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Peru- Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Nasca and Lima

semi-overcast 18 °C

After recovering from our Inca Trail in Cusco for a day, we headed to Arequipa on an overnight bus. We had originally planned to head straight out on a day tour for Colca Canyon, but decided that was pushing it a little bit.
Arequipa was a nice town, the second biggest after Lima, with a load of white stone colonial buildings. We spent the day wandering around and exploring, there were a fair few churches, but we didn’t really venture into any. We decided not to do an organized tour to Colca, as a lot of them seemed to involve a lot of bussing and not a lot of walking (unless you got on a tour starting at 3am).

Arequipa main square - colonial buildings and thousands of taxis

Arequipa main square - colonial buildings and thousands of taxis

Arequipa town centre

Arequipa town centre

So we set off the next day on the public bus, which was interesting, the first hour or so involved guys walking up and down the bus trying to sell things, at first we weren’t sure what was going on… a guy gave out a handful for sweets to everyone and then came around asking for money for them! The second one seemed to be selling some kind of tea with great medicinal powers. The bus journey took a lot longer than we thought and after 4 hours we reached Chivay, the main touristy town of the canyon, the views were great, but the journey seemed to go on and on. We had decided not to stay in Chivay and stayed on the bus for the next 76km to Cabanaconde, a smaller village in the middle of the canyon. The previous bus to arrive in Chivay, terminated there so about 50 people tried to cram onto our bus. Sarah had made the mistake of trying to nip to the toilet and had to battle her way back on board, it was a little easier as she was about 6 inches taller than most of the people.

Chivay

Chivay

So we set off on the last part of the journey to Cabanaconde (76km) on the bumpiest, slowest road, ever. It took 2 ½ hours, stopping at each little town along the way. Painful. We even had a guy on the bus trying to get everyone to stay at his hostel, seemingly he rides the bus everyday to get clients. Annoying.

We had booked to stay at a great little family-run hostel, Pachamama, where the son spoke perfect English (handy) and his mum did all the cooking (tasty)! He was really helpful about routes to take through the Canyon for the next day, although we told him we wanted to do a big walk, he was a little worried about our plan. Oh well.

Cabanaconde village square

Cabanaconde village square

After a great dinner of wood-fired pizza and a hearty breakfast of crepes, we set off for our trek at 6.30am. We walked out of town for about 15 minutes to the viewpoint, which was pretty spectacular. The Canyon is deeper than the Grand Canyon, and as we had arrived at night it was cool to see it in the daylight. The path (yet again un-signposted) was supposed to start at the viewpoint, so we set off down in the canyon on the small path leading from the centre of the viewpoint. After about 30 minutes of scrambling across the canyon, the path really started to get very small, and after about 45 minutes we decided to turn back… a long way up the canyon, we think we must have walk about 1/3 of the way down the canyon. Back at the top we decided to follow the path all the way along the viewpoint and after about 5 minutes could see the metre-wide path winding its way slowly down through the canyon.

Heading down the path that wasn't

Heading down the path that wasn't

It was now 8.20am and we were about 1.5 hours behind schedule, with 9 hours of walking ahead of us! We decided we would keep going and just not take very long breaks. The walk down to the first town involved walking down 1200m in altitude, crossing the river at the bottom and then up 200m (altitude) to San Juan de Chuccho. The map we had said 3.5 hours, we walked non-stop and did it in about 2.5 hours. The walk down was nice, but it was good to reach the bottom and then the sleepy town on San Juan. We didn’t see many people and in fact only passed 2 men and a donkey coming the other way. There wasn’t much action in San Juan, just one man and his sheep, but there were a few hostels and campsites, so it is obviously used a bit.

Making our way down from the top

Making our way down from the top

Going down, way down

Going down, way down

Looking down to the bridge over to San Juan

Looking down to the bridge over to San Juan

We wiggled our way from San Juan in the vague direction (we thought) of the next village, Coshnirwa. Again, no signs and only a hand-drawn map to follow. After going the wrong way for 20 minutes and getting corrected by a guy, we were back on track and crossed a little tributary of the main river and then walked solidly uphill for about 30 minutes, it was also boiling hot! The next 2 villages were dead, we didn’t see anyone and the places looked abandoned, the only sign of life were the beer bottle tops strewn across the main square in Malata.

