Watching the majestic Andean condors soar over Colca Canyon was high on my list of things to do in Peru. Matter of fact, Colca Canyon is located in the Peruvian Andes which makes it extremely high in altitude. The combination of the condors being high on my list, as well as the 16,000 feet high altitude of the Andes made for an unforgettable Peruvian ‘high’.
Depending where you are in Colca Canyon/ the Andes, the altitude can reach up to 16,000 feet above sea level, and you can feel its effect on your body throughout the region. It is wise to be prepared when visiting, if you are not familiar to higher altitudes. In my travels, I have been to very high altitude locations, so I knew what to expect.
During my time in Peru, I had already been drinking coca leaf tea from the time I arrived. I still felt slight effects while in Colca Canyon, and especially when we arrived at Mira de los Andes at 16,000 feet. Due to the lack of oxygen, I was sleepy, short of breath, passing out, and had swollen lower legs; which was a lot better my friends symptoms! Do your research on what suits you herbal wise or medically when it comes to extreme altitudes- just prepare yourself.
Colca Canyon, located high in the Peruvian Andes is recognized as one of the deepest canyons in the world. The Guinness Book of Records described Colca Canyon as the world’s deepest gorge. Not many people visit the Canyon, only about 120,000 visitors annually make the trek. For those who have made it to the canyon, they all (including myself) definitely have the will to explore “off the beaten track” locations.
The Colca Valley are of pre-inca inhabitants, with two Spanish colonial towns that are currently inhabited by the people of the Collagua and Cabana cultures. We had visited the small Spanish towns, Chivay, and another village next to where the Andean Condors nest. In both towns, there were locals who sold hand crafted goods and wore colorful traditional clothing. I appreciated the shopping experience here, just knowing that I was purchasing hand made crafts and supporting the locals.
If you find yourself being one of the 120,000 visitors who come to Colca Canyon, be sure to step inside the white Colonial church in the village. It is remarkable inside and ornately displays the wealth and influence of the Spanish, who once colonized Peru.
Watching the Andean condors soar over Colca Canyon was a very special and extraordinary site. This species has been a focus of worldwide conservation efforts due to their delicate existence, and chance of extinction. These majestic creatures can live to about 70 years old and have a large wingspan of seven to nine feet. The Andean Condors are also referred to as the “Eternity Bird”, symbolizing long life and eternity.
On the last leg of our all day road trip, we found ourselves along a barren landscape with a light blanket of snow. We were at Mirador de los Andes, which was 16,000 feet above sea level, and my God did we feel it. This is where I truly felt the power of the Andes- fighting off the light headiness, walking with cankles (when the calves and ankle swell together), and feeling the bitter cold wind whip all around. It was so worth it, all of it, and just knowing I was in the Peruvian Andes. It was all worth it. Then I took a few photos to prove that I made it, and got my arse back into the bus.
The trip into the Peruvian Andes was unforgettable and definitely off the beaten track. It is one of those trips that are like a notch on your jetsetter’s travel belt. There were times of true uncomfortableness due to the harsh environment, and in hindsight it added to the greatness of the experience. Plus, I was able to stand next to a herd of adorable vicuña, whose wool is the most expensive in the world. You know that I was imagining smuggling one home for its wool- a sweater, warm scarf, wooly hat and gloves. 😉
We had taken our excursion with a small day tour group from Arequipa, who had brought us to the canyon to watch the condors fly, to a couple of villages in the area and into the Andes with a view of a herd of adorable vicuñas. There are various day tours that leave from Arequipa, and it is the most recommended way to visit the area. A trip to the Andes and Colca Canyon, makes an extraordinary addition to your Arequipa visit and will surely be memorable.
Peruvian Andes and Colca Canyon
Exploration is curiosity put into action…– Dan Walsh
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