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Colca Canyon (Peru)

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Country: Peru / Region: South America

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      19.04.2010 12:43
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      The place to see the Andean Condor in the wild.

      Colca Canyon in Southern Peru is one of the deepest canyons on earth, in fact at one time was considered the deepest, but a nearby, less accessible canyon now takes that honour. The canyon reaches a depth of 4160m in places which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. We visited as part of a tour group. We have over-nighted near the hot springs town of Chivay and had an early start the next morning to Colca Canyon, whose main attraction, other than the scenery and natural wildlife, is the Andean Condors who use the rising thermals to glide around the canyon on their early morning hunts.

      This is an area of high altitude (well over 4000m in parts) so strenuous walks are only for those who have acclimatised and have a reasonable to good level of fitness, you can do 2-3 days walks if you so wish and want to really explore the canyon and its indigenous peoples (the canyon is inhabited and farmed). Unfortunately this is the only chance you will get to see 'real' locals in action in this particular area, the rest sit by the side of the road in traditional dress selling mass produced crafts and trying to persuade you to have your photo taken with a baby llama. The part of the canyon that you need to see the condors is known as Cruz del Condor.

      We did a short walk totalling about 30 minutes but broken up into different condor viewing spots, mainly on the same level, but some steps and uneven paths were involved. As it was early morning, although sunny, it was quite chilly at this altitude so I recommend wrapping up warm as well as wearing walking boots/trainers, plus you will need sunscreen and water. As far as the condors were concerned we were very lucky. I don't know if we just timed it right (morning is supposed to be the best time, and it was fairly busy in places) or if they are always around this much every morning. It is always a risk when travelling specifically to view a form of wildlife that they may just take it upon themselves not to turn up. Not so the condors on this day. I'm not sure how many different ones we saw, possibly only 6 or 8 in different parts, but they all put on a show. Quite frankly I don't think I could have got better photographs if they had been trained! They flew quite close to us, sometimes right over us (I like to think it amused them when we all almost toppled backwards trying to get a photo), and glided gracefully over the warm air currents showing their three metre wingspans off to us grateful tourists.

      Not all the condors we saw were full grown adults, there were some juveniles whose feather are brown, rather then the black of the grown-ups. All have a white feather 'collar' around the neck; some older ones also get white feathers across the backs of their wings, but at a distance they look all black in this part. Condors are scavengers so usually pick up dead prey; they have sharp, hooked beaks and beady eyes in order to spot their prey far below them. We did see some swoop down towards potential prey, but the steepness of the canyon walls in this part, meant we could not see where he went - and I suspect our eyesight would have been comparitively lacking anyway.

      One grown-up perched, for a good fifteen minutes, on a ledge right above us in order for us to take his photo. If you have a good guide with you he will point out other birdlife, but I have to say I'm not much of a twitcher, and can barely identify more than half a dozen British birds, let alone South American ones! However, bird lover or not, the condors are magnificent and you can't fail to be impressed, especially if they were as obliging as when we visited. If you can, bring binoculars and a digital camera with a good zoom. I would also recommend familiarising yourself with the multi-shot function on your camera (the one that takes many shots back to back) as they fly quite quick and you don't really have time to focus before they are out of shot again. This way you have a chance of getting a few good shots every time they fly past.

      There is an admission charge for tourists to come into the canyon, I am not sure of the price as it was included in my holiday. If you are travelling independently you can get tours from Chivay or Arequipa. Arequipa is quite a bit further away, so you may need to book an overnight tour to ensure you get to see them at the best time.

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