The Colca Canyon in southern Peru – the second deepest in the world – is three hours from Arequipa by bus, meaning we had to wake up at 2:30am in order to arrive at sunrise with our tour group. A bumpy journey and some local breakfast later, we were greeted with breathtaking views from 5,000 metres up at the beginning of the Canyon.
It was well below freezing and a blustery wind battered our stiff, sleepy bodies as we stumbled around looking at the magnificent snowy mountains before us. We hadn’t expected such cold; before long we were adding extra layers back in the van.
A short time later we had descended 1,000m or so and the temperature increased drastically (thank God). We stopped to photograph soaring condors and admire the incredible Andes, and the Canyon itself really is unmissable. Wrinkled green mountains poke high into thin blue air while the Colca River cascades, brown, through the the v-shaped valleys far below. It’s so spectacular you feel giddy. We were very lucky with the weather – we’d heard reports of mist obscuring the sights and of heavy rain blocking paths. Yet our first day was divinely sunny, warm for the most part and exceptionally clear.
We hiked a good 12km across six and a half hours, stopping for a simple lunch organised by the guide and included in our price ($45). Most of it was a knee-jarringly steep downhill trek, with sections of tricky uphill and more relieving flat. We passed through little hamlets of just 40 or so people, looked in on pig and guinea pig pens, and enjoyed the vast scenery ahead. It wasn’t an easy trek, but it was beautiful. As usual in these environments, I felt a certain peace settle over me as soon as I took my first step down into the Canyon.
After an incredibly steep descent, we arrived at our log cabins deep in a valley and had spaghetti and soup for dinner, just as it began to pour with rain. We were in bed by 9 and up again at 4:30!
The second day was shorter, but began with an intensely difficult hike up a steeply-inclined stone track for about three hours. We ascended through the Canyon from 2,100m to 3,300m up the winding path, using our torches to guide us before the sun came up.
When we eventually reached the top we were close to collapse, so we celebrated with a delicious breakfast in a nearby village.
Once recovered, we headed off to a little market and met a pet alpaca named Monica as well as what looked like a domesticated hawk.