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Condors, Mummies and Massage our Visit to the Colca Canyon and Arequipa, Peru

While we were traveling in Ecuador we realized that we had become experts at slow travel. We were so slow that we only had a few weeks to meet our children in Santiago which was 4,800 kilometers away, and we hadn’t visited Peru or northern Chile yet. So in our haste, we purchased five one way airline tickets which would allow us to see everything on our list in Peru and fly into Santiago on time to meet our children. Or so we thought.

I now regret our hasty sleep deprived midnight airline purchases. We naively assumed that all of Peru’s top tourism and historic sites could be visited by air. Especially Nazca, a site that can only be seen from the air, the Nazca lines. So imagine our disappointment after leaving Cusco and flying to Arequipa, Peru’s second or third largest city (depends who you ask) to find out that our six days allotted to see Colca Canyon, Huacachina and Nazca was not going to work out.

Our plan was to spend three days hiking the famous Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) famous for its abundance of Condors. We would then fly to Ica, a nearby city in southwestern Peru and visit Huacachina, a desert oasis and tiny village, famous for dune surfing and dune buggy rides, we would then drive the short distance to fly over the Nazca Lines in southern Peru, a group of pre-Columbian glyphs etched into desert sands.

To see the 300 different figures it is necessary to fly over the Nazca lines which cover over 1,000 square kilometers and is composed of over 10,000 lines, some which measure over 30 meters wide and stretch more than 9 kilometers. There are flights every thirty minutes. So an airport was involved, I’m not crazy!

Our plan was to purchase roundtrip tickets from Arequipa. To our dismay there were no flights of any kind to the region we wanted to visit, charter, commercial or otherwise. A bus was the only option. That just seemed crazy to us. Unfortunately for us we couldn’t change our flight to Santiago and we weren’t up for a ten hour bus trip to Nazca with another six hour bus ride to Lima to catch our flight.

We are now resigned to the fact that it is impossible to see everything in a country on just one visit. So, we have decided to keep a list of places in each country we plan to visit in the future.

So even though we still have over four months left on our South American journey, we already have our second itinerary for South America in the works. We will fly into Cartagena, head north to Santa Marta and the Caribbean coast. We will then fly to Medellin, Colombia visit our friends and drive down the coast’s of Ecuador, Peru and Chile…I am sure the list will grow as we still have five countries to visit.

So with the money saved from not making our Nazca flights and dune buggy rentals, and to help us get over our Nazca disappointment and our sore muscles from the Inca Trail, we decided to head to a world class spa, The Colca Canyon Lodge. To justify my spa treatments on our budget, we decided that it would also be a romantic birthday getaway for us before the kids joined us for Christmas. Ol’s birthday is December 16th and mine is the 23rd.

It did the trick. The spa is one of the most beautiful spas I have ever visited. After spending a few hours drinking Pisco sours in the volcanic geothermal hot springs, the desert oasis of Huachachina was soon forgotten. The Condor massage was amazing and our wonderful dinner and bottle wine worked its magic, who cares about some old scribbly lines in the desert!

We were so relaxed that after making new friends from North Carolina and hearing about their three day hike, we decided that we would add the hike to our list as well. We weren’t up to scrambling over and through anymore landslides. We were feeling too good!

The Colca Canyon Eco-lodge was built on pre-Columbian ruins in the bottom of a canyon and was delightful. The gardens, the natural hot springs, and our room were all amazing.

The two and a half hour drive to get there was also wonderfully relaxing, maybe because we weren’t hiking there.

We travelled through a nature reserve that protected the once endangered Vicuna, one of two South American camelids, a relative of the llama. The vicuna wool is some of the most prized and expensive in the world.

The drive took us through Peru’s avenue of volcanoes. To see thousands of alpacas, llamas and vicuna in the wild was amazing. Did I mention I had llama and alpaca views during my spa visit!

We could see up close the smoking volcanoes that we had flown over the day before. We found it difficult to breathe at the highest pass at over 6,000 meters, 19,750 feet!

The roads were like new and Ol was surprised to find out you could just drive up to that height without all the sweat and hard work of hiking! We walked around the top of the cairn covered mountain in awe.

The next morning we went to the village near the resort and watched native dancers, held hawks that are used for hunting, and visited the local colonial church (yes, that volcano is smoking!).

We then drove the short twenty minutes to the beginning of the Colca Canyon. As we drove along the canyon we stopped at various viewpoints on our way to Cruz Condor, one of the best view points for condors in the world.

Within minutes of arriving, we were treated to condors flying by as our feet dangled over the stone wall that we were sitting on. Out of nowhere, one, two, three, four condors sailed by. We were once again in awe. Ol and I had our cameras out and were surprised at the images we captured ( I can't believe I took that!).

After our Colca Canyon visit we headed back to our hotel in Arequipa. The hotel was nice enough to hold the gear that we didn’t want to take on our “hike”. We settled back in our room, caught up on CNN international and enjoyed the “white city” of Arequipa.

The colonial city’s square was enchanting as were the volcanoes that loom over the city. The cathedral on the square was stunning.

The life size Nativity scene and Christmas decorations only made me anticipate our children’s visit more. Liv and Ollie would be arriving in early December and we could hardly wait.

I made Ol snap pictures of the giant Elves hanging from the plaza’s trees. I know my nieces would love to see how much larger and sillier the Peruvian elves on the shelves are.

We also enjoyed our visit to Arequipa’s Museo Santuarios Andinos, (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) to see the 500 year old ice maiden Juanita. For us the museum was another fascinating look at Inca culture.

In 1995, the 12 year old frozen Inca girl was discovered on Mount Ampato a 20,700 foot volcano, after a nearby volcanic eruption caused the snowcap to melt. Juanita, named after the anthropologist who discovered her was an Incan sacrifice to the mountain god. She is one of the best preserved Incan mummies ever found.

Juanita, her fine clothing, pottery, and other sacrificial offerings, including other young children were on display. A film explains how the children were raised from birth to be sacrificed, the long difficult trek to the top of the mountains, and the sacrificial ceremony. It also details the treks of the anthropologist who discovered her.

By the time we left Arequipa and flew to Santiago, we were rested, relaxed and ready to spend the Christmas holidays with our babies! Oh, and the best part, Ol didn’t let me leave Peru without a few vicuna garments from Kuna for my birthday!


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