Colca Canyon, within a couple hundred kilometers of Arequipa, is one of Peru's top tourist destinations, known for its natural beauty and soaring condors. It was on our list of places to see in Peru, so there we went.
("fog zone" One of the few road signs that you love to see when it's inaccurate)
(the road is in great shape for the first half of the ride)
(allowing us to zoom past all of the road side souvenir stands. There was a lot of them. And I think tour buses may actually stop at each one. Which would be great if you're into that sort of thing)
After a beautiful ride to the start of the canyon, you are stopped at the park entrance gate. Entry fee: S/70 each (~US$25 each). Yowzaws! It took a good deal of convincing the lady that all we really wanted to do was get into Chivay (about 200 meters away) to eat lunch. We really did just want to get into Chivay and eat lunch. She said that if we decided to go into the canyon that we would just have to pay further down the road at the next checkpoint (eventually she backtracked on that, saying it would be weird for someone to end up there without having paid, and that we should return to her to pay). So while at lunch we talked about what we wanted to do. We figured we'd ride up the canyon at least until the other checkpoint and then figure it out from there.
(the road to get into the canyon is dirt. No entrance fees are used in the maintenance of this road. It was incredibly washboardy in places. And incredibly windy in places. That doesn't have anything to do with road maintenance, but it certainly doesn't make those dusty stretches any more fun.)
(Apparently the entrance fees go to build these fancy archways, found at each of the small little towns along the way.)
The second checkpoint had a raised gate, so we kept on driving. I guess it was because of our odd timing that it was so easy to get through - most tours get to the main overlook at dawn or so. At this point, though, we started to reflect back on what our friend Will had mentioned about the canyon: if you've seen the San Juans (mtn range in SW Colorado), don't bother with Colca Canyon. And we both fully agree. The canyon was pleasant enough, but really didn't compare to some of the canyons we've seen in other places in Peru (or SW Colorado, for that matter). We didn't see any condors flying around, and I'm sure that would change our perspective on it.
(view from the main overlook where all the tour groups go to see Condors. It's scenic, but somehow not as impressive of a vista as I expected from the purported deepest canyon in the world)
Without an abundance of enthusiasm for the area, we decided to head back to Chivay to stay the night on our way towards Puno.
(it got real dark in this tunnel, which has a dog-leg right (from this direction only, of course) combined with some chunky rocks and loose sand. It was a bit disorienting. And kinda fun.)
(Chivay was a nice place to stay, small town with restaurants across the spectrum, nice pedestrian area, market, all the fixin's)
(Chivay even provided us with a gorgeous sunset)
(even though there is a wide spectrum of restaurants available (some with white table cloths!) you all know by now what we tend towards. Jill ordering salchipapas from a vendor who had it all. Salchipapas are a favorite though - french fries (the "papas" part) topped with fried hot dog pieces (the "salchi" part, short for "salchicha"). Here we got an American-sized (read, too big) portion for S/4)
That night Chivay was throwing some kind of a raging party. We never really found out what the holiday/excuse was, but it seemed like the whole town must have been there. If they weren't there, it was still okay, you could hear the music from anywhere in town. Even the next day some of the partying continued:
(next door to our hotel was a bar. This was taken at about 8:30am with the revelers still at it. Well, about half of them were still at it.)
We broke free of the party atmosphere to make our way to Puno. There was a little bit of backtracking involved to get back to the main road, but then we got to see some new sights which kept the ride a bit interesting, even if on a major highway.
(wind gusts and dust devils also kept the ride interesting)
(approaching Laguna Lagunillas)
(and some of what makes a long riding day isn't always scenic. Pollo a la broster (Fried chicken) has a big role, too)
We had heard a few travelers stories of Puno being a rougher town (one of them getting everything stolen from him just days after a bad motorcycle crash - not a good run for him). So we were glad to roll in mid-afternoon and find a good place with parking, Hotel Arequipa which is on Arequipa street just down from Parque Pino. After walking around Puno for just a day or so, it felt about the same as many other Latin American cities, especially those that aren't as built up for tourism (let's just say it doesn't feel like Cusco). The main tourist attraction is to visit the reed islands on Lago Titicaca, which sound amazing and interesting, but are a complete tourist trap (literally, you're on an island and they will try to charge you extra for a boat ride off of the island). We decided to not visit the islands. Partly because we were feeling over touristed after our last couple of weeks in Peru, and partly because we were ready to get to Bolivia!
Hotel Arequipa also happens to sit directly across from the Bolivian consulate, and within 2 blocks of both immigration and customs offices. Perfect for our plan to ride around the north/east side of Lago Titicaca! Or so we thought...