Arequipa and Colca Canyon

Arequipa Travel Blog

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Church in Arequipa square

Well we weren’t prepared for how friggin cold it could be on an overnight bus from Puno (altitude 12,566 feet) to Arequipa.  We were the only gringos on the bus and had the very front two seats on the second story of what originally seemed like a nice, comfy bus.  The ride was interminably slow, stopping along the side of the road for long periods for no apparent reason.  Worse, it was absolutely freezing - we are talking a half inch sheen of ice from condensation on the windows in front of us.  Needless to say, we arrived tired and cranky at 4:30 in the morning but were met at the bus station by a very nice guy who ferried us off to our hotel.

The hotel was great, a little place called Hostal Astorga run by a family who were very friendly.

Arequipa White Stone Columns
  They actually let us check in at 5:00am and nap for a few hours before our Arequipa City Tour later that afternoon.

The city tour was ok with just Cindy and I and two guys from Spain so our guide (who was really nice, spoke English well and was pretty cute just to top it off…) had to constantly go back and forth between Spanish and English.  Arequipa is a really pretty city, mostly made of white stone with tons of colonial architecture and pretty churches which was a huge contrast to the griminess of Puno.  The highlight of the day was our tour of the Santa Catalina monastery which was a beautiful place.  Apparently it used to be that the second daughter of a family had no choice but to be a nun at the monastery (although back then, these were all wealthy women and they had servants and cooks, etc.

Santa Catalina Monastery
, just no men). We had a great lunch, Aji Galina which is a Peruvian chicken dish and then wandered around before going to see Juanita the Peruvian Ice Maiden who was discovered back in the 90’s and was a young victim of sacrificed in the 1500’s.  It was actually a very cool tour and at the end, you get to see her in a refrigerated cabinet, frozen with her arms wrapped around her legs, pretty grim looking.  You are not allowed to take pictures, but I found the attached one on the web.

We woke early the next day and were picked up by a bus headed to Colca Canyon which is supposed to be the deepest canyon in the world and home to condors who lazily circle from the canyon depths, up on the thermals.  We were the last two people on the bus and relegated to the very back of the bus where we met a very cool dutch guy.

Blue Walls at Santa Catalina Monastery
  The road from Arequipa to Chivay (the village where we were staying near the canyon) was fairly horrific, many parts just dirt and very bumpy and dusty.  You can see how ethereal and weird the landscape is with the picture of the rocks.  You also get great views of a number of volcanoes including the one of Mt. Misti.

Eventually we made it over the pass and headed down into Chivay which was a cool little town.  After a really tasty buffet lunch, everyone headed off to their various hostals and rested a bit before an afternoon hike up to a graveyard on the cliffs with a great view of the valley.  A number of the people went out for dinner at a little touristy restaurant where Cindy and I downed a pitcher of Pisco Sours while watching the local dancers try to embarrass the tourists.

Juanita the Ice Maiden

All things in Peru seem to start really early, so once again, we got up before dawn and waited and the waited some more for our pickup.  Finally, our guide showed up and told us that there was a problem with the bus, and hoped we wouldn’t mind walking around the corner to meet some of the others at another hotel.  We walked - once again it was frigidly cold outside - and stood around waiting another 45 minutes for the bus.  He finally showed up (and of course nothing was wrong with the bus, he just slept in) and we hopped on the bus to head to Colca Canyon - at least we thought we did. 

We stopped in a tiny village and were unceremoniously dumped off to watch a number of folk dances while the bus driver left to pick up a few additional tourists.

Mt. Misti Volcano with Vicunas
  It was freezing cold and we were happy to get out of there after another 45 minute wait. The picture of the girl in the red skirt is from the village dancers.

After a brief stop at a pretty church along the way, we headed to the canyon and took a short hike.  It was very bright and hazy out and thus we really didn’t get any great pictures of the canyon.  After the hike, we headed to one of the condor sighting spots which was packed with tour buses and locals trying to sell alpaca sweaters and assorted crap.  We saw a couple of condors circling and then they all left and headed back to where we had hiked so we sat there for another 30 minutes waiting to see something exciting.  At that point, the tour buses started leaving and, luckily, we hung out a bit longer.  The condors came back and we saw lots of them flying with their huge wing spans and circling above us.

Weird landscape on the way to Chivay
  It is fairly tough to capture them without the right equipment (and skill) but I attached one shot here.  

After the condors, we went to another buffet lunch type place which unfortunately was not as good as the first.  At least they had beer :-D and we did get to try Cuy, the national dish aka Roasted Guniea Pig.  Neither of us was to fond of it but at least we tried.  After lunch, it was the long bus ride back over the pass and into Arequipa where we checked back in with our buddy at the Hostal Astorga before heading out for a nice dinner at a real restaurant.  All in all, Arequipa was really nice (although I don’t think I would recommend the night bus) but we would have liked to see a bit more in Colca.  Next stop, the jungle (via Cusco).

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Church in Arequipa square
Church in Arequipa square
Arequipa White Stone Columns
Arequipa White Stone Columns
Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery
Blue Walls at Santa Catalina Monas…
Blue Walls at Santa Catalina Mona…
Juanita the Ice Maiden
Juanita the Ice Maiden
Mt. Misti Volcano with Vicunas
Mt. Misti Volcano with Vicunas
Weird landscape on the way to Chiv…
Weird landscape on the way to Chi…
Terraces at Chivay
Terraces at Chivay
Skulls at Chivay Burial Site
Skulls at Chivay Burial Site
Pretty Girl in Colca Canyon
Pretty Girl in Colca Canyon
Church in Colca Canyon
Church in Colca Canyon
Little Girl in Colca Canyon
Little Girl in Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon Condor
Colca Canyon Condor
Arequipa Hostels review
Great cozy family run place to stay in the beautiful colonial city of Arequipa
Arequipa
photo by: halilee