The Colca Canyon is one of the worlds deepest canyons and with a depth of 4160 m it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States (~1800 m). It is a canyon of the Colca river and located in southern Peru. The Colca Valley is a colorful Andean valley with pre-Inca roots, and towns founded during the Spanish colonial times. Many of the local people maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces.
Again searching for a trek off the beaten track, we decided to take a private tour with PeruAdventureTours, the same agency we had done the sand boarding with. This time our guide was Guido, a Peruvian guide currently working on becoming a Peruvian mountaineer. It is interesting that the Peruvians follow the Swiss mountaineering standards and from around 150 applicants only 12 manage to become a mountaineer. We wish him good luck for all the challenges awaiting him!
After an afternoon of discussions and planing we decided to start the trek in Llahuar and then walk into the quite recently accessible side valley to Fure. From there we would hike to the waterfall “Catarata de Waruro”, try our luck on fishing some trout and then hike back to Fure. After lunch we would then hike to the oasis Sangalle. On day three climb back out of the canyon to Cabanaconde.
Since the canyon is so incredibly deep in some places, our GPS tracker had difficulties receiving enough satellite signals to position us correctly. Here the recorded interactive Google map of our Colca Canyon trek:
We got picked up by our driver Armando and Guido at 6 o’clock in the morning and started driving towards Colca Canyon. Unfortunately the cooling system of the car had some problems and every few kilometers Armando had to stop the car and refill some cooling water. Andy used these brakes for pictures from along the way:
Here you can see the town of Chivay in the background. Chivay is one of the largest towns in the Colca valley and lies upstream of the Colca Canyon:
One of the famous condors which are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere. Their wing span can reach up to 3.5 m!
A heard of sheep grazing at the side of the street:
On our way passing through Chivay, after about 3 hours of driving:
And another scene from along the road:
We took this unpaved and partly very steep road to descend down into the canyon, which took us another three hours from Chivay:
From the end of the street, we reached our starting destination Llahuar after a few minutes of walking, around noon:
Time for lunch! A delicious vegetable soup:
And a vegetarian omelette with rice:
As dessert we had a delicious pepino dulce. This was a fruit we have never even heard of before. The pepino dulce is domesticated and native of the Andes. And while it is sometimes called pepino melon or melon pear, pepinos are only very distantly related to melons and pears. Since it is quite sensitive to handling and does not travel well it can rarely be found overseas… But it is sooo delicious!
After lunch Andy had a little nap to help digest:
And here some interesting information for all women. Your red lipstick color probably comes from these bugs on the cactus. They are called cochineal and are scale insects from which the crimson colored dye carmine is derived. The farmers here purposely infect their cacti with these insects which produce carminic acid which can be up to 25 % of the dried insects weight. The collected and dried insects and their eggs are then used to extract the carmine dye, also known as cochineal. Today it is used as food coloring and for cosmetics and especially in lipstick coloring…
For one kilogram of insects the farmers get around 150 USD and some own huge plantations of cacti and have specialized on farming these insects.
In the 15th century carmine dye was used in central America for coloring fabrics and became an important export good during the colonial period. Today with health fears of artificial food additives increasing, the popularity of cochineal dyes have increased the demand and have made cultivation of the insect profitable again, with Peru being the largest exporter. Have another look at those small little guys sucking the cactus juice:
A look into the valley we were hiking into:
We followed a secret path of Guido high above the valley ground along an aqueduct the farmers use to water their crops:
Not for people scared of heights! At some points a bit scary looking up:
as well as scary looking down:
Very early construction phase for this colony:
We continued following the aqueduct:
Until we reached the bridge to cross the river flowing through the valley. Underneath the bridge was a good spot for a rest and to have a small snack.
Just letting our feet dangle over the river:
Our guide Guido. Always a smile on his face and a sure infinite source of information for anything we would ask him about Peru!
We crossed the bridge and continued our climb up to Fure:
We passed some huge algave cacti:
And followed the sparse signs:
A pear tree blossom:
And a peach fruit in the early phase:
Still heading towards Fure:
When we finally arrived these three kids came dashing against us, after finishing their washing at the creek:
Hmmm! Our dinner!
Unfortunately not. Just a pig in one of the yards. It kept making many laud oinking noises though, probably to get some attention… 🙂
Another little inhabitant of Fure:
After moving into our hostel Tini explored our bathroom, or should I say bath-place. The toilets are right behind her in that building covered with the iron sheets. Everything very simple, but it did its job!
First door to the left was our room:
The dining place. Here we had our dinner and started with a tea to warm us up:
Then came a soup made of a local flower:
And spaghetti with tomato-onion sauce:
Our room for the night. Even though it was not isolated well, we had plenty of covers to keep us nice and warm:
One of Tinis favorite: Pancake breakfast!
And coca tea:
We started early and headed off to the waterfall. On our way we met these two early birds still looking a bit sleepy as well!
A dog on patrol, giving us some heavy barking to protect his owners property:
Slowly the sun started to rise and dip the canyon into its bright light:
And some flowers from along the way to the waterfall:
A look back at Fure. It really is a very small village:
Some more plants:
And here a brave one fighting it’s way through the dry and stony earth:
After a little more than an hour we finally got to see the waterfall:
According to Guido the bottom part in which the water falls down in free fall is more than 100 m high:
And more flowers we have never seen before:
Here you can see how the water dug its way through the rock and falls freely the last 100 m,
before it hits the rock on the bottom.
