Arequipa- one of those cities that was a “must-see” according to all the other travelers we met along the way. While all three of us found the city to be pleasant, we weren’t blown away by anything like we were expecting. It could be because we didn’t have too much time to spend here (only one night), as we had to make our way on to Bolivia.
We spent the day wandering around the city soaking up the atmosphere and getting a few “chores” done.
We also decided to explore the Santa Catalina Monastery, a monastery for nuns that started in 1580. We were really surprised to learn that there are still nuns living here, but the modern quarters are not open for exploration.
The monastery was actually quite large and probably one of the most photogenic places we have ever seen. We took the tour and then wandered back through to take even more pictures.
In the beginning, all the nuns were cloistered here and they couldn’t ever leave the premises. Not a bad place to spend some time, but I am sure they are happier being able to go to and fro as need be.
I am sure there are many photographers that can easily burn through a memory card or two here, so we were proud of how we were able to restrain ourselves to just 20 pictures or so.
Probably the biggest draw to Arequipa is its proximity to the Colca Canyon, “the world’s deepest canyon.” Now before you get out your rulers, there may be some tricky math involved in making that grand claim. Regardless, we knew that we wanted to check out this destination, but we didn’t have too much time to do so. Our lack of time, the insane cheapness ($20 for two days of transportation, hotel, and guide), and the simplicity (we wouldn’t have to worry about or do anything) led us to quickly signing up for a tour.
The next morning we were picked up by the van and joined 14 others in this exploration of the canyon. Within the first few hours, we were reminded why we prefer to explore things on our own. We made several stops along the way, and we were herded with the many other tourists from one place to another. At almost every stop, there were people waiting, ready and willing to sell us souvenirs, snacks, or photo ops. It got pretty old, pretty quickly, and we also always seemed to be waiting for one couple that habitually returned to the van late.
Despite the aggravation of being stuck on a tour, our guide was great and we were able to enjoy the sights along the way. We were also grateful that the meals were not included in the tour price because this gave us the opportunity to find our own (cheaper and nontouristy) places to eat.
On the way to Chivay (a town in the Colca Valley- near the canyon) we spotted an impressive variety of animals along the way. In addition to the usual llamas and alpacas (of which we now understand the difference), we saw the protected vicuñas, which kind of look like deer crossed with llamas.
Also strangely enough, we spotted flamingos again on this trip. For those of you keeping score, that means we have seen flamingos in every country we have visited so far.
Despite the annoying stops along the way, our “tea stop” had some beautiful views.
Another stop at the highest point on the tour was meant to allow us to take in the views, but the clouds and rain prevented us from seeing too much. We did have to take the picture to one again show the crazy altitudes we have been seeing on this trip. 4,910 meters (16,108 feet) is no joke.
The weather turned and we were surprised to see snow on the roads.
Once we made it to the town of Chivay, we had some time to rest and eat before going out to the hot springs. At the springs, we found a nice empty pool to enjoy relaxing in the HOT water.
The following day, we were pretty excited to get going and see the canyon, especially when we looked outside and saw clear skies and huge mountains.
We started off on our drive along the Colca Valley, which eventually would lead to the Colca Canyon and where the infamous Andean Condors often fly.
Along the way there were several seemingly obligatory stops at a few small towns and lookouts along the way. When we saw the baby alpaca (only 2 months old!) we couldn’t resist taking a few pictures.
Once the alpaca gave Teresa a kiss on the cheek (unfortunately we didn’t catch it on film), it started an avalanche of people wanting to get some alpaca love. Kristen jumped in there and got also scored a kiss from the little guy.
Sidenote: Check out the woman with the alpaca. This is how most of the women in this region dressed. The intricate embroidery was unlike anything we’d ever seen.
Ok, so the animals were cute, but the views of the valley were just as amazing.
The valley was really spectacular because the entire thing seemed to be covered in terraces.
Finally, we made it to the canyon where we enjoyed a little hike along the rim. World’s deepest or not, it was pretty impressive to behold.
We reached the “Cruz del Condor, ” the prime condor-watching spot, and we were lucky to spot a few of these huge birds, albeit from very far away. I guess it was not the prime condor watching season, so we were lucky to see anything at all.
Even though being stuck with the regimented tour program was a bit of a frustration, it is great that we got to see so much with our short time and with so few dollars.
Got to end with one more cute animal picture.
Off to Bolivia. Thanks for all the memories (and delicious food), Peru!