After Ica we took at luxury night bus to Arequipa, which provided meals, movies, blankets and had us go through security, it was like being on an airplane. Night and day to Asian overnight buses! Arequipa is the 2nd largest city in Peru, surrounded by 3 volcanoes, which can be seen in the morning before the clouds roll in. It is comprised of beautiful colonial architecture with historic churches and monasteries scattered throughout the city.
Most of the activity takes place in the main square in front of a large cathedral where everyone eats ice cream and feeds the pigeons. Quickly we fell in the love with the feel of this city. For the second time we stayed with the Flying Dog Hostel but this time the hostel was in an old colonial building with bright colors and a rooftop patio.
There was a great free walking tour of the city that was educational and ended with free Pisco Sours so of course we enjoyed it! The top of the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa had a great view of the main square and super old bells supported by large tree trunks to prevent damage from frequent earthquakes in the area. It also is the only Catholic Church that contains a statue of Lucifer, depicting Satan in the fiery depths of hell, and there are stories of the night staff experiencing paranormal activity.
The visit to Santa Catalina Monastery, which was built in 1579, was quite unique. It is literally a city within the city where nuns were isolated from the outside world. Characterized by its vividly painted walls the architecture, its were streets were amazing. There are approximately 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex and the rest of the monastery is open to the public.
Arequipa is also the gateway into the Colca Canyon, which is known for Andorran condor sightings and is the twice the depth of the Grand Canyon at 13, 650ft (4,160m). The Colca Valley is a colorful valley with pre-Inca roots, and towns founded in Spanish colonial times, still inhabited by people of the Collagua and the Cabana cultures. The local people maintain their ancestral traditions and continue to cultivate the pre-Inca stepped terraces. As always we did our research on how to trek the Colca Canyon on our own instead of taking a tour. Our plan turned into taking a local bus for 17 soles to Cabanconde, which was an adventure itself with a little girl vomiting and the local women in traditional dress getting on and off every couple of stops.
We stayed at an amazing guesthouse, La Casa de Santiago, in Cabanconde, which had the most beautiful view of the snow-capped mountains and the canyon in the early morning. Lead by one of the local dogs that became our buddy, we made it to a great lookout point of the canyon on our first afternoon. There is a classic trekking route in the canyon that we took the next morning but did it in the opposite direction as most people. The first day we hiked downhill for 3 hours to a place called Sangalle, but is commonly referred to as the Oasis. It is a small area along the river at the base of the canyon that has pools, perfectly manicured lawns and flowers with very basic bungalows to sleep in with no electricity.
The next day we hiked through a couple more villages until we came upon a little teahouse called, Gloria’s, where we enjoyed a lunch consisting of alpaca and avocadoes. Along the way a local man tasted us on the abundant cactus fruit (they call tuna) which as SO sour! We decided to stay at Gloria’s, as the rain was moving in. It was a peaceful place in the canyon with gardens, donkeys and a couple condor sightings. A couple of French girls stayed at the same place and we connected with their guide and hitched a ride to Chivay the next day with their tour with as a bonus we stop at a hot springs. The hike out in the morning, which started at 4am, was an eerie one. The clouds were set low in the canyon for the duration of our hike back to the top of the ridgeline. As the clouds broke at the top we got some magical shots of the mountain peaks.
This area of Peru has an abundance of alpaca and llamas, which is used in their clothing and cuisine. We went alpaca crazy and bought multiple hats, scarfs, sweaters and even legwarmers made of alpaca. But we need to stay warm, right?