Magnificent Colca Canyon

Overlooked by two of Peru’s highest volcanoes and surrounded by stunning landscapes and beautiful snow ranges, el Cañon del Colca is one of the greatest, and in fact the second deepest, canyon in the world. A trip to the Colca Canyon is an unmissable adventure with impressive varieties of flora and fauna, green valleys, mighty rivers crossing the Andes and thousands of impressive pre Inca terraces all to be discovered.

Great views, beautiful hotels and good facilities, but I decided to take a more adventurous option. We set off on our 3 day trip at dawn to make sure we wouldn’t miss the bus. After approximately an hour’s bus ride, we joined an extremely bumpy, unpaved road, which took us all the way to the small town of Cabanaconde – a perfect starting point for the trek down the Colca Canyon. Standing on the edge of the canyon, I was immediately overwhelmed by its breath-taking scenery. As I looked down I could see that the trek was not going to be easy. I began to make my way down. The trek had quite a few steep approaches, and I realised how fit I would need to be!

I travelled with 7 others plus our excellent guide. We spent the first night in the cabañas in the tiny village of San Juan de Chuccho. The evening meal was amazing and was followed by a very special night with the other guests, telling stories and exchanging our Peruvian experiences by candlelight. As there was no electricity, we enjoyed a unique and intimate atmosphere.

Ladies in the Colca Canyon

After a tasty breakfast prepared by our lovely host, we continued on our trek. The hike was unbelievably beautiful and the views were stunning. Now and again, we met some locals. Although it was a little difficult to communicate with them as they spoke a local language, they were very friendly. We finally arrived at the famous ‘Oasis’ where we were to spend our second night. I was looking forward to relaxing in its hot springs, which was well deserved after the strenuous trek. The water was completely clear and pure and it was a real pleasure to soak in.

The return to Arequipa the following day entailed yet another adventure on the bumpy and winding road. Visiting the Cruz del Condor on the way back, we were very lucky to see condors soaring over us. The condors can be seen at close range as they fly past the canyon walls, and the Cruz del Condor was a brilliant stop for admiring these amazing birds.

Relax on the coast in Peru

Peru is one of the most interesting and wonderful countries anywhere. You can see incredible Inca ruins, the Amazon rainforest, amazing mountains and canyons and beautiful colonial cities all on one holiday. However, with so many things to see and do, a holiday there is not always the most relaxing and can involve lots of early mornings. Early mornings in Paracas are definitely optional, and spending a couple of days lazing around the pool is a great way to end a tour of Peru.

The fishing village of Paracas, less than 4 hours by road from Lima, is in a beautiful bay. As Paracas is in the desert it receives very little rain. There is sunshine most days of the year, although mornings can be overcast, especially between May and September. The weather is hottest from December to April, but even in the coolest months of July and August, daytime highs in the low 20s are usual, although nights can be cool.

The area now has some of the best hotels in Peru, so is perfect for unwinding. I was lucky to stay in the wonderful Hotel Paracas Luxury Collection earlier this year. There are large, well-kept gardens and two open air pools: a large family pool and a heated pool for adults. There is an excellent spa and massage rooms and the bar serves fantastic pisco sours. The rooms are great – large, comfortable, great bathrooms and terraces (ground floor rooms) or balconies (first floor rooms).

There are also plenty of interesting things to do if you fancy something more active. The hotel has its own jetty for the amazing boat rides to the Ballestas Islands. A speedboat takes you to this small group of islands teeming with wildlife. Pelicans, tendrils, blue-footed boobies and Humbolt penguins nest on the islands and sea lions play around the boat. Whales and dolphins are sometimes present, although not usually seen.

Another fantastic attraction near Paracas is the Nazca Lines. These 2000-year old etchings in the face of the desert have attracted all sorts of wild speculation about their origins, including Erich von Daniken’s alien landing strips. You can visit the viewing tower, from which you get a view of some of the lines, and judge for yourself. You can also fly over the Nazca Lines, although Llama Travel is currently not offering these flights due to safety concerns raised by a number of incidents in recent years on different airlines operating these flights.

My favourite archaeological attraction in the area is the Ica Regional Museum, where there is a fantastic collection of deformed trophy skulls, mummies and incredible textiles from the Nazca and Paracas cultures.

Machu Picchu will always take pride of place as the main attraction in Peru, but I cannot think of a better place than Paracas to end your tour of the country.