The day before we left I'd spent the day with the girls I met in Rio, and in the evening Camilla, who I met in the same hostel, arrived, so it was a great little ReRionion over tequila sunrises in the Wild Rover bar.
We were up to leave at 8am and headed out into the mountainous desert in our minibus. We stopped to buy coca products to combat altitude sickness, because to get to Colca Canyon from Arequipa you need to pass over a point that reaches 4,910 metres high. That's now the highest I've been in my life, and I actually felt fine. Maybe the coca sweets did their job really well!
We arrived in Chivay, the town at the closer end of the canyon, for lunch and an afternoon at natural hot springs along the bank of the river, only accessible by way of a rope suspension bridge over the rushing waters. I met a group of three who had actually met the girls from Rio earlier in their trip, and we spent the next two days together.
After dinner and a dance performance, which involved me being put on the floor and actually whipped by a woman in traditional dress (don't ask), we got an early night in preparation for our 5.30am start the next morning.
But it was worth the early hour and the freezing cold, because we got to the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint in time to see the magnificent birds in flight. I'd been around condors at the zoo I volunteered at, but never seen them catch the warm air currents and glide. Really something.
Apparently it's not easy to see them in flight, but someone in my tour group pointed out that there was a dead cow on a ridge below us, so maybe they're drawn there on purpose for the 9am tourist influx.
And the canyon itself. Wow. It stretches down to the white river past ridges, pre-Inca terraces, the occasional condor if you're lucky... It's a very impressive sight. But wear sunscreen! I got so burned that morning, and ended up in bed early with sunstroke and a tomato face when we got back to Arequipa. Not a good look.
We did a short hike along the top of the canyon, and stopped at various points on our way back to Chivay. Each view brought a new sight. If you have time while in Arequipa, this is a highlight you shouldn't miss. Whether you do it in a tour, or by yourself with local buses, you'll have a great time.