Colca Canyon trip - day one (lots to see!)

Colca Canyon Travel Blog

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Stone Forest

One thing to do when you’re in Arequipa is the almost obligatory Colca Canyon trek. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world (the deepest lies just next to it, the Cotahuasi canyon, but it is not as interesting as Colca) with a depth of more than 3.000 meters from peak to river. Not only can you make a nice trek into the canyon, but it is one of the best places for amazing close-up views of the world’s largest bird of prey: the condor.

 

We booked a three day tour because it takes half a day to get to Colca canyon from Arequipa. This is the story of what we saw the first day, which was a tour-de-force of local wonders on the way to the canyon.

Yaruta plant

 

Vicuña reserve (nice)

From Arequipa we first had to drive all the way around the El Misti volcano. At the other side there are seemingly endless plains with mountains at the horizon. This is a nature reserve where the vicuña lives. A vicuña is a species of cameloids, like the llama, and it looks a bit like a llama or an alpaca, but also like a deer. It is more graceful than a llama though. Vicuñas are looked-for animals because their fur is even better and softer for clothes than alpaca fur. Therefore lots of people illegally hunt for vicuñas, but the nature reserve protects them from extinction. We saw a family along the road. They are sweet creatures.

 

Patahuasi Stone Forest (a highlight!)

Near the town of Patahuasi, lava flows have created a spectacular display of pointed, chimney-like rock formations. It is called the Stone Forest. Geographically speaking, these rocks are very young.

Colca valley
A few thousand years or so. From the road we descended to the forest. The rocks are between a meter up to 4 or 5 meters high. They look like cheese with lots of holes in them where birds and other creatures find shelter. The rocks stand guardian over the vast landscape that opens behind them. It is an extraordinary place!

 

Volcano viewpoint (not that interesting really)

Next stop was a viewpoint from where we could see all the volcanos around us. It wasn’t that great a viewpoint, but the idea is more important than what we saw. There was also visible the mountains from where the Amazon river springs. And it was at an elevation of 4910 m!! A new record! Even here, people are trying to sell stuff to tourists.

 

Yareta plants and mountain rabbits (nice)

From the viewpoint to the start of the Colca valley, we crossed high terrain and here were many spots where you can find the Yareta plant.

Colca canyon
The Yareta plant is a bright green colored blob that at first we took for moss or fungus, but it is actually a plant. The slowest growing plant of the world and they can be up to 3,000 years old. They used to be almost extinct because they make excellent fuel for machinery, but they are protected nowadays. Weird stuff. Sporadically there was a mountain rabbit visible, but it was hard to see.

 

Colca Valley (a highlight!)

Before entering the Colca Canyon, first you pass through the Colca Valley. Lots of people live here in little villages along the steep slopes of the valley. One amazing feature of this valley are the agricultural terraces. They are just of an amazing scale, rivalling the more famous terraces of Asia. The valley opens up as a breathtaking vista with terraces everywhere. People used to farm alfalfa on these plateaus but everybody is migrating to the cities. In a just world, this would be a world-famous site on its own right! Simply breathtaking.

 

Each little village in the Colca Valley seems to have its own customs.

Condor!
Particularly the hats of women are subject to custom. The women wear hats with a button or flower on each side of the hat, unless they are single or widow in which case they wear only one button.

 

There are also mountain tombs to be seen of about 600 or 800 years old. They look like little humps of rocks, but encapsuled inside these heaps are the bones of people. Sometimes people also hew holes out of the cliff of a mountain to put the bodies in there.

 

Canyon and Condors (great!)

Last but not least, we enter the Colca Canyon, where the Colca river cuts right through an expanse of mountains. We were standing about halfway from the bottom. Above us and at the other side, the mountains went up to a height of almost 6 km, and below us the canyon just went down, down, down, and there was no bottom to be seen. A real abyss. The sun slowly set and shone its last rays through the canyon. At that moment, the condors came out to hunt. Gracefully, silently, they circled through the sky with amazing speed, over the mountains to unknown lands. It was hard to get a good look at them, but it was great to have seen them!

 

That night we would stay in one of the nearby villages and continue our trip the next morning.

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Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Vicunas
Vicunas
Yaruta plant
Yaruta plant
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca canyon
Colca canyon
Condor!
Condor!
El Mist - back
El Mist - back
Behind the El Misti
Behind the El Misti
Near the Stone Forest
Near the Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
emperor
emperor
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
Stone Forest
alpacas
alpacas
volcano viewpoint
volcano viewpoint
New record! volcano viewpoint
New record! volcano viewpoint
Yaruta plant
Yaruta plant
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Woman in Colca valley
Woman in Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
mountain tomb
mountain tomb
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca valley
Colca canyon
Colca canyon
Colca canyon
Colca canyon
Colca Canyon
photo by: Vlindeke