Journey through Peru: Colca Canyon

We stayed just one night in Arequipa (make that 8 hours). It was a 8 hour bus ride from Nazca, so we didn’t get to our hotel until 1am. After just a few hours of sleep, we then grabbed breakfast and packed back up for our drive to Colca Canyon. We had hired a private tour for the canyon, so we had plenty of space to spread out in our van, which was nice. What we saw of Arequipa was beautiful.  It was just a little peak, but it’s on our list to come back to.

View from our hotel in Arequipa

View from our hotel in Arequipa

The drive into Colca Canyon was really spectacular. Once we got to the Alti Plano, we started seeing vicuña everywhere.

Vicuña

Vicuña

They’re similar to an alpaca or llama, but their wool is much finer. In fact, during the time of the Inkas, only the king and other royalty were allowed to wear clothing made of vicuña wool. Recently, the population of the vicuña fell to under 40,000, but once the species was protected the numbers started rising again.

Alpaca

Alpaca

Today there are over 180,000 vicuña in South America, most living in Peru, and about 20 percent in the neighboring country of Bolivia.

At our stop before the canyon, the kids were delighted to find a pen of animals.

Petting the lambs and llamas

Petting the lambs and llamas

In fact, Olivia so connected with them that I could barely pry her away. She sobbed as we walked to the store to get our cup of coca tea. I may or may not have told her I’d put a baby sheep on her Christmas wish list (that list is getting long…).

Watching the animals

Watching the animals

The coca tea was nice. Very earthy and reminiscent of Yerba maté.

Drinking our coca tea

Drinking our coca tea

The leaves were fresh and still had stems attached. Of course John couldn’t have any, because it’s what they make cocaine out of, but I quite enjoyed it. The altitude wasn’t seeming to bother us much, thankfully, but the tea is supposed to help with that adjustment. At this point of the drive we were over 4,000km above sea level.

High in the mountains

High in the mountains

As we continued our drive through the highlands, we saw many more herds of llama and alpaca and a few more vicuña. They were just beautiful against the snow capped volcanos, grazing peacefully in the green marshy valley.

More vicuña!

More vicuña!

At the peak of our drive we surpassed the height of Mont Blanc (4,810 m or 15,781 ft). The structures in the highlands were just amazing.

Ancient buildings

Ancient buildings

To think that some of them had been standing for hundreds of years was incredible! We started seeing waterfalls next, as we made our way down into the canyon.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

As we drove into the valley we decided that this drive beats every other place we’ve seen, which is saying a lot. It partially compares to Colorado, Utah and Yosemite National Park. But it really surpassed them all for us. It was amazingly beautiful.

The terraces were the next thing we noticed.

Terraces

Terraces

These had been built by the Inkas over 600 years ago. They’re used for farming, since much of the valley is mountainside, the terraces protect the seeds and plants from being washed down with the rain. It’s really ingenious. The farms seemed to consist mainly of sheep, llamas, cows, burrows and some chickens.

We passed more of the beautiful valley and started nearing the canyon village of Chivay (rhymes with bye-bye). Our tour guide knew of a fantastic buffet with an array of local foods. One of our favorites we ate were yummy sweet little balls made out of prickly pear. There were also delicious skewers of meat (“anticuchos” in Peru) that we later learned was alpaca meat. It was a fun part of the day, getting to sample so many local delicacies.

After lunch we walked through a day market, where the kids were the star of the show.

Posing with a local highland mamita and vicuña

Posing with a highland mamita and vicuña

I am afraid our kids may have a complex when we move back to the states. They won’t be the only little blonde kids anymore! Olivia spotted an alpaca as soon as we got there and wanted to touch it. We snapped a picture and the woman quickly asked for her two soles, as a tip.

The dress here in the highlands is very different than anywhere else we’ve been in Peru.

Traditional highland dress

Traditional highland dress

Very intricately woven materials for traditional clothing

Very intricately woven, bright materials for traditional clothing

The women wear elaborately embroidered shirts and skirts and their hats tell you where they’re from. The flat hats indicate the woman is from the valley. The boller hat is of British influence and indicates they’re from Puno.

There were a lot of children in the market and several of them wanted to play with Olivia and Cliff. One little girl, Valentina, wanted her picture with Olivia.

Olivia and Valentina

Olivia and Valentina

One family jokingly asked if we would trade Cliff for their baby. See – it’s important to understand some of the language when you travel or you may end up giving away your first born son!

In the market they sold everything from fresh alpaca meat to dried figs and habas (lima beans).

Perusing the market

Perusing the market

The market

The market

We walked to the edge of town to a bridge where we had a wonderful view of the mountainside.

Beautiful mural

Beautiful mural

Local woman by the mountainside

Local woman by the mountainside

When we arrived to our hotel we were blown away by the scenery.

The canyon

The canyon

We had decided to stay at the Aranwa Hotel Resort so we’d have a nice break in between our two weeks of trekking around. It was a great decision. The hotel was decorated with the Giant Hummingbird.

The giant hummingbird

The giant hummingbird

We kept our eyes out, and though we didn’t see one of those we saw more different kinds of birds than I can remember! We thoroughly enjoyed our time.

Snow-capped mountain

Snow-capped mountain

It wasn’t a moment too soon, either. The kids were crumbling from exhaustion and I’d had one too many nights of 4 hours of sleep.

At the (very) hot springs

At the (very) hot springs

After soaking in the springs

After soaking in the springs

We rested up, enjoyed the mineral hot springs, and had a campfire the last night as we looked at the stars and the Milky Way. The kids ran a fever the first night, but seemed to be doing better by the time we left. We’d traveled in so many buses and cars that I’m sure they just picked up a small cold or virus. The rest was just what they needed.

Enjoying dinner together

Enjoying dinner together

Olivia even got to do a private baking class where the chef helped her make butter cookies, which she thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great few days!

Rolling out cookie dough

Rolling out cookie dough

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