We really felt the immense size of South America when we got to Peru, where driving from one region to the next took DAYS rather than HOURS. The redeeming factor was the scenery. Outside the major cities, sights were often stunning, like on the two-day drive from Cusco to Arequipa.
And when we really got lucky, a search for an overnight spot could turn into a surprise visit to a little known pre-Inca archeological site called Kanamarca, where the entrance was free and the guard so graciously allowed us to stay in the parking lot for the night. We were the only ones roaming these ruins after the guards put up the rope already. After leaving Cusco without seeing Machu Picchu, I guess this was our little consolation.
We had very little expectation of the Colca Canyon. It was on our our way south to Chile so we figured it was worth a stop. It turned out to be quite fascinating. Along the canyon were miles of agricultural terraces built hundreds of years ago and still utilized today.
Peru is full of Inca terraces but at Colca Canyon, the view stretched for long miles and reached up hundreds of feet from the riverbed. The sight left us in awe of the immense undertaking that took place. As hopeful future farmers, the ecological wisdom of it all, and the skill and persistence involved to hand-shape these mile-long land contours by dry-stacking hundreds of thousands of rocks simply amazed us. It was a worthy sight in its own right, different from the others from the Scared Valley.
Colca Canyon gets the short end of the stick when it comes to Peru tourism. It has a lot of the same things as the Sacred Valley – trekking, Inca ruins, indigenous culture, historic towns waiting to be explored. But this area is far less popular. It seems to get very little investment to maintain and promote its worthy aspects. While this makes opportunity for DIY adventures, doing that requires time. Time that even we did not have to invest in, after spending a lot of time already in the Sacred Valley.
Most people come here on just a day trip to see the Andean condors, which are famous for gliding the canyon’s thermal currents. We came here to witness them as well and had a wonderful night in the visitor’s parking lot. Simon deserved all the credit that night making pork chop dinner and we even ended the night with popcorn and a movie.
Despite the attractions of the Colca Canyon, we were on a timeframe to get to Patagonia. Patagonia is like Alaska…there is only a short window for the mildest weather. If we did this trip all over again, we would seriously consider shipping the van to the tip of South America to start, because Patagonia’s prime season is so limited.
So we spent a couple nights in Colca appreciating the beauty of it all, and then moved on to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru. We did the usual that we do in big cities….visit the plaza, get a hotel, take lots of hot showers, and this time, shopped for Halloween too!