After nearly five months of traveling, I’ve got depressingly used to early starts for tours. But 3am was a new one for me, and waking up at that ungodly hour had me thinking that the Colca Canyon would have to be seriously special to justify it.
Those fears were magnified by our first stop, at a little village near the edge of the canyon where we were treated to a display of traditional dancing by local girls who could not have looked more bored, and the chance to have our photos taken with indigenous women & their cute alpacas. It was all quite a depressing spectacle. My mood failed to lighten shortly afterwards, as our bus broke down just outside the village. As we stood in the freezing cold outside the bus while the driver changed into overalls and disappeared underneath we all began to worry the whole thing would be a write-off.
Soon enough though, our luck turned. The morning sun gradually began to warm up, and soon the bus was fixed and we were on our way again, just in time to make it to the Cruz del Condor for the finest display of wildlife I’ve seen so far on the trip. The place is so-called because it’s a nesting point for condors, and every morning as they wake up they put on the most incredible show. From a viewpoint right on the canyon rim, we got to watch a dozen or so of these magnificent birds swooping, soaring and floating on the thermals coming up from the canyon floor. The birds are absolutely enormous, and the sight of them gliding over our heads was simply breathtaking.
Aside from the condors, the other reason everyone wants to visit the Canyon is because it’s the second deepest in the world (the deepest is a mere handful of metres deeper, and is about 100km further north and much harder to get to), and the most popular visit gives you the opportunity to walk all the way down to the bottom and back up again.
The hike down was impressive enough, although I must admit that despite being deeper it didn’t look half as dramatic as the Copper Canyon in Mexico, with its vertical sides. The real challenge however, was the hike back up. After staying the night at the bottom of the canyon, we had yet another ridiculously early start (4.30am) to begin the long slog back up.
I thought after my two weeks of trekking around Huaraz would prepare me for anything – but in fact this was the single hardest ascent I’d done. The path just zigzags relentlessly up the face of what is basically a cliff, and it seems to go on forever. After an hour or so the top looked like it was just another ten minutes or so away, so I sped up wanting to get it out of the way. Big mistake – that ten minutes turned out to be another hour, by which time my legs were burning and every step got harder and harder. When I finally got the top I was ready to collapse – but luckily enough there was a little old woman waiting for me with bananas, chocolate and Coke to sell me, so I ate my way back to life.
You can see all of my photos of the Canyon here.