Colca Canyon, Peru – Casitas and Condors

Colca canyon, Peru

The final destination in our tour of Peru was the Colca Canyon – one of the world’s vastest canyons and home to the mighty condor.

Journey to the Colca Canyon

To get to the canyon, we arranged a transfer from Arequipa with our hotel.  This involved crossing the Altiplano, and reaching the highest point on our tour, at over 5000 m above sea level. Fortunately we were already acclimatized to high altitudes!

On the way to the canyon we stopped to see wild vicunas grazing, and to appreciate the fine view of Misti volcano.

Vicunas are closely related to the ubiquitous llamas and alpacas, but unlike them have not been domesticated.  They are, however, regularly rounded up and sheared, because their wool contains the rarest and most expensive natural fibre in the world!

Wild vicunas grazing in front of Misti volcano, Peru

Wild vicunas grazing in front of Misti volcano

Vicunas, Peru

Vicunas

Altiplano and Misti volcano, Peru

The Altiplano (with grazing wild vicunas) and Misti volcano

Belmond Las Casitas hotel

We had arranged to stay in another stunning, luxurious hotel – the Belmond Las Casitas, which is situated just outside the village of Yanque.

Las Casitas, Yanque, Peru

Setting of Las Casitas hotel

This beautiful hotel consists of individual casitas scattered around laid-out gardens and a central restaurant (which was excellent).

Our casita was much bigger than we expected, and beautifully furnished.  There was a hot tub outside on the terrace from where we could contemplate a view of the Milky Way that you will never see in the Northern hemisphere!

Belmond Las Casitas, Colca Canyon, Peru

Our casita

The hotel grounds were perfect for an al fresco lunch.

Las Casitas hotel grounds, Colca Canyon, Peru

The hotel’s lovely grounds

Las Casitas hotel grounds, Colca Canyon, Peru

Tables in the hotel’s grounds

Lunch at Las Casitas hotel, Colca Canyon, Peru

Al fresco lunch

The hotel arranges riding trips.  Matt and I don’t ride, but if you do, this is a great place for it!

Horses in the grounds of Las Casitas

The hotels grounds are also the home of some friendly llamas and alpacas – as well as a few woolly sheep.

Llamas at Las Casitas hotel, Colca Canyon, Peru

Llamas

Alpacas, sheep and a llama, Peru

Mixed flock!

Llama, Peru

Inquisitive llama



Walks from our Hotel

From Las Casitas, there is a rough and quite steep track down to the Colca River.  At this point the canyon is not particularly deep, so it doesnt take long to get down.

Colca river near Yanque, Peru

View of the Colca River from the hotel grounds

Colca River near Yanque, Peru

Down at the Colca River

Colca River near Yanque, Peru

For another walk it is easy to walk from the hotel to the nearby village of Yanque.  Here there is a lovely square (Plaza de Armas) with an ornate church and a coffee shop.

Exterior of the Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción de Yanque, Peru

Exterior of the Iglesia Inmaculada Concepción, Yanque

From Yanque you can continue to reach a bridge (Sifon Shininia) over a narrow gorge, and then walk in either direction as far as you wish.

Sifon Shininia bridge near Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru

Sifon Shininia bridge over the Colca River

Colca Canyon bridge 3

View of the Colca River from Sifon Shininia bridge near Yanque, Peru

View of the Colca River from the bridge

The Colca Canyon

Of course, the main reasons for coming to Yanque were to see the Colca Cayon itself, and to see the condors which famously roost here.  Las Casitas hotel arranges regular early morning tours into the canyon and to the condor viewing areas.  The drive in the minibus is quite spectacular.

If your hotel does not operate tours, Viator have a number of tours from Arequipa, including multi-day tours.



The Colca Canyon is one of those places that is just so vast that a photo cannot really convey it (at least not a photo taken with my little camera!).  It doesn’t actually look as canyon-like as, say the Grand Canyon, because it is so much wider.   But it is actually almost twice as deep.  In fact it is the second deepest canyon in the world, beaten only by the nearby (but less accessible) Cotahuasi Canyon.

Colca Canyon, Peru

View into the Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon, Peru

Edge of the canyon

There are many examples of impressive terracing that have enabled cultivation in this harsh terrain.

Terracing in the Colca Canyon, Peru

Terracing inside the canyon

Terracing in the Colca Canyon, Peru

More terracing inside the canyon

Condors!

Condors famously roost inside the canyon, in areas where they can make use of favourable thermals to get themselves airborne in the morning.  The predictable sightings make condor viewing trips very popular, and a large viewing platform has been built at Cruz del Condor.

Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru

The popular viewing area at Cruz del Condor

There was concern that disruption caused by building the viewing platform would drive the birds away, but fortunately this does not seem to have happened.

Our first view of flying condors came as somewhat of a surprise.  Because they roost down in the canyon you first see them circling below you – obvious really, but you always expect to see large birds flying above you.

Because it was gloomy inside the canyon we didn’t get any good photos of the birds down in the canyon.  The best views are when the birds reach eye-level and above.  Seeing these enormous wild birds circling so close is a very special experience.  What a contrast to the tiny hummingbirds we had been so fascinated with in the Sacred Valley!

Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru

Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru

Condors, Colca Canyon, Peru

Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru

If you are planning a tour of Peru it is definitely worth including a visit to the Colca Canyon.  To see such vast country, and to reliably see wild condors flying so close, is very special indeed.

Just make sure you become acclimatized to the altitude before you visit!

For more tips and resources when visiting Peru please see the Practicalities page.

Please remember that this post is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.

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