Mirador Cruz del Condor

Warning! You are about to see WAAAAAY too many photos of condors. The day I went was especially good viewing and I must have snapped over a hundred photos. Honest, I narrowed them down, but I really enjoyed the visit to Colca Canyon to see these endangered birds.

Mirador Cruz del Condor (Cross of the Condor Lookout), is probably the best location to spot the legendary condor in Peru, and possibly in all of South America. The Andean condor is a national symbol of Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador. It also plays an important role in the folklore of the Andes. In Incan cosmology, the world has three levels and the condor represents the highest level, similar to heaven. It is easy to understand why when you see the majestic creatures swooping through the air—not so much flying as gliding on the termals. The population is unfortunately dwindling due to loss of habitat in parts of South America, but in Colca Canyon, visitors have the opportunity to see the birds at fairly close range as they fly past the cliff-edges.

A relative of the vulture, the condor is not pretty close-up, but then all my photos are from a distance, so that should help. Wingspans of up to 10.5ft (3.2 m), the sight of condors soaring gracefully on the thermal drifts created by the canyon is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s best to come mid-morning, in the dry season between May and December.

Many people choose to experience Colca Canyon on a two-day trek. This is for those who love mountain hiking, as the way down – and the way up again – is long and steep. However, less enthusiastic trekkers can always opt for a mule ride. I was lazy on this one—just a van and bus ride through the area.

The condor is the common name for two species of New World vultures, each in a monotypic genus. The name derives from the Quechua kuntur. They are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere. My photos are of the Andean condor (Vultur gryphus). There is also the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) currently restricted to the western coastal mountains of the United States and Mexico and the northern desert mountains of Arizona in the United States. They are smaller.

According to Wikipedia: “It is a large black vulture with a ruff of white feathers surrounding the base of the neck and, especially in the male, large white patches on the wings. The head and neck are nearly featherless, and are a dull red color, which may flush and therefore change color in response to the bird’s emotional state. In the male, there is a wattle on the neck and a large, dark red comb or caruncle on the crown of the head. Unlike most birds of prey, the male is larger than the female.

The condor is primarily a scavenger, feeding on carrion. It prefers large carcasses, such as those of deer or cattle. It reaches sexual maturity at five or six years of age and nests at elevations of up to 5,000 m (16,000 ft), generally on inaccessible rock ledges. One or two eggs are usually laid. It is one of the world’s longest-living birds, with a lifespan of over 70 years in some cases.”