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A canyon like any other

The worst hike – The Colca Canyon – Andean Condor – Reward for diligence.
(Map this!)

You know that you are on the worst hike in the world when

  1. You start the off not feeling well and know that you probably shouldn’t be hiking in the first place.
  2. Your expectations of an easy hike are unfounded, the hike turns out to be a knee busting downhill schlep over a gravelly path that defies sure footing.
  3. You expect to find lunch at the halfway point and are told “No hay comida” (There’s no food).
  4. Having started the hike late, you expect to find mules for the way back but all the mules have been booked by tour groups.
  5. On the way back you develop diarrhea and realize that you have no toilet paper.
  6. Your reward for the hard hike is less than spectacular scenery and the goal is an uninspiring grassy campground with a swimming pool.
  7. You get rained on on the way back and it gets dark.
  8. Your knees have turned to jelly and you can’t negotiate the stairs to your room when you reach your hotel


Click to see video

Click to see our video of the Andean Condor

I wasn’t impressed by the Colca Canyon. Touted as deeper than the grand canyon, it is neither as impressive nor as spectacular. It isn’t even that deep. A popular hike to the bottom of the canyon is only 3,500ft. I have no idea how they measure it, maybe there’s one small area that’s really deep. Or, maybe they include the mountains surrounding the valley of Colca in their measurement.

Click to Enlarge

At the Cruz del Condor

The Colca canyon is more of a valley and it is pretty. Rustic villages surrounded by a terraced countryside make for a pleasing lansdscape. Entirely missing, however, are the steep, sheer walls that create such a visual impact at the Grand Canyon or at Zion. In contrast, the Colca Canyon is a gentle valley leading to an ordinary canyon.

The Colca is famous for sightings of the Andean condor. The condor is a huge bird, one meter tall, with a three meter wing span. The sight of this bird, with its black and white wings spread out perfectly to ride the uprising thermals, its white collared neck streched out looking for food, is a spectacular sight. Especially when seen in a flock of five to six birds, rising up in evergrowing circles, out of the highest mountains surrounding the canyon, until they are a speck against the blue skies.

Click to Enlarge

Terrace Farming

You have to be incredibly lucky to see this spectacle. More often than not you see a lone bird, rising far in the distance, and have to be satisfied that you saw a condor. Well, this is wildlife, you say. You cannot guarantee it. But without a sighting of the condors the Colca Canyon is just another pretty but uninspiring spot.

We visited the Cruz del Condor three times. Our diligence was finally rewarded when the third day dawned bright, clear and hot, and we could see about ten condors gliding close by, up, up and out of the canyon on their search for their daily bread. (On that day the condors left their nests early, however. A lot of tour groups, arriving after 8:15am, never saw even one.)

New additions to the website:
Slideshow on Manu Biosphere Reserve.
Slideshow on Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa.
Review of Garmin 60csx GPS

7 Responses to “A canyon like any other”

  1. Tom says:

    Well Neena, I must say your experience was pretty much the same as mine. We did have lunch though, and maybe you were better off without it seeing that it was a semi-rancid alpaca curry. And, it was on Thanksgiving day to rub salt into the wound.

  2. fred says:

    This sounds even worse that that disastrous hike to Thame Nepal. BTW did you hear that one of those prop planes we flew into Lukla crashed killing 18 – at Lukla?

  3. Jerzy says:

    However, the canyon was a much better place to spot the condors than the mobbed Cruzel Condor. And a real bonus came in the little dusty town on the rim, when a procession of musicians and dancers with fern leaves around their hats showed up in the street, celebrating completion of an adobe house project.

  4. suhasini taskar says:

    Neena and Shreesh,
    The video of the condor soaring in the sky is pretty amazing!! After you went through all that hardship, at least you were rewarded at the third attempt. But imagine, for those who did not plan on staying an additional day at the Colca Canyon and could not even get to see a condor? So, after all, this is pure luck. Remember, after we spent 10 days at the Manu Biosphere, we did not spot a jaguar!!.

  5. Shreesh says:

    Tom & Jerzy,

    Sounds like your experience was less than stellar as well. Hopefully you did not have that hoirrible hike in the canyon to top it off. I am just recovering from the cold I contracted by hiking around in the freezing cold.


    Normally hikes are quite pleasant and fun. I guess Aconcagua doesn’t really count – it was a climb, not a hike? We were trying to rack our brains as to really bad hikes we have taken – Thame would certainly be up there, but the views were quite nice…

  6. Lily says:

    Thank goodness you got such amazing shots of the condor! We enjoyed the pictures and video. You were probably more patient than we were during our visit. Dan and I are finally home! Lake Titicaca and the Inca Trek was absolutely wonderful! Thumbs down to the Colca Canyon portion of our trip. Would have to agree with you that the area is overrated. Congrats on making it to Chile! We’re thinking of you two!

  7. Neena says:

    Hi Lily,
    How does it feel to be back home? Glad that you had no problems on the Inca trek. We always leave Peru with fond memories. It is such a rich country!
    We are in Argentina now. We didn’t enjoy Northern Chile so much, the people were not very friendly. Its off to Brazil now!

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