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Canyon of the Condors


When you have risen at 5am, had an early breakfast, and the traveled to a spot on the face of a canyon with its bottom close to 4,000 feet below you have the right to expect something special and you are not disappointed. As the sun rises higher in the sky it warms the base of the canyon and creates the updrafts of air called thermals that support some of the largest birds in the world as they soar in search of their morning prey.

 The Andean Condor is, in actuality, a large vulture but one whose 10 foot wingspan and glider like moves takes it into another avian realm. Since your lookout is 4,000 feet high, the Condors are actually quite close and many pass by at eye level. With the sun mounting the sky and the Condors soaring, you think to yourself that it would be great to have John Denver on your playlist. This is an imprintable moment but it is not the only reason to spend some time in the scenic majesty of Peru’s Colca Canyon.

Located about 100 miles from the charming colonial city of Arequipa in Southern Peru, Colca Canyon is at its deepest point twice as deep as the Grand Canyon though its walls are not as steep and many of the lower levels are home to terrace type farming. The Colca River starts high in the Andes flows through the Cola Valley and the plains of Majes before joining with the Pacific Ocean. The name Colca comes from Incan times and describes storage urns made of mud and stone that were used to store grain, potatoes and, at times, the remains of distinguished Incas.

 We use two lodges in the canyon, both excellent but one a little more luxurious. If you choose the more luxurious camp you can continue after your Condor observation and hike to Priest’s cross before taking a short ride to the caldera of an extinct volcano. You have a chance to hike through the cactus forests before arriving at a lagoon which is home to a large variety of bird species. You are then served an extensive brunch alfresco and then have the choice of returning to the lodge or the chance to trek the Sabancay ravine. After such a trek you might want a massage in the resort’s spa when you return.

Mario Vargas Llosa the renowned Peruvian novelist described Colca as the ‘”Valley of Wonders” and it is worth devoting a full day to explore them at your own pace. The ravines and the terraced sides of the canyon offer a diversity of trails to follow whether on foot, on horseback or on mountain bike. While on the trail you are likely to see vicuna the wild ancestor of the alpaca.

 If you are interested in archaeology you can head to Callalli where you can view rock paintings said to be 6,000 years old in the caves of Mollepunko. The paintings actually include drawings of the domestication of the alpaca. You can also visit the local town of Chivay where natural hot springs can ease the unavoidable downside of mountain biking and riding. While in town you could also shop for garments made from baby alpaca fiber or buy some of the famed embroidery used on skirts, hats and other items.

You have a multitude of experiences in store in the Colca Canyon but probably nothing will compare to the sight of the Condors riding the thermals through the canyon. Just be sure to download “Rocky Mountain High” before you go.