Colca and Coast

It’s little visited, the south coast of Peru, which is a real shame. Back in September when we travelled up through southern Peru we took, like most travellers, the mountain route via Lake Titicaca and Cusco. Now south-bound, we’re loving the coastal route south of Nazca and on to Chile.


The popularity of the Titicaca/Cusco/Macchu Pichu mountain route is understandable, but the coastline of southern Peru is dramatic with huge, steep-sided dunes and mountains crashing almost vertically down into the Pacific Ocean. There is just enough coastal room for a few stretched-out single-line fishing settlements along the shore and the main Pan-Am Highway is cut into the sides of the mountains and dunes. It’s well used by cargo trucks, but there aren’t enough trucks to clog-up the road and they don’t distract us from the splendid scenery. As we round each bend, beaches with crashing waves and emerald-green marshes and bird-life lagoons spread out before us. Oh, and it’s west facing, so great sunsets too! A marvellous drive and not one for which Peru is particularly famous.

Colca Canyon

As we near the town of Arequipa we decide to make a (rather long) detour inland to see the Colca Canyon. It’s said to be pheeenomenal… the second deepest in the world… just a smidgeon shallower than its (slightly more remote) neighbouring canyon, Cotahuasi. Colca is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, although it’s so different it’s not a reasonable comparison. It’s one of Peru’s most visited ‘fly-in’ tourist attractions, so we hope that it will be worth the 250 km (each way!) detour from the coast to see it.

Off we go, on a slow-going five hour drive from the ocean, up through the mountains to Colca Canyon. But as we draw near, the signs are looking increasingly ominous… the clear blue skies of the coast turned gradually to grey overcast clouds in the foothills, then to heavy back thunder storms as we reach the canyon 🙁  As we arrived at the first view-point, we just managed to get literally a couple of quick pics before the thunder boomed and the heavens opened. As we’re at over 3,300m (10,800 ft) it is also a bit nippy and we notice that on the higher peaks around us, the rain is settling as snow. But never fear… Cuthbert’s here! We can retire to our ‘lounge’, put on the central heating, have a cuppa and sit-out the rain. And sit… and sit… 🙁

Looking on the bright side… we’re sitting at the foot of three of the world’s most active volcanoes and this whole area suffers regularly with a bit of argy-bargy between tectonic plates, so we’re lucky that it was only water showering down! Just 3 months ago, nine people died and ten were badly injured in a biggie-quake right here. We saw a powerful geyser spouting steam up the mountainside, but luckily that’s the only evidence we saw of the nasty stuff going on a gazillion feet below us under the ground.

So although we only see Colca Canyon in a grey shroud and certainly not at its best, the rain did at least hold-off for a few hours for us to take some dull pics. We are interested to find out that just a three or four day hike from here, somewhere on the side of Mt Mismi, is the recognised source of the Amazon River. Having made it our business to visit the source of the Nile in Rwanda last year, we think it might be good to add this to our list of ‘River-source Conquests’ (well… so far it’s a list of just one, but you’ve got to start somewhere 🙂 ). We’re disappointed that it’s not possible to arrange the trek at short notice, so that’s something to add to our future ‘things to do’ list when we come back through Peru (again!) next year.

On the way from Colca back down to the coast we pass through the colonial town of Arequipa, which is also a much-visited tourist attraction. We have seen so many South American colonial towns now, but we still find ourselves impressed by their great style and atmosphere. Arequipa is as attractive as all the other top-dogs in this league (e.g. Cusco, Sucre, Quito etc. etc. etc.). It has an interesting, well preserved convent that is worth a visit. Other than that, it’s a cool place to mooch around the plazas and narrow streets.

Meanwhile… back at the beach

After Arequipa, we return to low ground to continue the lovely south Peru coastline and the scenery continues to impress us all the way. There are vast, stunning beaches and we find some great spots to park-up by the ocean. On a beach walk one afternoon we spot a Peruvian family with their car stuck in the sand. They explain that they have been digging for over 4 hours to try to get out!! Cuthbert is parked well-hidden behind a rocky headland, so they hadn’t even noticed we were there. We scoot back to Cuthbert and drive him round to the beach to pull the car of a very grateful family, out of the sand. Well… the parents were at least grateful… the kids were a bit dismayed at having to pack-up to leave their sand-castles 🙂

As Christmas looms, we’re conscious that we need to be in Arica before Christmas to arrange delivery of Cuthbert’s new shoes. We could stay much longer on the lovely beaches of south Peru, but we need to press-on…   Our final border-hop of 2016 is into the far north of Chile and… here’s a surprise… we get ‘jet-lag’ from driving over the border 🙂 !! Since we were last here in May, Chile has changed its Time Zone policy and altered its clocks; there is now a two hour time difference crossing a land border!! Now we get lovely, long, light evenings until sunset at around 20:30 hrs.

Our priority as we arrive in Chile is to celebrate Marcus’ birthday with a delicious parrillada lunch (a huge steak-grill). They’re not as good here as in Argentina, but we find the next best thing… a Chilean restaurant advertising Argentinian meat! Really good! The birthday is completed with a bit of bubby and some (sadly, not home-made) birthday cake.

Next… we’re on the home-straight to Christmas and the final instalment of the Tyre Story!

Link to next blog: Not-so-silent night      Link to full South America Blog


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