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jan 24 2014

Hiking Peru's Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon in Peru

Colca Canyon in Peru

(Courtesy Hannah Vickers)

This article was written by Hannah Vickers, who has lived in Lima, Peru, for a year and a half and is the editor of Peru this Week.You can read more of her work on her blog. She wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge in the Peruvian Amazon, the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in Peru.

Peru's majestic Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world. Close to the city Arequipa in the south of Peru, Colca Canyon is popular for both the massive condors that circle above and magnificent views it offers visitors. It's easy to find a tour company in the nearby city of Arequipa to take you on a hiking trip into the canyon—most will pick you up from and return you to Arequipa, and the cost often includes the rather hefty entrance fee into the canyon, meals and, if you stay overnight, accommodations. Another option is to do it on your own, which is what we did.

Buses to and from the canyon are not very frequent—we got into Arequipa mid-morning and had already missed the last bus, so we took another bus to a midway town instead, which turned out to be a much better plan. We stayed in an almost empty hotel, then wandered around the seemingly almost empty town looking for somewhere to eat and get a drink. While wandering around the town, we found a rather sinister statue of 'Juanita, the Ice Maiden,' the frozen remains of a young Inca girl who was sacrificed way-back-when and discovered in 1995 by Johan Reinhard. A larger-than-life statue of the mummy of a dead girl doesn't seem like the most apt thing to adorn your main square with, and was certainly a creepy thing to come across in the drawing dusk.  

The next morning, we got up with the dawn (somewhat reluctantly) and began the next part of our journey. We found ourselves at the mouth of the canyon, a meandering path through long grass that headed lazily downwards at a very gentle angle, and immediately inherited a dog, who stayed with us the three days we spent wandering around the canyon. We called him Bob.

The sky was pale blue and the sun was strong, making the trip down hard going—the brook we encountered at the bottom was a welcome friend. It took us all day to get to our destination, as each meter drop in height was several in zigzags. We arrived at the lonely Llahuar lodge, balanced just barely on the side of the canyon, close to the base. It was almost dark by the time we got there, and we had spent an hour or so gradually losing hope of getting there by nightfall. Detailed maps of the canyon are not easily accessed—possibly because they would discourage people from joining a tour group—and the vague lines with one or two landmarks between them were not much to go by. Eventually we found and climbed up to the lodge, and then down to the campground through the gathering dusk. The evening was beautiful and the sudden cool air was a welcome relief after a day of sweaty walking.

We camped close to the fast-flowing river with our new canine friend, Bob (who, annoyingly, didn't seem at all affected by the day's hiking). The only electrical lights were high up in the lodge. The stars above us looked like they were the only things left in the world, apart from us.

We dragged our aching bodies down one last stretch to the long-awaited thermal baths. There were three—two cooler ones and, down a ladder and right next to the river, a much hotter one. We wincingly lowered ourselves into the water, opened (with something of a flourish) the bottle of red wine we had carried with love and care all the way down the canyon, and lay back in the hot water, staring up at the unfeasibly bright stars. All that walking was suddenly very worthwhile.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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