The Best Place to See the Andean Condor
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Colca Canyon is the place to see the Andean condor in the wild. This canyon in Peru is the second-largest canyon in the world. You will see the birds fly across the canyon each morning. You can watch this spectacle in different ways. This article provides the best tips to experience yourself, along with the best excursions and sights of Colca Canyon.
A visit to Colca Canyon is a must-do during your trip to Peru. How can you do this best? You have several options. However, most travellers opt for a short stop in the morning to see the birds. Take the time for this excursion. It's very worth it. This is mainly due to the unique birds, but also due to the rugged landscape.
There is much more to discover, amongst others trekking across the mountains or into the gorge. There is still regular snow on the Andes peaks, making it extra unique.
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Pay close attention to which tour you book. Ask about the length and what exactly you will be doing because there is much more to see than you often read. In all cases, you will arrive at Colca Canyon early in the morning. This is because the birds start flying at the first rays of the sun. They use the thermals to float.
You will be picked up from your hotel in one of the nearby villages early morning. You will make several stops along the way to the gorge. Including a local dance in a nearby village. You can also take pictures of women and children with llamas and alpacas. They do expect some small change in return.
You will stop at several viewpoints along the route. These are along the road, and therefore different from in the gorge itself. You will not see a condor here, unless you are very lucky. However, they are good locations for photos and videos.
Most tours arrive before the thermals are sufficient for the condors. This allows you to admire the immense mountains around you at your leisure and see which place you like to wait. Until you see the birds in the sky.
The most common tour is to visit the various viewpoints that have been created on the edge of the canyon. You get out at the parking lot and you can walk around freely. Although you can also stay with the guide, who will give you background information. Most excursions last an hour to an hour and a half. After which you return to your hotel again.
There are several viewpoints along the ridge, although not all of them are equally popular. This means that one viewpoint can be crowded whereas another is very quiet.
The most famous viewpoint is Cruz del Condor. Here you can see far into the gorge. As soon as the sun rises above the mountains, the gorge warms up. And you will too. Fair is fair, when the birds fly by, you have a very good view of it all. But this is also the case at the lower viewpoints as the birds often use the thermals to get higher. And so they often pass by low here.
Soon you will see the first condors fly by. And the birds of prey come remarkably close. I noticed that you can take good photos. Some animals even come close, so you can get a good look at them. And all this in an amazing setting of the second largest canyon in the world.
Unfortunately, you will never be alone here. In fact, it has become more crowded in recent years. Colca Canyon is on the list of many travellers. This detracts from the experience of this phenomenal view and the animals.
When booking a tour, ask about the length of the excursion. And also whether there is a hike. The latter in particular has been of great importance. This is not the longer Colca Canyon trek, but a one-hour walk along the various viewpoints. Where you get a lot of information from the guide about the canyon, those animals and much more.
Many tourists only explore the higher part of the canyon. And their guide often 'forgets' to mention that you can also go on a hike with him. That it is part of the program. And the hike is definitely worth it. Because the gorge is much longer than it appears. And so you can walk along the ridge at your leisure for an hour. Where you do seven viewpoints. These are often much quieter and you can see the landscape of the animals much better. I found this to be the highlight of the excursion.
With a bit of luck, you can see the condors on the nest during this walk. On my second visit I saw the animals breeding in the steep part of the canyon. I also saw a newly hatched youngster. The guide often has good binoculars or a telescope with him so that you can have a good look at the animals.
At the end of the hike, you will see a lower valley. There is a dirt road through it. If you look closely you will see dead animals lying there. Like alpacas or donkeys. These are deposited by local residents to provide the animals with food. Andean condors are scavengers, so they only eat dead prey.
The hike brings some advantages. After an hour most of the tourists are gone. And peace returns to the gorge. Then you have a chance to see the animals when they come to feed on the carcasses. Which makes this trip extra spectacular.
If you want to leave most of the tourists behind, trekking through Colca Canyon is the best option. There is a lot on offer, both in the route and the distances you can hike. You usually hike from mountain village to mountain village. Most hiking trails through Colca Canyon start in the town of Cabanaconde. You can easily reach it by public transport from Arequipa.
You can go with a guide, but you can also go on your own. The latter is relatively easy, although some hiking trails are not too clear. In Cabanaconde you can buy good hiking maps. You can also find good routes online. Do this beforehand. So that you don't get lost.
Most tourists arrive in Cabanaconde and spend the night there. Then leave early the next day. Where you hike from A to B in a day, and then travel back by bus, for example. Or travel further of course. The choice is yours.
You can spend the night in the villages around the gorge. I chose Yanque, as this is also a pleasant village. Here you will find various hotels, lodges and bed & breakfasts in all price ranges. This also applies to the village of Chivay. At the small, but very local market you can see a lot of traditional clothing and fresh products.
Explore the best accomomdations at Colca Canyon
The best time to go to Colca Canyon is from March to the end of October. Then you will see most Andean condors flying. I saw about twenty flying by, staying in the air for about an hour. I also saw some young animals. They sat down on a rock to watch those crazy tourists.
In October the females lay their eggs. Both the male and female sit alternately on the nest. And so you see a lot fewer birds flying. The incubation period lasts two months. As a result, you will only see three or four animals flying on your excursion. And often not even close. So keep this in mind.
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