Malata and Cosnirhua aross the canyon and 200m above the river

Malata and Cosnirhua aross the canyon and 200m above the river

We started to get a little worried about the lack of people and shops as we had pretty much drunk our 2 litres of water each, but just at the end of the village we found a hostel with a little shop (still no people!), but it did have an Inca Museum, but we made our apologies (no time on our busy schedule for museum visiting!) and moved on.
We headed downhill to the ’oasis’ past some farming terraces and a long winding path to the bottom of the Canyon and the river again. The Oasis is an area of greenery and palm trees with a few swimming pools and hostels set up purely for tourists. We headed for one of the set-ups with a restaurant and really looked forward to a swim and some lunch. We had covered what was supposed to take 7 hours in 5 ½ hours (even bumped into 2 girls who said it had taken them 10 hours the day before! Oh dear!).

Rough Colca River near the oasis

Rough Colca River near the oasis

Oasis

Oasis

Looking down on the oasis and the zig zag up the other side

Looking down on the oasis and the zig zag up the other side

After some confusion (as to where our guide was) we managed to get some lunch and have a swim, we lounged around for an 1 ½ hours and then set off UP! It was a horrible thought that we had 3 hours of uphill (1200m altitude) - yuk! We marched on up and settled into 20 minutes walking, 3 minutes resting, passing a few tour groups on the way, some of them really struggling. The walk took us 2 hours and then frustratingly the path from the top of the canyon into Cabanaconde wasn’t marked (again) and we ended up clambering over some farming terraces and getting annoyed with each other! But we finally made it back to the village and our hostel… much to the surprise of our landlord! We left the hostel at 6.30am and returned by 5.30pm - not a bad day’s walking!

Great rock formation, on the way up Colca Canyon

Great rock formation, on the way up Colca Canyon

Terraces that we got lost on after two hours of up

Terraces that we got lost on after two hours of up

We made it back!

We made it back!

The next day we headed off to the Cruz del Condor - which is a popular viewpoint for large condors cruising the canyon. We had to get the 6.30am public bus to the viewpoint (but had booked onto a tourist bus from there back to Arequipa, with a visit to the thermal pools and lunch). We turned up at 6.15am to the village square to get the public bus, but no bus turned up and only a truck, people started to climb onboard, so we figured no bus was coming and we hopped on too! It was hilarious, we had a 40 minute ride, standing in a crowded open-top truck, squished in with 30 other people and all their luggage.

The 'bus'

The 'bus'

The Condors were pretty amazing and we got quite a few cruising past. They were huge, but came quite close.
Condor pics.

Condor

Condor

Onboard the tourist bus, we headed back to Chivay and visited the thermal baths, which was nice on our legs after the trek of the last day and then wandered off on our own for lunch. Seth found another DVD shop and bought a few movies for $1 each. The journey back to Arequipa still seemed pretty long, especially as we were getting straight onto another night bus to Nasca that evening.

We didn’t sleep too well on this bus, as it was the only overnighter that we have caught where we weren’t getting off at the last stop, so we were worried that we would miss it!

We arrived into Nasca at 7am and were swamped by people trying to sell us ’deals’ for flights over the Nasca lines. Basically, there are a collection of ’lines’ and diagrams in the desert outside Nasca, which were drawn in the land by ancient people and the best way to see them is from the air. After a lot of messing around we got ourselves to the airport and booked onto a little 4 seater (pilot, co-pilot and us) plane. The flight was 30 minutes long and we saw all 14 of the Nasca symbols, they were cool; hummingbird, monkey, alien, shapes etc. The flight started out ok, but when we started viewing the symbols the pilot would turn the plane so much that it was nearly side-on and fly around the symbol, then turn the plane side-on for the other passenger and fly around it the other way. After a few turns Sarah started to feel a little wobbly and at the monkey (number 8) the orange juice she drank an hour before the flight came up! Not good. The flight was good and it was great to see the strange symbols… but it was nice to be back on dry land again!

