Ariquipa and the Cholca Canyon
29 September 2017 | Ariquipa, Peru
We got on the bus again, Cruz del Sur, for a comfortable but long ride to Ariquipa. As we left Nasca, we passed Cierro Blanco, the largest sand dune in the world. Its size is hard to believe, as high or higher than the adjacent mountains. We were told it was formed due to the swirling air currents in the mountains nearby. Amongst other things, it’s famous for sand boarding and dune buggy riding, neither of which we tried this time around. Look for pictures in the gallery.
We arrived in Arequipa at about 1:30 AM and caught a taxi to our room at the Mango Hostel. The hostels we stayed in all are like B&B’s, some with cooking privileges, but most all include breakfast. The rooms are usually fairly basic, but nice and very adequate.
The next day after breakfast, we went outside for a walk and to take a free walking tour of the city. The view was tremendous. Three volcanoes surround Ariquipa, Misti, a shield volcano reminiscent of Mona Kea in Hawaii, is a dominant presence with its symmetrical form backing up the cityscape. Also present are Chachani and Pichu Pichu. None are currently active, but Misti last erupted in the 1600’s causing devastation in the city. This area is very seismically active with regular earthquakes, the last big one in 2001, causing significant damage.
The city is a typical Spanish town, with colonial architecture and built of volcanic sillar rock, a white stone and very beautiful. The Plaza de Armas (central square) is surrounded by Spanish colonial buildings, including the impressive Cathedral de Ariquipa. It looks to be the largest in the world but closer inspection reveals that it is positioned sideways to the square and its entrance is at the end, giving the impression that it is larger than it really is. It is, however, a beautiful cathedral. There are several other museums, monasteries and public buildings we visited. One interesting feature is the old Spanish homes which have been converted into galleries and shops, but preserving the architecture of the rooms with arched ceilings and beautiful courtyards. We also saw “Juanita” the Ice Maiden. She is a 14 girl sacrificed to the mountain gods in the 1400’s and was found atop Nevado Ampato in 1995 when her tomb was exposed due to an eruption of a nearby volcano. She is in a remarkable state of preservation due to being frozen all those years.
Another great feature of Ariquipa is the gastronomical experience. The city is famous for its picanterias, restaurants that serve the local spicy food like stuffed peppers and all sorts of potato concoctions. We sampled several local restaurants, all very good. We also went to the market to check it out. It was our first foray into the fresh markets of Peru and what an experience. The produce displays were works of art. Fresh fruit of innumerable variety, olives of every description, veggies of all sorts as well as meat, fish and poultry, all in the midst of a cacophony of activity. We just sat at a fruit smoothie bar and took it all in while sipping the tasty treats. There were entire stands devoted just to potatoes, and we learned that there are over 3,000 varieties grown in Peru. The fresh flower stands were a feast for the eyes as well.
We spent several days just wandering the streets and taking in the ambiance of the place and it was thoroughly enjoyable. Then it was time to be off to the Cholca Canyon and a night in Chivay and a visit with the Andean Condors.
We hopped on another bus and traveled to Chivay in the Cholca Valley. On the way we passed over very high passes in the mountains, with stops to check out the various camelid species that live in those areas, including Vicunas, a small protected and previously endangered animal that is now, happily, making a comeback. We also saw alpacas and llamas. At the top of the pass we stopped for a view of many of the local peaks including the headwaters of the Amazon River at Mismi a high peak visible with the others. It was just under 5,000 meters above sea level, and although we had been at altitude for several days, we could really feel the shortness of breath went we attempted any exertion. We also made a stop at the Laguna de Salinas, a very high lake with a colony of flamingos in residence. From there we went down into the valley to Chivay and a visit to the hot springs for a soak before dinner and a good night’s sleep.
We were up early the next day for the ride to the Condor Cross. It is a mirador (overlook) up the valley in the Cholca Canyon. The Cholca is the second deepest canyon in the world, second to the Cotahuasi, nearby. As we went up the edge of the valley and made the transition into the canyon, the views were spectacular. Similar to the Grand Canyon, the views change as time passes and it is interesting to just sit and watch the colors change as time goes by. On top of the wonderful views of the canyon, the condors compete for attention. They begin to fly as the air heats up and rising currents lift them up out of the canyon. They are long lived and monogamous birds and are truly regal with up to 7 foot wingspans. We were very fortunate that they were flying the whole time we were at the mirador. Look for pictures of all this in the gallery.
Now it’s time to head down to Puno and Lake Titicaca.