After leaving Paracas on an evening bus, we had an interesting evening of overnight bus rides about 10 hours to Arequipa. We did a lot of research before leaving for our trip, and read many good reviews of Cruz del Sur bus lines. The busses are nice enough: double decker, semi-reclining seats, and the provide “meals”. The drivers change every 4 hours for safety, so we felt pretty good they weren’t going to run us off the road. The most hilarious part of the Cruz del Sur busses is the amount of times they emphasize that the restrooms are for #1 only. The intro video for the bus must tell you that 8 times. The least hilarious part of the bus rides is that the blankets they give you are sized for 8 year olds and they have trouble keeping the heat on over night. Oh, and don’t expect the “meals” to provide any real sustenance, the best one we got was a “sandwich” of wheat bread and mayonnaise. But – taking an overnight bus saved us a night in a hotel, so we can’t complain too much.
We booked the seats at the front of the bus so we had an unobstructed view of the valley ahead when we woke up in the morning. It was gorgeous and we knew we would have a great few days ahead. After arriving at the bus station, we took a taxi to the town center of Arequipa and got settled in at our hostel, Posada Misti.
This was our only full day in Arequipa, so we decided to do a walking tour of the city, which is very pedestrian friendly. We ventured through the Plaza del Armas (there is one in every town in Peru), through the main shopping districts, and across the river to a more residential neighborhood called Yanahuara. Along the way we stopped at an alpaca wool museum/shop where they were showcasing traditional shearing/dyeing/weaving techniques as well as a history of more modern machinery. Walking across the river, we found a really charming park that had an awesome outlook of the Misti Volcano.
We also went to the Museum of the Andes, which is mostly devoted to the ice mummy, Juanita, an inca girl whose body was found completely frozen and preserved atop a neighboring volcano. The information and artifacts were intriguing, but there was one problem: no Juanita. Apparently the lights in the museum slowly melt the ice surrounding her through most of the year, so she is in a deep freeze from February through May 1. We were there April 29. Go figure. Instead they had another ice mummy, Sara, but she was decidedly less cool. (ha, no pun intended).
Arequipa is a town largely built of white volcanic stone, so it is nicknamed the White City. It was great. Great scale, walkable, but still bustling. You never felt like it was too touristy, it was just right. In the evening we had a nice meal on a balcony overlooking the square, which was lit up and pretty fantastic. We had saved this meal as a “special treat”, but what we found was that these restaurants all compete and their prices were a steal! For $4 USD each, we got a grande cerveza (about 24 oz of beer), an inka kola (the preferred soda of Peru), appetizer of avocado salad (you know how much we loved that), and an entrée of alpaca steak, veggies, and fried potatos. Not gourmet, but for the price and the ambience, couldn’t be beat. Feeling the altitude a bit (Arequipa is at 7800’), we headed back to the hostel to read, watch tv, and go to sleep.
The next morning we embarked on a two day trip to the Colca Canyon that we booked through our hostel. What. A. Deal. For about $25 USD apiece, we got 2 full days of guided tours, transportation, and a night in a very very cute hotel. The tour took off from Arequipa about 8 a.m. leaving for the village of Chivay at the start of the Colca Canyon. On the way there, we slowly climbed in elevation to 4900 m (approx 16,000 ft above sea level). We passed valleys full of alpacas, vicunas (the taller, softer cousin of the alpaca), volcanos, and beautiful scenery. Thankfully, the van stopped at a small tourist cafe for our first taste of Coca Tea, which really does help with altitude sickness. Between the tea and some Coca candies we bought, we didn’t seem to have too many problems with altitude throughout the trip. The only time I felt funny was when we got out of the van at 4900m for a photo op and could hardly walk I was so wobbly.
In the late afternoon, we arrived in Chivay and checked into our hotel which was situated along a bubbling creek with green hills on both sides. Very picturesque. Some of the folks on the tour (there were about 12 of us total) went to the La Calera Hot Springs for a relaxing dip. They were great! WAY better than the hot springs at Sol Duc that we went to last summer here in WA. Although, i will say, they had seperate tourist pools and Peruvian pools, which was a little weird. Best of all, it was the first warm shower we’d had since arriving in Peru. Warm water seems to be at a premium in that country.
The next morning was the focal point of the trip – going deeper into the Colca Canyon to a place called Cruz del Condor where air currents allow the condors to soar. It was super impressive. Not only is the Colca Canyon the second deepest canyon in the world (which meant that from our vantage at the top of the cliff you couldn’t even see the bottom), but the Andean Condors have a wingspan of something like 3 meters. HUGE. So you have this deep deep canyon and these huge birds, and wow.
The updrafts die down around 10 am, so we all piled back in the van to start our day-long trek back to Arequipa with some small stops along the way. The tour was awesome and we met some fun people, although funnily enough we didn’t get photos of any of them, or anyones names. It was very strange, but no one really asked names. There was “The Welsh Couple”, “The Dutch Couple”, “Drunk French Guy”, “Solo Mexican Traveler”, etc. But they were fun – and provided a lot of good laughs. We spent the evening back in Arequipa, where we had some delicious pizza (after a week in the country we were jonesing for a bit of home), checked our email, and trekked back to the bus terminal for another overnight to Cuzco.