Arriving in Nasca

Arriving in Nasca

Just a little plane

Just a little plane

Alien, Nasca Lines

Alien, Nasca Lines

Monkey, Nasca Lines

Monkey, Nasca Lines

Humming Bird, Nasca Lines

Humming Bird, Nasca Lines

Hands, Nasca Lines

Hands, Nasca Lines

We headed back to the bus station and managed to catch the late-running 10.30am bus to Lima. And 7 hours later we arrived in the capital, and the whole Nasca flight seemed like a little bit of a blur! Lima is a big city with 9 million living in it. We stayed in Miraflores, which is by the beach as the city centre has become a bit dangeroous. We were able to walk down to the shopping centre which overlooked the water and have a nice dinner. Ceviche is the main seafood dish, mixed seafood 'cooked' with lime juice served with a light salad, corn and sweet potato to balance the citrus... it was great. Lima has a reputation for being the gastronomic centre of South America.

Miraflores Coast, from the shopping centre

Miraflores Coast, from the shopping centre

We got on the tourist bus to check out the city and enjoyed a sunny afternoon driving around the city in a double decker, open top bus. We went past an adobe pyramid, Huallamarca, and then headed into the city centre. The buildings were a mixture of styles because of the earthquakes that have damaged the city over the years. Even buildings can have two distinct styles where sections have been rebuilt. In the square we found a Peruvian Hairless dog. They have a very high body temperature and are called 'Hotdogs'. They look a lttle like pigs due to the no hair thing.

Adobe Pyramid

Adobe Pyramid

City square, Lima

City square, Lima

Lima Town Square

Lima Town Square

Peruvian Hairless Dog, 'Hotdog'

Peruvian Hairless Dog, 'Hotdog'

We then went to a famous bar and then San Francisco Church which had amazing alfrescos and paintings dating back 100s of years. The tile work was Moorish and quite exquisite. We went into the Catacombes, which was the only place we could take a photo. When they sorted through all the bones they found over 20 000 femurs, proving over 10 000 people had been buried in it. A bit spooky.

San Francisco Crypt

San Francisco Crypt

Sarah picked out her favourite building which was Lima's first apartment block and is now abandoned, which is a shame. The building had large chess pieces in place of gargoyles along its rooftop. As we left the city we got a view of San Cristobal mountain which has colourful houses on it and a large cross at the top. A relic of the Spanish religious influence. Although colourful the houses are the slums of the city.

The first apartment block, now empty

The first apartment block, now empty

San Cristobal

San Cristobal

After the bus we went for a walk in Miraflores to Parque del Amor. Here there was a large sculpture of a Peruvian couple in a 'Peruvian kissing embrace'. They have a competition once a year at the park to see who can hold a kiss for the longest, but you have to be in position of the sculpture. It is said that they practice long and hard.

Peruvian Kiss

Peruvian Kiss

We also went to some amazing markets in Lima which were in a big warehouse and had everything that could possibly be copied in there. From DVDs to clothing to bags to electronics. We walked around for an hour or so just looking at all the stuff.

After a good time in Miraflores we headed to a hotel close to the airport in preparation for an early flight to the Amazon. We ducked out for dinner in a bit of a dodgy area and were rewarded with a great Chifa, chinese restaurant (huge amount of Chinese people in Lima), and the best lemon meringue pie of the trip. And there has been a few tastings to compare it to.

Posted by seth_g 16:54 Archived in Peru

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Hi Seth and Sarah! I stumbled upon your blog as I was reserching about Colca Canyon, I would like to ask some questions as I am travelling at the same time this year ( April 2011), hope you can assist... I was wondering how cold was it at Pachamama home at Cabanaconde- We are doing the exact same colca trip (DIY- Go to Cabanaconde and stay at Pachamama)and as they do not provide heaters, were u cold? Also did u have trouble acclimitising to altitude from Arequipa - Cabanaconde? thanks heaps for your help!
Li Lin, jan_lilin@hotmail.com

by jan_lilin

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