My latest adventure was to visit the Arequipa district in the Andes – definitely my highest visit to date. At the highest point of our journey the pass turned at 4910m. The guidebook doesn’t lie when it says the air is thin up there…
Arequipa city is a beautiful city with colonial Spanish buildings that look like it sparkles at night. This is due to the white volcanic rock it was built with. The combination of the buildings, the atmosphere and the interesting streets gives the distinct impression that you have stepped into another world, maybe even another era.
Our hotel was located in the old part of the town, across the road from the Monastery of Santa Catelina. It has been built in the sixteen hundreds and is an entire citadel within the city. Walking along the streets feel like a step back in time, to a place that no longer exists.
I did a tour that started on Saturday and I managed to see snow, volcanoes, llamas, alpacas and vicunas! Not bad for one day! The beautiful terraces are framed with blue sky and in some spots you can see some snow on the volcanic peaks. To counter the effects of the altitude, they recommended a brew of inka tea, including coca leaves, mint and some bush that supposedly helps you feel better. I recommend getting something from the chemist before you go, but by all means try the tea!
The llama herders mark their animals with coloured string in the ears, and these boys bring the herds to a spot next to the tourist road, so we can take some selfies with the odd and cuddly looking animals.
Vicunas have never been domesticated, they live in the open plains and is a protected species. Once a year the local folk have a festival to capture and shear the animals for their really fine and soft fur, and use the opportunity to do a medical check to ensure the animal’s health. Because it is so rare, and so soft, the textiles is an order of 10 more expensive than a similar garment from baby alpaca wool.
Alpacas are a bit smaller than llamas and a usually all white, with the odd one brown or black in rare cases. They eat the soft green grass in watery areas and in the small towns locals in traditional wear have one on a leash and for one Peruvian sol you can take a picture.
Dinner was accompanied by some traditional music and dancing, a lovely spectacular where we could get a little taste of the local culture.
Our hotels were fantastic. The city hotel was located in an old building, a quick road from the Plaza del Armas and at the heart of the old town. In the Colca Valley our hotel was right next to the river, where a waterfall comes and joins the mass of the river. To get to the hotel a driver had to take us down a path from the main road and after getting out we had to walk a few steps further down. The rooms were large, lovely and warm, and the thermal bath was a pleasure to relax in in the fresh mountain air.
The highlight of the trip was by far the flight of the condors. From our vantage point we could see the canyon below and as the mist started lifting we were graced by the presence of a pair of the majestic birds. They glided back and forth in the valley, riding the thermal winds to rise higher and higher.
I was joined by a colleague from the project team and our trip was organised by Christian Arteaga who ensured that we had nothing to worry about,. Everything was taken care of, whether it was airport transfers, our amazing hotels, or the wonderful tour of the Colca Canyon with, Colonial Tours. They turned out to provide a bit of background, a bit of humour and a lot of insight into the area in a small group tour. On our return to the city, they even looked after our things while we did a bit of last minute exploring and helped us print our boarding passes before we headed to the airport.