White stone City & Colca Canyon

Its name is Pancake Hunter.

We met this beast in one of the resorts in the Oasis of Sangalle, which is at the bottom of Colca canyon, which is one of the world’s deepest canyons, which is near Arequipa, which is a wonderful town in southern Peru.

So far we’ve traveled north from Lima up the coast to Mancora, then east over the Andes (Chachapoyas) through to the jungle (Lagunas and Iquitos), then flew back to Lima. From Lima we were able to fit in another northeast trip to Huaraz to backpack in the high Andes.

We’ve seen pretty much every climate imaginable. Dry deserts, humid jungle, sandy coastline, foggy city, high mountains. Sun. Rain. Snow. Hail. Good WIFI. Bad WIFI. Freezing cold. Melting hot. Still, there is so much left to explore in Peru, and we haven’t even gone where most tourists go, to the south, until now.

Arequipa is known for having a year-round sunny springtime climate. A proud city with beautiful white stone architecture, it is surrounded by four giant volcanos that sit on a flat base of dusty plains. The town has narrow stone streets with lots of foot traffic, and long lines of small cars. You’ll be sure to find young women in traditional dress toting baby lambs, offering a picture with them for thirty cents, and hoards of locals trying to sell you a tour of the nearby Colca canyon.

Plaza de Armas, Aqrequipa

We’re here to enjoy the city, eat good food, and explore the famous canyon on our own. To hell with tours!

Colca Canyon

The bus leaves at 3am and makes its way towards the canyon, stopping for the most tiny breakfast we’ve ever seen, followed by another stop at a vista point above the canyon where you can see the majestic Andean Condor in action.

There were a thousand people gasping at one bird.

We arrive at the trailhead at the top of the canyon and, while the rest of the passengers get organized to follow their guide for the next two days, Léa and I thank them for the ride and head off on our own. Rogue canyon punks.

It is a 1000m descent from the trailhead at the top of the canyon down to the Colca river, and the small village of San Juan. Most of the way it’s dry and desolate territory, but finally as you arrive at the river all of a sudden you are surrounded by tropical greenery. The path through the town winds through green tunnels and old stone walls, flowers and fruit trees of many types. Kind locals help us find our way. It’s a sort of paradise.

Bridge over Colca River to San Juan


Walking through San Juan

From San Juan we want to travel down the river to the oasis, but that means hiking up the other side of the canyon a bit…..well, a lot. It’s a steep climb to the other side of the canyon that leads us through two small towns. There are aqueducts everywhere bringing water from the river to the small towns. Really cool.

Finally we reach our highest point for the day, and relax with a bottle of cold water in a small store with an amazing view. The charismatic five year old son of the owner gives an excellent explanation of how to find our way to the oasis, and we heed his advice.

Suddenly the path plunges back down towards the river, with the oasis now in sight: the greens and blues look surreal, almost like a cartoon compared to the dusty and grey landscape that makes up most of the canyon.

Hiking down to Oasis Sangalle.

We arrive at the oasis to find a group of young people enjoying beers along the pool taking in the last rays of the afternoon sun, in a small resort called Eden. We enjoy each other’s company through the night, taking down several beers and sharing stories of our respective adventures. Then, we meet pancake hunter and never want to leave.

Our oasis sleeping hut

After sleeping off a late night of enjoyable conversation and kitten cuddling, we head back up a steep path to take us even further down the river, to a small village called Llahuar that is known for its hot springs.

Along the way we spot small, bright-green parrots resting on cacti. We get lost on some old trails and have to drop down a steep rock-slide. Later we are given sound advice from a local to “use our eyes” to find the trail “because that’s why we were given the gift of sight. Also, it’s day time.”

“Gracias.”

Finally we arrive at Llahuar, and have two options for accommodation: One lodge that boasts being “The only one with hot springs” and the other one. We can’t help but feel sorry for the other one, however HOT SPRINGS.

We spend the afternoon basking in the sun, listening to the roaring river, and sitting in therapeutically hot water.

That evening we enjoy a hot dinner, and meet some new companions: Christian and Jill, with a stray dog they named Scruff which had followed them on their hike.

The next morning, as we’re just about to begin climbing back up to the top of the canyon, the four of us are lucky to encounter a truck that offers to skip the 1300m ascent and just take us all the way to Arequipa – yes!

Scruff is returned to his home, and the rest of us – four sleeping lumps – are chauffeured through winding desert roads with wild vicuña and volcano scenery all the way to Arequipa.

We enjoy lunch on a roof terrace, artisan beers and good conversation, followed by an amazing dinner at a restaurant called Zig Zag which serves a variety of meats on hot volcanic stones, each with a flag that gives the name and picture of the animal you’re enjoying. A nice touch, no?

With a few hours left in Arequipa, Léa sneaks in a tour of the Santa Catalina monastery, and she is blown away. It takes up just a few city blocks, but feels like a city in itself when you explore all the hallways and rooms within.

It’s time to plan our way to Cusco: the heart of tourist Peru.

We will miss Pancake Hunter. And Scruff. And Christian and Jill.

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Categories: Posts in English

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