Colca Canyon 3 day/2 night trek - near Ariquipa, Peru

At a depths ranging from 1000m to 3191m and set amongst volcanoes with heights up to 6613m, the 100km long Colca Canyon is the world's 2nd deepest canyon - the deepest being it's neighbour Cotahuasi Canyon which is about 150m deeper. So being the very fit individuals that we are (hmm, hmm) we thought a 3 day hike would be a good warm-up for the Lares trek to Machu Picchu later in the month. So it was up at 3.30am on the first day ready to be picked up at 3.45am. 3.30am for goodness sake! Anyway we had packed our rucksacks (with as little as possible as we were going to have to carry them all the way) the night before so it was just up and out. The bus turned up at 4.30am. and it was already full but in we piled in and proceeded to try to grab some much needed sleep.

All quiet (well almost) so we dozed for the next few hours until we stopped for a much needed breakfast along the way at around 4000m and zero dec C.

 

Our next stop was at the ‘cruz del condor ' where we watched several condors (the largest flying bird in the world) gliding on the thermals. I always thought of condors as being some sort of beautiful bird but in reality they are just large vultures! Quite ugly heads and necks but very graceful with wing spans of up to 3m they are really quite impressive in the air. 

        

Back in the bus for a few more miles to our starting point at 4300m ready for our 1100m descent. (just less than the height of Ben Nevis). We split into 2 groups – ours being the English speaking one with 4 Brits - Jo, Trevor, Matt and me, a young Irish couple – Sarah and Mac and Rachel – a young American. As we stood on the edge of the canyon, our guide Edgar, gave us an idea of where we would be going that day – before lunch! It seemed like an awful long way! It had started to heat up a bit too so with bottles of water and plenty of snacks at the ready, we set off……….

                                                                                                   

 

 

         Our group at the start                           Jo, Trevor and Jean                            Matt & Jean at the start

     A pit stop for a quinoa drink                          A quick rest                                   About half way down

 

 

                                                                                                                                                               

With aching legs and bruised toes, we finally arrived at our first lodging - a small family run hostel with separate huts set amongst a pretty garden and a communal dining/bar area. Our guide was also our cook but fortunately he was quite good at it so we didn't go short of food! Despite the bonfire and the good ‘crack of the Irish' we were all so exhausted that we were in bed for 9pm and had a great night's sleep!

   

                                                                                                  

You can see our path - on the photo on the top of the page, we hiked from where the small cloud is on the right to the bottom of the canyon way down below the 2 clouds on the left – right the way along the face of the canyon! It was fairly easy going to start - gradual down hill on a narrow gravel surface and very pleasant getting to know the rest of the group. However, it's not that easy to breathe at that altitude so we tired very easily. On the uphill sections I really struggled to get enough oxygen – so no chatting for me then! My knees and hips had not seen that much exercise for a good long time so were starting to complain a bit. When we had the bridge in sight (not that far to go after that Edgar told us) I started to quicken my pace – no thought for those delicate toes in the ends of my boots. It was such a relief to get to the bridge and have a sit down – get those boots off and let the feet cool down a bit. A bit of a rest then off again – only another hour or so to go…………. But it was all uphill from there on………..

                                                     

Up at 7am the next day, full of aches and pains and hardly able to walk, we attempted a few warm-up stretches, breakfasted on pancakes and jam then off on the second stretch - with a 300m uphill start - just what we needed for those aching parts!

 

After that it was flat for a while then downhill the rest of the way – we could see the oasis in the valley below but it kept, frustratingly, being the same distance away as we zig-zagged our way down. The scenery was really amazing with the canyons towering above. Trevor was struggling on the uphill sections but got into his stride on the downhill leg and pushed forward. I'm afraid my hips were complaining like mad so my progress was somewhat slower!

 

 

Another bridge at the bottom and we were almost there (again). We had lost sight of the oasis and were on the up again before we finally reached the winding track down to the lush green pasture and swimming pools! A quick change then into the pool where we all had said we would spend the rest of the afternoon but after a while it got a bit chilly so we had to resort to the bar. Everyone – except Matt – was aching and tired but he even had the energy to join in a game of volleyball! Trevor produced a bottle of ‘a little something to help ease the pain' and we were happy to lighten his load a bit. Then the talk turned to the next day and the 1100m climb – straight up – and the possibility of hiring donkeys…………Well it was all Trevor's fault – he decided he was going to hire one, then Jo capitulated, then Rachel and then Matt convinced me that I should also take a donkey because of my hips ………..so the guide called the donkey driver and we negotiated a good rate - however he did charge Trevor twice as much as he said he would have to send for a bigger donkey! Another pleasant evening and early night.

One of the children at the camp                 Very cheeky little madam!                           Matt playing volleyball

                                                                                                                 The zig-zag path up on the last day - 1100m

Up at 5am and surprisingly I felt OK and a bit miffed that I had organised to go on a donkey. But anyway it meant that I could take some of Matt's stuff from his rucksack to lighten his load. He left me with a plastic bag which I attached to my rucksack with the intention of leaving the whole lot loose for the donkey to take the weight. However when we got on the donkeys, the donkey driver (mahout?) pulled my rucksack straps tight so I was taking the weight on my back – leaving the plastic bag hanging.

                                                                                                                  

So an hour after the walkers, we set off on our donkeys…………mine decided he wanted to be at the front of the pack so in several suicide missions, he tried to overtake the donkeys in front, causing much snapping and biting (and that was just the donkeys). The mahout didn't help as he just kept throwing stones at them which just made them go faster. Jo suggested that maybe it was because the plastic bag was banging on my donkeys back that he was getting miffed so I ended up with the bag under my arm. This still didn't help and he still kept attempting the suicide mission on the narrow steep ledges – it was a bit like riding ‘the mouse' at the fair ground – heading straight for the edge then turning at the last minute! The relief of being able to get off that beast after nearly 3 hours and walk when we reached the top!

                                                                                                               

                                                                            The Hikers - Matt, Mac and Sarah            The donkey riders - Rachel, Jean, Jo and Trevor

The hikers had made it up in record time and were there before us. We had breakfast then back on the bus to the hot springs to relieve our aching limbs. Bus back to Chivay to a very nice buffet lunch.

                                                                 

                                                                Mac, Sarah, Jean, Jo, Trevor, Rachel and Matt

 

Back to flotsam................