Traveling through the Andes

Picking up where I left off in my last blog, we traveled from Paracas to our next destination, Arequipa, by bus. This was the longest bit of driving on the trip, so we decided to take an overnight bus. The main bus company here is Cruz del Sur and apparently they are years ahead of bus systems in the rest of the world, almost to the point of excessive. Their buses all have two floors, you check your luggage before you get on and need a baggage ticket to claim it afterwards, they serve meals on pretty much every route, and they give you pillows and blankets. We even played a round of bingo on our route! This definitely made the trip a bit more bearable, but it was a 12 hour bus trip, so by the end we couldn’t wait to get off!

Arequipa is a pretty nice city. We didn’t spend much time there and didn’t see much of the city, but I liked the vibe a lot better than Lima. We visited the monastery of Santa Catalina, which was one of the most beautiful buildings. It had tons of indoor courtyards with lots of different trees and flowers and several outdoor streets contained within the convent, which all had individual quarters for the nuns. What made the monastery so beautiful though was the colours. The walls were all painted bright blues and reds, it just made the place seem very welcoming.

Convento de Santa Catalina

Convento de Santa Catalina

Other than the monastery, we just did a bit of exploring and shopping around the city. Peru has some of the nicest textiles! Every city we go to had loads of women selling their knitted wool garments and their textiles. I’ve already been suckered into buying a wool hat, mitts, and a warm sweater for when we go hiking, all with llamas on them!

The next part of our trip was a two day trip out to Colca Canyon and the town of Chivay. This is where we first experienced the challenges of traveling at higher altitudes. Arequipa was at an altitude of ~2300m, which is a pretty comfortable altitude. But on the drive to Chivay, we passed through altitudes up to 4900m above sea level before settling in Chivay at 3600m.

View on the way to Colca Canyon

View on the way to Colca Canyon

I’d read about altitude sickness, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I didn’t really think it would affect us that much. You can’t really feel it if you’re just sitting around, but as soon as you start to do any kind of strenuous activity (i.e. walking up a flight of stairs in this case) your lungs have to work twice as hard to get the oxygen your brain needs, so you get winded really quickly. I’ve definitely been having a bit of a hard time acclimatizing. It makes you feel like you’re really out of shape because of all the extra work your lungs have to do. Luckily we’ll have been at this altitude a week by the time we start hiking, so hopefully it will get easier!

Chivay is a pretty small town, but it is right in the middle of the most gorgeous setting! It is located in the valley, so everywhere you look, you are completely surrounded by huge mountains. On the first day, we went to a natural hot spring and had dinner in a restaurant with traditional dancers and musicians. On the second day, we drove along the valley to Colca Canyon. Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world. At the point we visited, the canyon was ~2700m deep, but at other locations, it goes as deep as 4100m.

Cruz del Condor at Colca Canyon

Cruz del Condor at Colca Canyon

The other main attraction at Colca Canyon is the condors. Condors are one of the largest birds in the world, with a wingspan between 2.5 and 3 metres. I was a little bit skeptical that we would actually see condors, but I could see them soaring overhead before we’d even gotten off the bus! They are very large and it’s impossible to miss them, they would soar right over us and I got some great pictures. I think the constant presence of condors is partly due to the fact that the national park uses money from entrance fees to make sure there’s always a dead cow or two in the area (condors are vultures). We spent the morning walking along the side of the canyon, from viewpoint to viewpoint. I don’t think I ever actually got a glimpse of the bottom of the canyon though, it was very deep.

The majestic Condor

The majestic Condor

Overall, the canyon was my favourite part of the trip thus far (in the first week anyways). It had some of the most amazing vistas and the people there were very friendly. Instead of returning to Arequipa, we decided to take a bus transfer to Puno, which is located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the next portion of our trip. I’ll fill you in on our time there in my next entry!



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