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Contiki Peru Uncovered – Days 2, 3 & 4: Arequipa to the Colca Canyon

We finally arrived in Arequipa after a long day of airport delays, just in time to grab a late lunch at a gorgeous outdoor restaurant called El Tio Dario. The restaurant was down a narrow street adjacent to a square which had amazing views of the city, so we were all tempted to go take a picture of the vista but were told we would have ample time to take pictures later. Upon walking in the door of the restaurant, we were immediately immersed in a garden which smelled of a variety of flowers as water trickled down from a variety of water fountains. I decided to order a sampling of their specialties, my favorite was a stuffed bell pepper with cheese and other items.

After lunch, we had a chance to explore the town square, Plaza Pequena de Yanahuara, and the beautiful vista of Arequipa. The landscape was stunning.

We then went and checked into our hotel for the night before heading off for an evening tour of Arequipa. We learned that Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru by population & is known for its cashmere wool. We walked past the Santa Catalina Monastery which is quite large & is run by Dominican nuns before heading into the main square of the city, a large, grand plaza named the Plaza de Armas. Unfortunately, it was so late that nearly everything was closed. That being said, it did not take away from the beauty of the main square at night.

After our brief walking tour, we had about an hour before dinner, so we explored a bit. Peru is also known for their chocolate, so we stopped at a store called La Iberica to purchase some to get us through the next few days of long bus rides at high altitudes. Then, it was time for a late dinner where our Trip Manager took us to a somewhat expensive, but amazing restaurant named Zig Zag with a very cozy atmosphere and vibe. We went upstairs and our table was in a small room where we were the only ones. I ordered three pieces of different kinds of steak – one beef, one pork & one alpaca as I was told this was the place to try alpaca. The alpaca was amazing – it was very tender and lower in calories than a traditional beef steak.

After dinner, we stopped at a night club for a few drinks and to watch the locals Salsa dance before heading to bed. The following morning, we boarded our bus to visit a lookout point that we couldn’t see the day before because the sun set early.

We then made a quick pit stop in Arequipa to grab some snacks and drinks before heading off to take on the high altitude. Our bus climbed the mountains for what seemed like forever as we gained about 3,000 meters in altitude in just under 4 hours. They suggest you drink 1 liter of water for every 1,000 meters you gain, so I don’t know if I’ve ever been more hydrated in my life! We also picked up bags of coca leaves which are legal in Peru in small quantities. Of course, the coca leaves are used to make cocaine, but in small amounts the coca leaves can be used to counteract the effects of altitude sickness. After learning the ritual the locals use when they use the coca leaves, we put some in our mouth along with volcanic ash. We started with 3 leaves, chewed them 5 times and put them in the side of our cheek. We continued to do this until we couldn’t talk – I had about 15 in my mouth! After 25 minutes, we were instructed to spit them out and start over.

I’m not sure if the leaves actually worked, but I didn’t get as bad of altitude sickness the trip manager said we might have. One person passed out on our bus, others got sick while some also got bad headaches. The extent of my altitude sickness lasted all of 10 seconds when we got off the bus at 4,900 meters to take pictures and I was dizzy until I took a few deep breaths. I also had something similar later in the day, but it only lasted about 10 seconds. All in all, it went well especially considering our Trip Manager who has done the drive dozens of times wasn’t feeling too well. The drive itself was gorgeous. The landscape gradually became desert-like with minimal vegetation.

Once we got to about 4,000 meters we stopped for lunch where some alpacas happened to be grazing so we took advantage of the opportunity to get some close up pictures!

After lunch, we boarded the bus and headed to the highest point of our entire trip – 4,900 meters. As I mentioned earlier, I had anticipated my altitude sickness would have been much more noticeable but it wasn’t too bad! The viewpoint had an amazing panorama where you could see seven different volcanos.

As we descended into the Colca Canyon, it was hard not to appreciate the gorgeous view. Once we arrived in Chivay, we went downtown to get a quick tour of the local markets. Our local guide spent time showing us all the fruits and vegetables that are staples of Peruvian cusine before giving us free time to explore the market. Chivay is located above 3,400 meters above sea level, so I felt a small headache for a few seconds when I was in the restroom. It quickly subsided after I drank a half bottle of water. After the tour, we all went to a zip lining park where we traversed over a valley located in Colca Canyon. It was my first time zip lining, so I couldn’t wait! I thought I would have been more nervous, but I wasn’t too jittery which enabled me to enjoy the amazing view as I flew above a small stream to the other side. We then took a second zip line back to the same side we started on. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again!

After taking our harness off, we walked down the road to a local hot springs where the water was about 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit. It was unlike any other hot springs I’ve been to in the past as the venue wasn’t natural, but was several man made pools which were fed by the hot springs. It was very relaxing after a long day on the bus and zip lining. We then headed to our hotel for dinner and everyone crashed shortly thereafter. A few of us went outside to look at the stars which were unbelievably bright – we even saw a discolored area of the sky which was a cluster of stars! The following morning we had a 6:00 AM departure, so we were able to witness the sunrise over the hills of Peru as we ate breakfast.

We then headed to a lookout to try and spot a few condors, but were able to make a few stops along the way to take in the beautiful landscape of Peru.

When we arrived at the location to see the condors, we got off the bus and were immediately in awe as one flew right over our heads. The condors have a 3 meter wingspan and don’t really need to fly, they just glide. The lookout was situated just above where the condors nest their eggs so we were treated to a show. A few of us decided to walk down to a less crowded area of the lookout and were able to see the condors fly without having to struggle with other people pushing and shoving. The birds were incredible – pictures won’t do it justice, but I’ve included a few below.

After an hour of sitting in awe, we boarded our bus to head to another viewpoint of the Colca Canyon.

After another two hours, we arrived in a small town with shops and women holding small alpacas for people to take pictures with. We donned traditional garb and decided to take a few pictures.

After another hour, we stopped in a small town for a buffet style lunch. We had a few minutes to explore the town square before boarding the bus again!

We then retraced our route from the day prior over the mountains and passed the spot we got out at to take pictures at 4,900 meters. The scenery was even more amazing the second time around. Our next stop was along the side of the road so we could use the facilities and see the amazing view of a lake.

We eventually arrived in Puno shortly after 7:00 PM.

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