Colca Canyon and the white city of Arequipa

After fully enjoying Cuzco and its surroundings, we headed south to Arequipa. Eduardo, from Couchsurfing, would be our host for a couple of days.

Most of the buildings in this city were constructed using a material called Sillar. This is a white volcanic stone, and the result of this is a really amazing white color that floods the city streets and makes it all look truly beautiful. That’s the reason why Arequipa is known as the white city.

We had in mind a couple of things when it comes to our to do list in Arequipa. The first one was just to enjoy the city, take the free walking tour and discover more about this beautiful place. The second idea was a visit to the Colca canyon, where you can see condors.

The free walking tour is really recommended, we definitely enjoyed it. Now when you speak about the people in Arequipa to other Peruvians, well there’s a bit of bad blood in there. The rest of the country think people in Arequipa think they are better than the rest of the country. Many people in Arequipa do think this should be the country’s capital. There’s quite a conflict between this city and Lima, which during the previous century lead Arequipa to design its own passports and even its own currency.

Probably the most famous spot to walk around would be the Santa Catalina monastery. I’m not big in paying even a dime to enter any religious building and Kasia didn’t feel like it either so we skipped that one. This was by far not an impediment to fully enjoy Arequipa and its white white streets.

There’s a place called Mundo Alpaca, where you can see these animals and learn a bit more about the usage of their fur. It’s OK but nothing amazing. The animals are locked in a pretty small spot, so you won’t enjoy it much if you are not a big fan of zoos.

When it comes to food, Arequipa has quite some amazing treats to offer. A typical plate of the are is called Rocoto relleno, which is a stuffed spicy pepper. If you’re in for a cold one, don’t miss the iced cheese, a sort of ice-cream made of milk and sugar. If you tried the Spanish ”leche merengada”, well it tastes just like it. Finally, there’s a typical soup called chupe the camarones, which is filled with shrimps. You can find all these and more in the local market, a place really worth paying a visit to.

So after the visit around the city, it was time to go to Colca canyon. Initially we were going to do the trekking on our own, but after checking at the tourist info we soon realized the price difference between taking a tour and doing it on our own was not much, and with the tour it was way easier to move around to visit all the main spots. So we took the tour, can’t remember for how much, but we were happy with how it all looked at the agency.

The first stop of the tour is at the Condor’s cross, a place where you can see these magic creatures flying around in a mind-blowing landscape.

The whole scenery is just impressive, we were able not just to see them flying on the distance, but watching them standing really close from us and flying few meters above our heads. The condors are around 1.60 meters tall and when they open their wings, it’s about 3 meters wide the whole thing, so yep, they are pretty damn big. A curious fact about these animals is that they can live for more than 70 years, and during that time they’ll have only one couple.

We spent quite some time just admiring these birds and the views we had before us. At this point of the tour we were already fully convinced this was absolutely worth it.

After such views we headed to the city where we’d have breakfast before starting the trek. Very basic but it did the deed.

The first day the path goes down-hill for almost all of the way. We stopped for lunch and only after this point the path went up a bit, only to go down once again to the very bottom of the valley. If you are a prickly pear fan make sure to take with you a knife, and something to grab them while peeling out the spikes, cause there are sooooo many cactus on the way with plenty of this delicious fruit! Really delicious.

The place we’d sleep was actually really damn nice, we didn’t expect that. We had our own room, shared bathroom, and a pretty cool swimming pool. Yes, when we arrived was not boiling hot but we still did enjoy a bath. Some people take a two or three nights tour to fully enjoy the valley and I guess then the swimming pool comes more in handy. We took only one night, and it was more than enough for us.

Our group had by far the worst guide there was, not just in the valley that day, but probably the worst in all damn Peru. He basically didn’t give a shit. When it was dinner time, our group sat in some table, a random one. All other guides where in the kitchen already preparing everything for their groups. One of them came and kicked us out from that table, apparently our group had some other table, nobody knew which one. We sat somewhere else and watched how the rest of the people started eating, and kind of finished, while we had to almost beg to other guides to get dinner. Finally our hero appeared. He gave us some plates and we passed them down the table. Turns out the plates ended up in front of 4 guys who were not part of our group, they had paid for dinner too, but our guide started barking on us how did we give these fellas food. We didn’t believe it so I just had to tell the guy, this is not happening, you arrive 30 minutes late to dinner, we are watching people eat not knowing what to do and the first thing we hear from you instead of ”I’m sorry” is some screaming? No freaking way. The guy left and he came back later to apologize.

After dinner he stressed out to the group the importance to wake up at 4 am the next morning and be ready cause who ever wasn’t would be left behind. Well guess who we had to wait for. Oh yep, he was almost 15 minutes late. Lovely guide.

All the path we did going down the previous day, well, it was time to make it back up this morning. When looking up it’s quite something. It’s not incredibly steep all the way, but it sure was tiring. I think it took us 3 hours to get up to the top. Once there we went to have breakfast before getting in the van.

There was another stop programmed in some natural hot springs. Now if the temperature wouldn’t have been boiling plus one, we might have considered going. But we just didn’t feel like getting inside a hot bath when we were already sweating by seating in the shadow. So we waited for the part of the group that did want to do this.

The last stop would be to observe the natural reserve where thousands of lamas and alpacas live. Before getting there though, we were pretty damn lucky that some vicuñas crossed the road in front of us. These are the hardest ones to see, apparently. Their fur is also the most expensive, and I mean really crazy expensive. Luckily for us we got to take a good look at them, truly beautiful creatures.

The vast dimensions of the natural reserve are pretty incredible. You can see so many of these funny animals, plus we also got to spot some flamingos. Despite the guide and the van driver who seemed to desperately try to kill us all at every turn, we had a really nice couple of days. Don’t miss the Canyon if you are in Arequipa!

Next stop, Puno.

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