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!
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.
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!
The hotel grounds were perfect for an 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!
The hotels grounds are also the home of some friendly llamas and alpacas – as well as a few woolly sheep.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There are many examples of impressive terracing that have enabled cultivation in this harsh terrain.
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.
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!
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.