Cruz del Condor and the Colca Canyon

Written by Nadine Zangerle on . Posted in Peru

Here we were, arriving late to Arequipa due to a manifestation in the middle of the road. After sitting tight for two hours our bus had to turn around. The information via satellite was distressing. Get out of there, too dangerous and take the longer road.

With a delay of three hours we tried to find a bus to Chivay since Michael and I really wanted to get to the Colca Canyon for some hiking. But the last bus just left at 2pm and wandering around the bus terminal we figured out that we can hop-on a microbus. Finding this microbus took us over half an hour since the locals sent us off in different directions every time when we asked for directions.

Finally sitting in the microbus we headed our way towards the massive canyon. With a depth of over 4000m it is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and you can still find the pre-Inca terraces.

In Chivay we found a nice and quiet hostel after passing several closed ones. At the street market we enjoyed cheap Alpaca heart and meat, chicken with noodles, and extraordinary Mate from fresh herbs and flowers. We treated ourselves with a nice desert - hot rice with milk and cinnamon.

The next morning our bus to Cabanaconde, our starting point, left at 11:30am so we enjoyed the three hours bus ride which was very bumpy but due to the scenery really stunning.

In Cabanaconde we prepared our 3 days, two nights trip into the canyon and packed two small bags which seemed still quite heavy. Due to the camera gear Michael had already without clothes 8 kg and with food and water I had already over 5 kg. Each of us ended up with around 10 kg on our backs and where ready to go. So we stored our big backpacks in the hostel we stayed the night before and set foot into the canyon.

Actually first we took the bus to the lookout “Cruz del Condor” to see those massive birds. Since we arrived before the hordes of day trippers from Arequipa and Chivay we had several condors gliding around. Due to the good thermic we had at least 8 huge birds, two of them just flying above our heads. They are just fascinating, birds with a wingspan of up to 3.2m!

Ready to go we shouldered our backpacks and walked down the road towards our starting point. Despite the overpriced entrance fee for the canyon we found no signs for the tracks. Euro 25 per person for a 10 days stay is quite pricy considering we are in Peru and for the Grand Canyon you pay Euro 20 for four people 7 days.

Well we wanted to see it, we wanted to experience it, we got to pay for it!

Guessing we stumbled down a side track and figured this must be the lookout San Miguel. After 1:45 hrs. we found the first sign to bring us into the canyon. To San Juan de Chuccha it took us about 2 ½ hours downhill and our muscles and knees felt a bit sore when we reached the little Pueblo, which was actually only a cluster of a few huts.

After lunch we continued through the villages of Cosñiuha and Malata and found our way down to the oasis of Sangalle. On our way we overtook four guys we had been on the bus with this morning whom had left way before us. In the oasis we found a bungalow nicely set in a lush garden and checked out the pool.

The sun had burned on us massively during the day but now was hiding already behind the canyon walls. Sizzies as we are we didn’t dip in the cold pool and chatted a bit with some other hikers. 1 ½ hours later our four acquaintances arrived at the oasis.

After dinner everyone headed into bed fairly early. Most of the hikers wanted to leave early morning – around 4:30am – to walk back to Cabanaconde. Our second day should bring us to the thermal waters of Llahuar. Following mainly the road it was a stroll in the park but for Michael’s condition, who just caught a cold, it was ideal.

In Paclla we met a German girl and a French guy half way and asked them if they come from Llahuar. When they told us they are also heading this way and just came from Cabanaconde we told them, that they must have missed the place, since we are also going this way. Well, if you can’t read the map then you will have a lot of surprises and extra miles.

In Llahuar we jumped into the thermal pools which were arranged next to the river and enjoyed a beer or two, chit-chatting with other travelers. As a result of Michaels progressing cold, our night was very short but we had a great glimpse at the starry sky. I even saw a shooting star in slow motion.

The next morning we wanted to start early since the sun was an enemy which we didn’t want to confront too long. With 35 degree and no shade it was an extra effort. Our climb up to Cabanaconde was five hours uphill, overcoming 1287m on altitude. But first we stopped at the Geyser de Paccla, three steaming geysers at the Colca River.

We had one young man in front of us – about half an hour ahead - but after a third of the trail we caught up with him. Most people do the mistake and start too fast, never finding the rhythm. Once we found our rhythm – breathing, pulse, heartbeat, muscles and mind in balance – it was like a turbo engine. Once you set your mind on it you can climb for hours.

Michael’s turbo stuttered once in a while since the cough was getting worse but we made it up fairly quick without a lot of stops. In Cabanaconde we had two hours to kill before the bus would bring us to Arequipa.

I was excited to take a shower, have some lunch and just relax before our departure. But it should come different. When we picked up our big backpacks – which we had stored at the hostel - mine was halfway soaked in water. They had a water problem and I had to unpack almost half my clothes to hang it up for drying.

The sun had blasted down during our five our trek but as soon as I hung up my stuff it started hiding behind the clouds. What a bummer! When the bus came Michael tried to arrange a seat while I was repacking my still wet clothes. Even worse was my down sleeping bag but well, on the other hand it was good that it was only my backpack since we had some electronics in Michael’s. Therefore we had a free shower, free juice and didn’t have to pay for our luggage storage.

Six hours rough and bumpy bus ride brought us finally to Arequipa where we found a nice and comfortable hostel where Michael could rest a bit.

All in all we hiked for three days, a total of 43.9 km, 4477 m on altitude and 16 hours. We felt great!

Day 1: Cruz del Condor – San Miguel – San Juan ca. 15.8 km and 1.250 m altitude down, 4 hrs. (tough) and San Juan – Cosnirhua – Malata – Sangalle 7.2 km, 360 m altitude up and 480 m altitude down, 2 hrs.

Day 2: Sangalle – Llahuar, ca.  9.9 km 480 m altitude up and 640 m altitude down, 5 hrs

Day 3: Llahuar – Cabanaconde ca. 11 km, 1267 m up 5 hrs. (very tough)

Accommodation: Hospedaje San Martin, Francisco De Zela # 119, Chivay

Price: PEN $ 35 p. room, double with shared bathroom, no wifi

Comment: the small owner appeared ghost like and made me jump a couple of times. She
                 was super nice and I could cuddle her.

Accommodation: Hostal Pastor, Cabanaconde

Price: PEN $ 35 p. room, double with own bathroom, wifi

Comment: very small room but suits the means. They have good food.

Accommodation: ask for Thomas (first hostel on the right hand side coming down from
                           Malata, Oasis Sangalle

Price: PEN $ 35 p. room, double with shared bathroom, big swimming pool

Comment: nicely arranged in lush gardens

Accommodation: Llaghuar Hostel directly (you can’t miss it)

Price: PEN $ 35 p. room, double with shared bathroom, thermal pools next to the river

Comment: great lookout from the dining room and the bungalows at the river are nicely
                 arranged. She seemed to have a monopol but we heard there must be another
                 hostel (with maybe 6 huts really amazing, but the other one doesn’t have the
                thermal pools. For sore muscles this is a must and being honest, that’s why most
               hikers go to this village.