The next morning, a tour minibus came to our hotel to pick us up for our prearranged two-day tour of the Colca Canyon. Located about 100 miles from Arequipa, Colca Canyon is a popular tourist attraction for visitors of the colonial city. Andean condors, highland wildlife, Inca farming terraces, extinct and dormant volcanoes, mountain scenery, Quechua and Aymara cultures, and a river valley over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon has a lot to offer.
After picking up a dozen or so of fellow travelers from various hotels around Arequipa, our minibus left Arequipa and headed for the mountainous area of Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. At a midway lookout, we stopped for a short break to admire a group of vicuna under the shadow of mighty Misti Volcano. Vicuna, the national animal of Peru, is one of the two wild South American camelids and the ancient ancestor of alpacas. Wild vicuna produces some of the finest and most expensive wool in the world. The sighting of wild vicunas under the Misti officially kicked off our visit to the Peruvian highlands. Our minibus climbed up steadily from the elevation of about 2,300m to over 3,500 at a popular tourist service station at Patahuasi, where herbal tea such as coca or muna were served. Outside the service station, vendors took up a concrete lot selling all kinds of souvenirs from handicrafts to knitted garments.
After the tea and souvenir break, our minibus continued to ascend the highlands above 4000m in elevation, passing by a number of scenic highland wetlands and reaching the highest pass of Patapampa at 4900m. By then, many of us on the bus had shown symptoms of high altitude sickness, from stomachache to terrible headache. At Patapampa, there was a brief stop where we could take in the magnificent mountain views in the embrace of a number of extinct volcanoes. A few souvenir stalls and llamas stood by the lookout, awaiting for tourists like me who braved the high altitude sickness for a heroic feat of photographing ourselves of reaching a 4900m+ pass. To avoid the danger of high altitude sickness due to our rapid ascend from Arequipa to Patapampa, the 4900m stop was very brief while our movements outside the bus were kept in slow motion.
After Patapampa, our bus gradually descended to the mountain valley of Chivay at 3600m. Before reaching Chivay, we made a final stop at a lookout overlooking the valley. We walked over to the cliff edge to photograph the scenery of Chivay in a distance. Several Quechua vendors dressed in traditional clothing braved the scorching sun and fierce wind selling tourist souvenirs and traditional alpaca knitwear.
Leaving Arequipa behind, our minibus ascended to the highlands of Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve.
Much of the landscape is rough and covered by volcanic stone.
The extinct volcanoes of the area reveal an active geological past. [Scanned positive slide]
Wild vicunas roamed these lands under the shadow of Misti Volcano. [Scanned positive slide]
Patahuasi has the only service stop between Arequipa and Chivay, and is a frequent tea stop for tour groups.
Muna and colca teas are popular among tourists.
Souvenir stalls adjacent to the service station at Patahuasi, with surreal rock formations in the backdrop.
After Patahuasi, we ascended further up to the mountainous highlands.
Large area of the highlands is saturated with water. [Scanned positive slide]
These mountain wetlands are home to unique highland animals such as Andean flamingos.
While most of us were well aware of the dizziness and headache from the high altitude soon after leaving Patahuasi, our bus quietly arrived at the highest pass of our entire journey, Patapampa at 4900m above sea level.
At Patapampa, we were greeted by several souvenir vendors…
…as well as a few llamas dressed with funny looking decorations, and uncounted piles of stone cairns as roadside shrines to the Inca goddess Pachamama.
Before reaching Chivay, we stopped at a lookout where several vendors were selling souvenirs and knitwear.
From the lookout, the village of Chivay lies at the river valley further down the road. [Scanned positive slide]
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Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010
1. Peru Trip 2010
2. Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3. Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4. Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5. Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6. Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru