Peru boasts two of the world’s deepest canyons, both of which are within a day’s drive from Arequipa. Of the two, Colca Canyon is the deepest (it measures 4,160 meters in depth; the third deepest in the world after canyons in China and Nepal, and more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon). It is also home to the famous and endangered Andean Condor, one of the biggest birds in the world. With these credentials, Amanda and I decided the canyon was worth a visit.
Naturally, like everything else in Peru, just getting to this canyon was a trek, requiring about five and a half hours of driving through the high Andes on paved and unpaved roads. Lonely Planet assured us that we could do it on our own; we decided to hire a guide anyway. After shopping around in the many trekking/travel agencies in downtown Arequipa, we found one (Colonial Tours) that offered a two-day, one night trip that seemed to be a good fit for us.
Early Monday morning we grabbed our daypacks, dropped our big bags at the hotel front desk, and climbed into a van with 15 other travelers: eight other Americans, two Belgians, two Argentines, two Peruvians, and one Japanese woman who lived in London.
About an hour outside of Arequipa, we entered one of Peru’s nature reserves and stopped several times to get a closer look at three of the four camelid species that live in South America: vicunas, alpacas and llamas. The vicunas are the smallest of the three and are still wild. They have extremely fine hair (it’s both light and strong) were once very near extinction due to overhunting; now, they’re endangered but not so close to extinction. Alpacas and llamas are both domesticated but are grazed in herds on the nature reserve, so we were able to see them, too. The difference between llamas (which I didn’t photograph) and alpacas (which appear below) is that the alpaca is generally a bit smaller and has much longer hair, whereas the llama is taller and less fluffy.
Also, I remembered that I had a video function on my camera, so I took some footage of the alpacas: