The main reasons people flock to Arequipa in Peru are to hike in Colca Canyon and to visit the aptly named Condor Cross in the hope of spotting Andean condors – the largest birds in the western hemisphere.
I’m the daughter of an avid bird watcher and, other than requests for updates on where I am and whether I’m safe, the most common question my dad has asked me all trip is ‘Have you seen a condor yet?’
Having returned from two nights in the town of Cabanaconde, I can now say that the answer to that question is a resounding ‘Yes!’. In fact, I saw 10, and they were swooping so close overhead, we could hear the whistle of the wind as it passed over their wings.
The viewing point for the condors is known as Condor Cross. It’s just off the main road that links Cabanaconde with the town of Chivay (about 2.5 hours away) and eventually Arequipa (6 hours by public bus). From Cabanaconde, it only takes 20 minutes to drive to the look out point, but, at the time of writing, the buses left at the crazy hour of 6 am.
THUMBING A LIFT
We were incredibly lucky because we’d met a couple of English guys the night before in our hostel, Pachamama, who offered to give us a lift (they actually live 2 minutes away from me in London)! They’d rented a 4×4, which we referred to lovingly as ‘The Beast’ owing to its reinforced cage and multiple sirens, flashing lights and tools.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CONDOR CROSS
The best time to see the condors is around 9 in the morning, although there are frequent sightings around 2 in the afternoon as well.
We met the boys at 7 am and made our way to the look-out point – picking up a couple of workers with spades on the way. Nick, our driver, actually forgot they were there. After speeding round a few corners, we looked back to see the two guys lying flat out in the truck, clinging on for their lives! Oops!
The first to arrive at Condor Cross each morning are the local women in traditional dress, who sell various locally produced items. My friend Christina and I did a deal on two alpaca wool hats for S.16. That’s about £2 each – an even greater bargain considering they’re reversible, so I can choose between Inca patterns or llamas!
ANDEAN CONDOR SIGHTINGS
We were among the first tourists to arrive and we settled ourselves on a stone wall. Only moments later, two condors appeared on the horizon and headed straight for us, swooping low and circling overhead. It was almost as if they were showing off for our photos, although it was still difficult to zoom in and get them in the frame of the shot as they sped by.
As tourists piled in by the bus load, more condors appeared. At one time, there were 7 in the sky together…
Another perched itself on the cliff just below the biggest crowds…
If you’re really lucky, you might get to see the Andean Condors exhibiting a range of interesting behaviours. These two looked as though they might collide.
Once we’d worn out our arms from holding our cameras steady, and our necks from craning backwards as the birds passed by, we took the path further along the canyon. Nick had been to the canyon a few times and told us that, usually, there’s a greater chance of seeing condors if you walk for 20 minutes or so away from the main viewing point.
A CHANCE TO GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS
As luck would have it, Nick and his cousin Paris were heading back to Arequipa that day too, so we eagerly agreed to their offer of another lift, but not before we’d dropped off 2 other tourists, 6 local women and all their merchandise in Cabanaconde.
LLAMAS ON THE ROAD TO AREQUIPA
On the long drive back to Arequipa, we played car games, stopping along the way to take pictures of wild llamas.
Be warned that this road is bumpy! If you suffer from travel sickness, take something for it. Back in Arequipa, why not check out the Santa Catalina Monastery?