From Bolivia to Chile
Everything was already packed and ready for our journey to Chile. Jana (Czech) had spent almost those four long days in bed since the day of our arrival to the Bolivian capital city. We never knew what the cause of her health conditions was. It probably was the altitude or something she just ate on our way from Lago Titicaca to Bolivia. The truth is... she wasn't feeling good at all, but she felt great as soon as we both got to Chile.
It was time for us to leave Bolivia, but I didn't want to leave without trying to climb at least one peak. That's how I encountered myself in this situation, hoping Jana could wait for me at the hostel we were staying at in order to travel together to Chile.
It was 11:15 am when I finally got back to the hostel. Everything was packed already, including my belongings. I couldn't even take a shower.. we grabbed our things and we were on our way to Chile. Anyway, I felt so happy to continue on our long journey through South America.
The bus took us through Parque Nacional Lauca (Chile), it was a complete different world for us. We could see the twin volcanoes from our window, Cerro Parinacota (6,630 m / 21,746 ft) and Pomerape (6,342 m / 20,802 ft). They look impressive!
Finally we got to Arica at 9:00 pm. We took a taxi and got a room in a nice downtown's hotel with air conditioner and cold fresh water. We had a relaxing night.
We spent an extra day in the beach, relaxing, tanning and hanging out in the city at night. One of the highlights of the trip was walking up to El Morro. A steep hill with a great view of the city, the ocean and the Atacama Desert to the south (I visited this place again in February 2009 on my way to Aconcagua, Argentina).
It was sad to leave this relaxing place behind, but our trip had to go on. Jana and I left Arica the next morning, crossed the Chilean – Peruvian border and got to Tacna. Once there we switched to another bus to Arequipa. Our bus broke down an hour after departing. We had to wait for another bus to take us to Arequipa.. five long hours through the desert, standing in a bus completely crowded!. (Two years later I took another bus of the same company “Flores”, it broke down again on the way from Desaguadero to Arequipa). I had Iron Maiden's lyrics in my mind by then, Déjà Vu.. I feel like I've been there before.. what a coincidence!
Land of active volcanoes and World's deepest canyonsArequipa
(2,380 m / 7,740 ft)
We got to Arequipa at 10:00 pm, known as the “white city” for the distinctive volcanic stonework of its colonial churches, convents and mansions built throughout the city. The view of El Misti (5,822 m / 19,101 ft) is impressive from the plaza de Armas.
Regardless of being the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa seemed to be pretty safe. We were worried about getting there at night and to have to deal with thieves and robbers, but we felt safe walking by the streets at night, carrying our huge backpacks looking for a place to spend the night at.
Jana and I got a room in an old hotel in downtown Arequipa. We didn't have any idea where we were at, but it was great to get up in the morning and to see Plaza de Armas with Volcán Misti (5,822 m / 19,096 ft) in the background from the hotel's terrace.
Chivay - Cabanaconde
We had a light breakfast in a restaurant near Plaza de Armas, then went back to the hotel, grabbed part of our stuff and took a taxi to the Terrapuerto (bus terminal). Our plan was to take a bus to Cañon del Colca, where the Andean Condor can be seen gliding effortlessly on thermal air currents through the deep canyon.
Jana and I left Arequipa at 9:00 am. It was an endless 3 hour-bus-ride through the bleak altiplano, a high Andean plateau at 4,800 m (15,744 ft). The view was impressive, especially when the bus made its way through Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca where we could see hundreds of vicuñas, the endangered wild cousins of llamas and alpacas.
We got to Chivay three hours later, a town used as a transit hub for commuters and travelers to remote places in the Peruvian Andes. We got off the bus and took a short walk around the bus terminal in order to stretch our numbed legs. Then we headed back to the bus terminal and waited for our next bus to Cabanaconde. We bought some coffee and bread in the terminal. The café's attendant girl was so funy and friendly, and we couldn't stop laughing with her.
It was time for us to go. The next bus arrived to the terminal very crowded. There was no room for us in the bus, but we managed to find a seat near the driver, a good view from the windshield. Just when we were about to leave from the station, a quasi-official ticket vendor boarded the bus and forced us to buy a “boleto turistico” (tourist ticket, USD. 7.00). She said it'll cover the entrance fees to all of the canyon's points of interest.
The view from the bus was spectacular and breathtaking. Eventually the bus passed by “Cruz del Condor”, but it was too late for a stop at the pass. We got to Cabanaconde two and a half hours later. By that time we got a more comfortable seat in the back of the bus. It was hard to stop admiring the fine art knitted on the local's garments, especially of the cabanas and collaguas people.
We arrived to Cabanaconde at 7:30 pm and found a small room in a nice inexpensive hotel near Plaza de Armas. After checking our e.mails out in an internet café, Jana and I went out for a walk in the town, but not for too long 'cause we were feeling totally exhausted by th end of the day.
Cruz del CondorNext morning after breakfast, Jana and I took the 9 o'clock bus to Mirador Cruz del Condor along with a group of cabanas women. We got off the bus in Mirador Cruz del Condor. The site started to get crowded little by little, and in less than an hour buses and vans full of tourist started to arrive.
We were at the highest point of the Colca Canyon (1,200 m / 3,936 ft), which is more than twice deeper the Grand Canyon in the USA. We could see the Colca River, a very thin line at the bottom of the canyon as well as the snowcapped Volcán Ampato (6,288 m / 20,630 ft) to the southeast.
Jana and I hung out at the canyon's rim for about one hour when all of a sudden an enormous Andean condor cut through the air followed by a fine whistle, the sound of freedom. We couldn't believe it. I never imagined in my life I'd be able to see an Andean condor flying free at very close range. I felt the same emotion as when I top out a mountain. It was one of the best moments in my life, an unforgettable moment.
The condor flew over and over very close to us. I thought I'd be able to touch his wing tips and to fly free along with him. It wasn't hard to dream awake at all in those moments. We could hear the sound of his wings cutting the air every time he approached to us. His flight was so elegant, beautiful and smooth.. We were amazed!
More condors came to join him on his flight, smaller ones. We hung out there until noon, it was hard to leave. We took a bus back to Cabanaconde and started hiking down to Sangalle (The Oasis) located at the canyon's floor as soon as we arrived to the town. We hiked for an hour but we had to turn back to the town, it was time for us to leave.
Jana and I took an afternoon bus to Arequipa. The high road was fully covered by snow on our way back. We got to Arequipa after six hours, very exhausted but happy and grateful of being part of such an amazing experience.
Some InformationAccess: From Arequipa (about 5 - 6 hours by bus or van). Tours can be arranged in Arequipa as well.
Attractions: The main activity in the Colca Canyon is to see the condors soar gracefully on the rising thermals occurring as the air warms. It is recommendable being at the mirador early to see the condors in flight. Condors hunt in the morning or late afternoon so this is the best time to have a few shots of them.
Depth: The depth of the canyon is 1,200 m/3,960 ft measured from the rim to the canyon's floor.