Arriving bright and early into Arequipa on our overnight bus, but feeling less than bright ourselves, we managed to check in early to our hostel and power napped. Feeling very slightly more human, we headed out to explore Peru’s second most populous city, known for its pretty streets and buildings made from the white volcanic rock Sillar (Sillar White, not Cilla Black). As we were staying next to the main square, which was decorated brilliantly for christmas, we headed there first to look at the famous white stone Cathedral. From here, we mosied around the pretty streets, lined with shops selling insanely expensive clothing from Alpaca and Vicuna wool, before seeking out what we were looking for. A shop doing delicious cakes and coffee. However, our main reason to visit Arequipa was to trek the Colca Canyon, which we had heard great things about from other travellers. Not wanting to waste any of our precious time we set out to gain advice from the information centres as how best to travel to and from the canyon, how many days to spend there and where to stay. With the information we needed but didn’t necessarily want (as we were told the bus leaves at 3:30am!), it was time to pack our bags and get another early night, but not before we sampled the very cultural food known as McDonalds.
The 6 hour bus journey to the canyon was very beautiful with landscapes of desert, rolling mountains, deep canyons and volcanoes. Looking out of the window we felt slightly concerned when one of the volcanoes had an enormous white mushroom cloud of steam climbing into the sky which hadn’t been there before our comfort break. We glanced around to see other locals also looking, none of whom seemed in the slightest concerned, and so we pretended not to be either.
The colca canyon is the second deepest in the world, its neighbour being the deepest but largely inaccessible, meaning at the start point we were left daunted peering down into the depths and tracing our path winding down becoming smaller and smaller. The scale of this place was difficult to take in and impossible to capture as an image, the bottom of the canyon looking literally miles away and lined by Andean mountains reaching over 6000m tall. A beautiful rocky trail led us down into the canyon, with a significant drop on one side giving us brilliant views throughout our descent, before we crossed the river running along the floor and took our first rest. After lunch, and now on the opposite side of the canyon, the scenery was surprisingly different, moving from enormous rock faces and cliffs to small windy tracks passing through green farm land with complex waterways quenching the crops. This section took some work, as being at high altitude made climbing some way up from the canyon floor much tougher, and we were grateful to see the final section of our 8 hour walk was downhill. Looking down the final stretch, we could see the oasis village of Sangalle where we would be spending the night, an area of lush green nestled in an otherwise fairly barren and cactus lined rocky section. From some way above, you could track where the water must flow in small channels, highlighted by greenery. We had nowhere booked to stay for the night and had gambled on finding somewhere to stay. On entering the village, the first place we walked through had diverted some of the natural spring water into a swimming pool, with people sitting around the edge drinking cold beers. We went no further. A basic room, including dinner that night, deep down in the canyon with the sound of the river roaring past set us back less than £20 and we were soon the ones smuggly sipping cold beers in the pool as weary dusty travellers trudged in up the steps. We ate dinner before heading to our basic room, which was effectively a long shed with a tin roof, walls from nearly floor to somewhere close to the ceiling separating the rooms, no lock on the door, no electric after 10pm and hard beds. However, the sky was full of stars, a few fireflies darted around and you could hear the constant rush of the river below, so it seemed more than a fair trade.
The second day of our hiking route required us to climb from the canyon floor back up and out to the town from where we could catch the return bus to Arequipa. This meant over 3,500ft of climbing up a steep rocky path whilst at altitude, which we were warned was very tough and should take 3 – 4 hours. Aiming for an 11 O’clock bus we allowed 4.5 hours and so set of at 06:30. Thankfully it was fairly cool as the sun hadn’t yet managed to creep over the edge and down into the canyon, but Emma waking with a migraine in the night meant we took it easy, knowing we had a back up bus at 13:00. Climbing up, enjoying the views, we had a pleasant surprise when we reached the top after just over 2 hours and managed to catch a bus at 09:15, which we hadn’t known about, and meant we could make an early start for the journey back. Colca canyon was another beautiful and fantastic landscape on our journey, and well worth the effort of making our way there.
Having earnt the right to refuel properly, back in Arequipa, we returned to our favourite pasta restaurant and cake maker for a good feed. As a city, the people were in the full flow of Christmas spirit, with a huge tree, lights display and variety performance on stage in the main square helping us to feel a little more festive. Our final day we strolled around the pretty streets again, enjoyed a local market, before writing one of our earlier blogs and waiting for another nightbus to make our way north. Alexz’s personal highlight of the day, was witnessing their garbage disposal system, which consisted of a big green bin lorry driving around and blasting the theme tune to the little mermaid (under da sea) on repeat! This way, people knew to stop what they were doing and run into the street with their rubbish, and tip it into the back of the lorry themselves! And this is the second largest city of Peru!
Because we walked up over 3,500ft in just 3 miles, it made us sing this…