Peru 12: World’s deepest Cañon and Xmas in Arequipa

Peru has the highest Andes mountain peaks in South America – not surprisingly also the deepest Cañon in the world. Cañon de Cotahuasi is very remote and difficult to get to – and we did not expect the surprises along the way.

Wenn wir schon die höchsten Gipfel der Anden bestaunen konnten, wollten wir uns den tiefsten Canyon der Welt nicht entgehen lassen -allerdings mit ein paar unerwarteten Überraschungen auf dem einsamen Weg dort hin.

Once we had left Nasca we took Ruta 30A eastwards via Puquio, a road with many curves and wild Vicuñas grazing. Underway we met Axel & Erika in their bright yellow Unimog who are already travelling for 3 years with their dog.

The day ended with us camping wild at Laguna Yurira at an altitude 4400m – we were prepared for a ice cold night as it started raining a few drops. Following a quick supper we crept into our roof tent to shelter from the cold. Since we could feel tingling in the hands and feet and had altitude headache, we decided to take some Diamox as it has been a climb of almost 4000m within a day -not good.  In the morning we observed some Andean geese, Yellow-billed Teal and Giant Coots (as well as one lonely sheep -we named him Shaun). Less and less herds of Llamas were seen.

Next morning we carried on along the 40A and turned off close to Rocruzca onto Ruta AR105, a small and rough road. At the turnoff our details were recorded at a boom -not to sure for what purpose.We discovered some southern Viscacacha (chinchillas), cute with their curly tail.

As we drove along AR105 the area became very desolate and remote – virtually no people left except one herdsman who walked up a hill when he spotted us photographing. A few provisions made his day.

Towards afternoon a thunderstorm was developing, dark grey and threatening, but beautiful. We were reaching a height above 5000m.

The temperature dropped and suddenly our road was obstructed by a small landslide. We could not squeeze by and had to start shovelling and rolled some boulders out of the way which we barely managed. As we were shovelling the first sleet came down and then it turned into a snowstorm within the next 30 minutes – giving us just enough time to reach a reasonably level clearing where we could park.

We could not see any tracks any longer, it got dark and within a short while we were covered in about 5cm of snow. At this point we decided to call it a day and crept into our tent. The altitude here was 4900m ( we managed still to come down from the 5100m we had reached an hour earlier). Not knowing how long we may be caught in the snow, I decided to restart the vehicle twice during the night and let it run for approx 20minutes.

Luck was on our side – next morning the Cordillera de Huanzo mountains were clear, the snowing had stopped and within two hours of brilliant sunshine enough snow had melted for us to see the road again. We continued albeit a little nervous about further landslides as there was no oncoming vehicles we could ask.

The road continued through the mountain ranges, up and down winding passes and  through little remote villages like Puyca, Alca and Tomepampa.

Finally we reached the  Coatahuasi Cañon (3535m deep), where we stopped and camped at Mirador Bañadero del Condor with view of the distant town of Toro.

This viewpoint/camp can accommodate maximum 2 vehicles and there was even a loo! 200m further is a lookout from where at times Condors can be seen bathing below a small waterfall high up on the opposite wall -we were not so lucky.

We found the journey to the Cañon exciting and one of the most remote and quiet areas in Peru. The cañon itself was maybe a little disappointing as we had envisaged grandeur like the Grand Cañon in Nevada or Fish River Cañon in Namibia. Cotahuasi is different – not so visible.

We continued through Puna landscape past the Nevado Solimana (6323m) and Nevado Coropuna (6613m), the landscape dotted with hardy green plants looking likes stones.

Wind picked up while we drove through the Pampas de Majes where we could barely make out the sandstone petroglyphs Toro Muerto in the distance -not the day to explore further due to incredibly strong winds and dust.

Barren mountains lined a very fertile and dark green valley with vines and rice. A lot a cacti grew on some of the slopes, the mountains pink and grey.

Near Tambillo we turned into the stony desert and camped under clear skies full of stars, faintly aware of only a very distant rumbling of trucks along this stretch of road.

Soon we reached Arequipa and found a pleasant place to stay, Grace Valley B&B with Diana and her mother running it and making us feel very welcome -especially since it was Xmas.

While in Arequipa we could get the vehicle serviced at Mitsui Toyota on short notice,a professionally run workshop with one assistant in sales speaking English to translate. We relaxed in the comfort of the client lounge with view of the workshops.

While in Arequipa we found our vehicle’s starter batteries failing ( the Landcruiser VX100 has two in parallel that are best replaced as a pair) and we managed to get two suitable replacements (Panasonic brand to get a one year warranty in all the countries we were due to visit).

We also found that from Grace Valley we could reach the old city on foot and the Arequipa Clinic by taxi, all very conveniently. Although it is possible to stay in the vehicle roof tent at the B&B, we suggest taking a room as the traffic noise can be loud. And maybe you are lucky getting the same blanket on your bed – a very homely feeling for us from Africa.

It was a pleasant stay at Grace Valley and Diana tipped us off to book at Zigzag restaurant for Xmas dinner – an excellent suggestion. We toured the old city, had a haircut and looked for a laundry. The central plaza was abuzz with families showing their kids the nativity play – little Jesus was missing (it only appear on Xmas Eve after the mass).

Shoe lace specialist merchant.

Unfortunately the Santa Catalina monastery closed early and we missed seeing the inside which we believe is worth seeing. This made our decision easy to relax with a sundowner of different Pisco cocktails before going to supper.

Santa Catalina Monastery

We decided to stay the 25th and got served a traditional hot chocolate, turkey and Italian cake  for breakfast.

When in Arequipa for Xmas – stay up after midnight, as this is the time when the fireworks everywhere started which lasted two hours.

This post cover the period 17th – 25th December 2016