit and try what seems to be a fairly unique restaurant, not just in Arequipa, but in South America. Sonccollay is located on the Plaza de Armas and is listed as a “pre-Inkan” restaurant, serving the traditional foods of the Andean region. I was most interested in the cuy–local guinea pig. I’d had it earlier in the week, but it was fried and I wanted to try a traditional roasted dish.
Amy and I had each met the owner, while we were on separate free walking tours. The tour ends at the restaurant, which has an impressive view of the plaza below and the surrounding mountains. The owner is personable with a commanding voice, but seemed quite disheveled and stressed both times I saw him. He seems to run the restaurant almost entirely alone!
While I had a good time (mostly because of good company) and enjoyed the food, I’m not sure if I can recommend the restaurant. It was a bit over-priced and we waited almost 2 hours to eat, despite being one of the few diners. They also took almost all my cash, since they had “trouble” accepting credit cards, though the menu had indicated that they did. I also felt the owner was openly disappointed with our orders–we hadn’t spent enough money to satisfy him. I won’t go back.
Do not expect beef, chicken, garlic, onions or cilantro when eating here. The main meats are alpaca, cuy, duck and “river shrimp.” And everything is a little charred, typical of the use of stone and wood logs. Most of the reviews I read simply raved about the food, but I thought it was good, but not fantastic. Of course, I’m really put out by being expected to wait a long time to order and receive food in what was clearly not a busy night. I also felt I was slightly over charged based on the menu prices.
There are highlights, however. The restaurant seats diners on a second story balcony over looking the Plaza de Armas. It’s great for people watching and we even observed the ceremony to take down the flags in the courtyard. The owner will give you a brief tour of the kitchen, which should not be missed. And the view from the roof is simply spectacular.