Colca Canyon Trek
After an overnight bus from Cuzco we arrived into the stunning mountainous region of Arequipa. Arequipa is on the South West coast of Peru and is surrounded by some of the most amazing landscapes i have ever seen, from ice capped mountains to volcanoes its a bit of an adventure town with something for everyone.
Our main reason for heading down to Arequipa is that it is home to the worlds deepest or 2nd deepest canyon in the world depending on who you talk to. Its a two or three day hike to the bottom of Colca Canyon where they have built a small oasis and can either be done with a tour group or on your own and is easily organized through most accommodation or any of the tour agencies found around town. There was a group of 6 of us who all got together in Arequipa for the tour and most opted for the 2 day 1 night tour which is supposed to be pretty popular however I had a couple more friends showing up the next day so I held back a day and did the tour the day after with them.
The first day was 8hrs basically all down hill through the canyon! Beautiful views but extremely hard on the knees especially when you have bad ones like me. I felt like an old women and i was so far behind everyone that the guide hung back and walked with me.. embarrassing.... After hrs of excruciating pain I finally made it to the oasis at the bottom of the canyon and was greeted by lush gardens, hammocks, a swimming pool and amazing surroundings... I was not happy... the sun was starting to set by the time my energy was coming back so I didn't even get a dip in the pool!
That's the problem with the two day one night tour you only really get a couple hrs to hang out by the pool because the sun starts to go down early. I was actually choked that I only did the one day tour because as soon as I got to the oasis I wanted to spend another day! And as it turned out my friends who set off on the tour the day before me liked it so much down there they decided to stay an extra night, which put them out a bit of money but they got to spend the day drinking and hanging by the pool. I was extremely jealous! But it was great to see them down there and seeing as they had already been drinking all day there was no reason to stop so a few people from my tour decided to join them for a few drinks after dinner and then we headed to another hostel just up the way which had a bar and a bonfire!
A few drinks turned into too many drinks and I ended up missing the 4am wake up call by 45 minutes! Once I finally stumbled to the group I was met by 12 extremely unhappy tour companions!! I’m sure they would be happy to know that it was a million times harder doing the 3hr climb out of the canyon with a brutal hang over! Another option if you are in my situation or are just too lazy to do the trek out is to take a donkey up for an extra cost which a few of the girls opted to do, the lazy bastards. I wont lie I was tempted but I knew the boys would never let me live it down if I didn’t hike out so I sucked it up! And I cant complain too much because although I did the hike not feeling 100%, one of my guy friends had one of those pukey hangovers and ended up puking every 20 minutes the ENTIRE WAY UP! SUCH A TROOPER! He did the hike in 1.5hrs!!!!! I felt like a disgrace with my 3hr time!
Anyway to some it up, the Colca canyon is AMAZING. Do it! BUT only drink in the oasis if your willing to suffer the consequences the next morning. If you have the time or just want to relax a bit more I’d recommend the 3 day tour instead of the two. Also it is possible to do the hike on your own, but your best to find out more about that when you get there.
Colca Canyon Tips
If hiking is not your thing then no worries, day trips by car can be organized to the canyon with stops at many lookouts, lunch and a stop at the Condor valley where you can see the magnificent giant birds. (These look out and stops are also included in the multi day tours)
If your not interested in nature or you have a couple days then make sure to walk around the old centre of Arequipa. Its full of open air restaurants, museums, and churches including the Monastery of Santa Catalina which is a large walled city built in 1579-1580 which used to house 450 nuns. This is considered a must see and I’ve heard it is very beautiful, wish I could give you a first hand account however, open air restaurants and wine took up my one open afternoon so i didn’t make it!!
As for the restaurants there are more then enough to pick from, the best in my opinion are the great open air restaurants with amazing views. Just wander around town til you find one which takes your fancy and ask about the touristica menu which is usually a set meal going for around $5 including a starter, main and a drink! And if you're just looking for the best deal, stroll around and see who can give you the best deal. Some offer you the most for your money, while some will offer a glass of wine with the meal instead of the normal juice or coke.
Check out the The Plaza de Armas which is lined on one side with restaurants with huge balconies that over look the Plaza and the church and also has views of the volcano in the background. You can also find another strip of rooftop balconies and outdoor seating right behind the main church in the plaza where they will more then fall over you trying to get you in their door. For a starter I'd recommend the Palta Relleno, its an avocado stuffed with veggies and sometimes chicken and is offered on most menus.
Once you’ve picked up some good grub, you should also check out the frozen princess at the Museo Santuarios Andinos. This is a museum full of Inca artifacts and interchanges a frozen body of one of the several child sacrifices found on the volcano just outside Arequipa. Its pretty interesting and the entrance fee includes an English speaking guide. Even though seeing the frozen bodies is a bit creepy, its amazing to see how well preserved they are after hundred of years. There is also several other museums around, most city maps will have them pointed out for you.
Once your churched and museumed out make sure to hit the shops, this city is wonderful for doing your souvenir shopping they offer everything from the cheaper market garments to higher end more expensive llama jumpers and scarfs. The old city centre around the Plaza de Armas is where you will find everything you are looking for, you can bargain slightly in the market and street stalls but at the higher end ones there isn't any leeway.
Last but not least don’t forget the nightlife if you interested in hitting the town. The weekend is usually the best with a strip of bars and clubs going off on San Francisco street. After our Colca Canyon tour a few of us musterd up the energy to hit Deja Vu which consisted of a mix of locals and tourist partying the night away to Salsa and dance music. The downstairs can get a bit stuffy once it gets really busy but if you want fresh air and a change of music the upstairs bar is open air and had a few girls dressed as the village people pouring some sickly alcohol down your throat. Just remember that South America tends to kick off a little bit later. All in all one of my highlights in South America, nothing beats amazing company, beautiful views and hilarious drunken nights! And of course a bit of exercise to make you feel better about yourself ;-)