The flowers growing in this moist atmosphere are just amazing:
After exploring the waterfall for some time the sun had climbed high enough to also reach the waterfall with its bright ray, while the bottom of the valley still remained in the shade:
We started heading to the place for fishing the trout. However the place seemed pretty overgrown so we had to fight our way through the dry brush:
Finally we made it to the first spot, and while Andy tried his luck:
Tini relaxed in the sun:
Eventually we changed to a second spot and hoped for more luck:
And again Tini found a nice spot in the sun:
After many attempts and having spent enough time at the river we gave up and started heading back to Fure. It was a little disappointing not having caught anything, but the experience was still very much worthwhile!
Two more looks back at the waterfall:
And off we went back towards Fure:
However not without taking pictures of the all the flowers we passed:
Almost back on track towards Fure:
And here the view from the toilet in Fure! Not many toilets can compete with this view:
Here the owner of our hostel in her kitchen. She said she was a little embarrassed because it was not cleaned up, but who’s “kitchen in work” is always cleaned up?
Amazing how she manages to prepare all the food on this stove she fires only with wood and kitchen scraps:
Shame on us for not taking any pictures of lunch! We had a noodle soup and fried trout with rice for lunch (despite us not catching any…). The prices for all services in Fure are easy to remember. A bed for a night: 10 Soles (~3 USD). A lunch for a person: 10 Soles. A 2.5 liter bottle of water: 10 Soles.
After lunch we started heading towards the oasis. Here two more beautiful blossoms from a cactus:
and an unknown but beautiful plant:
And some more impressions of Guido, us and the plants from along the way:
At this shady place we had another short brake to drink and eat some of our small snacks and gather enough energy for the last part of this days hike, the descent to the oasis:
The green part on the bottom left of this picture is the oasis. From there you can see a zig-zag path heading up the canyon on the opposite side:
Here a zoomed in part of the path we would be climbing the next day:
Another look over the valley with the oasis in the bottom:
You can see the place we stayed in, with the big blue pool:
And once again some rocks from along the way:
and some more fauna:
Tini and Guido are standing in front of a pepper tree. So that’s where pepper comes from!
If you look carefully you can see the pepper beads on the branch:
One of those earlier mentioned cactus plantations for farming the cochineal insects:
Heading down the canyon towards our oasis:
Finally we reached the bottom of the canyon and crossed the bridge:
Here a very special flower that only openes its blossom in the evenings and nights:
This one almost looks like a chestnut:
After washing off the sweat and sand in the pool which is fed by a thermal spring and refilled every day, we enjoyed stretching out our tired legs and the one or the other pisco sour:
Then we had our dinner. You are right if you guessed we started with a vegetable soup:
And continued with some chicken, vegetables and rice:
Our very spartanic equipped hut. We didn’t need anything else that night as we slept like rocks:
To avoid the heat of the sun for the climb out of the canyon we got up at 4:30 am the next day and started the hike out of Colca Canyon at 5 am. At the beginning it was still dark, but soon the sun started to rise. It was really a great atmosphere walking into the sunrise:
Some more of the flowers we saw on the way up:
And some pictures from the hike up:
On the way from Fure we had gotten company. Without any apparent reason this dog, we gave him the name Eduardo, kept following us all the way. In the night he slept in front of our shady hut and in the morning he again kept following us. No matter what, he always stayed by our side. Sometimes he walked ahead a bit to sit and wait for us in the shade, sometimes he’d fall back and come running up hill to catch up with us again!
Our companion on the trek, Eduardo:
He sure didn’t give up and was our faithful trekking companion! Up in the village we made sure he got a little reward… 🙂
And as we were almost at the rim of the canyon we got lucky and saw 3 more condors using the thermal winds to climb high into the sky on their search for rotting carcass:
Finally in Cabanaconde we had a delicious breakfast and rested from that strenuous climb out of the canyon:
After breakfast Armando picked us up by car and we visited the famous condor viewing point. Even though we waited for at least an hour we didn’t get lucky to see any condors this time. Instead we only enjoyed the view of the canyon and chatted away with Guido:
Apart from the Nike shoes this women is wearing a traditional outfit the women in the Colca Canyon still wear to work:
And as we passed by more vista points along the canyon, Armando stopped the car often to give us the chance to view and take picture of these stunning landscapes with the terraces. They were constructed by the ancient Incas, but are still used for farming today:
In Chivay we got to eat at a restaurant with a buffet entirely filled with Peruvian specialties. The plates were much too small to try everything at once:
And after that delicious lunch we headed to the market of Chivay together with Guido who gave us explanations on almost anything we saw at the market. In order to avoid repetition we will only show you few pictures of the market here and provide many more picture and explanations in a later post on the market of Arequipa.
After this program we were ready to return back to Arequipa. We had another short stop at “Mirador de los Andes” at a height of 4910 m above sea level to gaze upon the almost moon like scenery:
And we even managed to see another one of those shy little viscachas up close:
Then Armando safely drove us back to Arequipa and dropped us off at our hostel.
All in all the Colca Canyon trek was really amazing. Seeing and experiencing how people live with only few dollars a day and at the same time enjoying a wonderful landscape was a unique experience. Unfortunately Andy had few problems with some of the food, probably because his stomach was not yet back to 100 % after Lima.
We are also glad that we chose that trek to Fure, off the beaten track. Doing this we only met very few tourists along the way, at least until we got to the oasis. And we were very lucky to have Guido as our guide who not only helped us out with Spanish, but also explained us so many details of the every-day Peruvian life. He really took great care of us. Thank you so much!