Condors and Grave Robbers in the Colca Canyon in Peru

man on horse colca canyon peru
peru andean plateau landscape

The landscape at 4910 metres above sea level, quite literally breathtaking

 

Colca Canyon

There’s something about humans and their fascination with deep holes. At twice the depth the Grand Canyon in the US, the Colca Canyon of Peru has intrigued mankind for a very long time. A few hours by bus from Arequipa, this landscape of pre-columbian Inca terraces and rolling hills in the Colca valley, and of course, the incredibly steep canyon, is a world from the city. During the journey there from Arequipa on the high Andean plateau, the altitude reached as high as an gasping 4910 meters (16,100ft) above sea level, the thin atmosphere paving the way for exceptionally clear skies. At times, I felt as if I was on the moon, everyone’s movements were observably slower and more deliberate due to the reduced oxygen.

The Colca valley is dotted with small villages, chief amongst them being Chivay, which serves as a sort of hub for the region. As with most villages, towns and cities in Peru, each village is centred around a square, with a church on one side, no doubt a civil planning and religious import from the Spanish conquistadors when they came rampaging through the area. The region is still primarily inhabited by the original Aymara-speaking Collagua and Quechua-speaking Cabana cultures, each differentiated with distinct head deformations. The Cabana favoured wide and flat skulls as a tribute to their mythical place of origin, and the Collagua, tall and elongated skulls, so that they can be differentiated from the Cabanas. The Spanish found this practice grotesque and went on to ban its practice. Today, the two ethnic groups identify themselves by less extreme means, in the form of  subtly different traditional dress.

Andean Condor

An area of outstanding natural beauty, it has ancient terraces carved into the sides of the steep slopes, from the time of the Inca and before. Although many of these terraces are still being cultivated, yet many others have been abandoned, and are slowly returning back to nature.

 

The Colca Canyon is home to the legendary Andean Condor, a massive bird that can been seen riding the thermal currents, especially around the area of Cruz del Condor, where many birds can be seen, seemingly oblivious to the numerous tourists pointing their cameras at them.

With a wingspan of up to 3.2m/10.5ft, the Andean Condor is one of the largest birds on earth. A national symbol of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, featuring prominently in their respective coats of arms. The Andean Condor has its roots in the deep mythology of the region, especially revered by the Incas, believed by them to bring the sun into the sky every morning and to be a messenger to the gods.

Grave Robbers

A fantastic way to see the valley, we rode around the Colca Canyon on horseback, led by our local guide Wilbur. Caramelo and Mil Amores were our obliging horses, patient with our amateur handling. We came across a huaca (sacred site) where Incans were buried, with many of the skeletal remains still intact, although the treasures of the tombs have long since disappeared with the huaqueros (grave robbers) that have looted the area. Both ominous and sad, the lifeless skulls staring back at us told of a story of a lost civilisation and a rich culture destroyed.

Vicuñas, wild ancestors of the domesticated alpacas, roam the area

Vicuñas, wild ancestors of the domesticated alpacas, roam the area

The landscape of alpacas and llamas colca canyon

The landscape of alpacas and llamas

Collagua woman in traditional costume in the colca valley

Collagua woman in traditional costume in the colca valley

Cabana woman with baby alpacas

Cabana woman with baby alpacas

two brown horses in the colca canyon peru

Caramelo and Mil Amores, our trusty steeds

Huaqueros (grave robbers) have long since looted this tomb of its treasures, leaving behind the bones of its unfortunate owner in this burial site carved into the side of the mountain in the Colca Valley

Huaqueros (grave robbers) have long since looted this tomb of its treasures, leaving behind the bones of its unfortunate owner in this burial site carved into the side of the mountain in the Colca Valley

Skulls from Inca times are a reminder of the deep history of the Colca Valley

Skulls from Inca times are a reminder of the deep history of the Colca Valley

La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, Yanque Village

La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción, Yanque Village

Inca terraces in the Colca Valley

The rich history of the Colca Valley is etched deep into its landscape

The magnificent Andean Condor is a resident of the Valley, especially at Cruz del Condor, where they can often be seen riding the thermal currents

The magnificent Andean Condor is a resident of the Valley, especially at Cruz del Condor, where they can often be seen riding the thermal currents

One of the most magnificent birds on the planet, the Andean Condor is also a fundamental part of the history of the Andean cultures

One of the most magnificent birds on the planet, the Andean Condor is also a fundamental part of the history of the Andean cultures

I left my job as an advertising Creative Director in August 2012 to travel Africa and South America for a year with my wife, documenting these beautiful places with my Fuji X-Pro1. View the rest of my RTW adventures on Handcarry Only and follow me on my journey by subscribing/following/bookmarking.

 

  • TripLogic

    Glorious!

    • http://handcarryonly.com/ Adrian Seah

      Thank you Kate!

  • Souvik De

    wow!! These are quite spectacular stuff Adrian, you have to tell me your processing technique man!! Leaving for Buenos Aires next week. Will let you know how it goes.

    • http://handcarryonly.com/ Adrian Seah

      Thanks Souvik! Check out VSCO film for Lightroom. It’s what I use. I don’t actually spend too much time on processing, just straighten out horizons a bit and make sure nothing is to burnt out or too dark. VSCO is a great starting point to give it a more organic and less harsh digital look.

      Buenos Aires is awesome man! Very jealous! Be sure to overdose on theirs heavenly steaks at the local parillas. Also the gelato… Mmmm

      Have fun!

  • Souvik De

    Hey Adrian, what can I say, your photographs inspired us to visit BsAs and now I am thinking of going to Peru next year. I am already starting to plan that trip. Where are you headed to next? I am using VSCO films, but I am not exactly getting out the kind of texture you have on your photograph!

    • http://handcarryonly.com/ Adrian Seah

      If its of any help, my favourite presets are ‘Kodak Portra 160 VC ++’ and ‘Fuji Superior 100′ from FILM2, sometimes ‘Polaroid 690′ from FILM3, but sometimes I just click around and see what looks appropriate for the photo!

      I should be collecting some payment from Argentina and Peru for promotion of their tourism! :) Take lots of photos and enjoy your time in BsAs! Be sure to post them online when you’re back.

      • Souvik De

        You should definitely collect some promotion fees from Argentina/Chile & Peru. I am thinking of doing the 4 day inca trail next year, sounds bit challenging trek but will see how that works out. You have to give me some info on doing the Peru trip, I am thinking of going to Peru and basically follow your step!!

        I will try the preset you recommended and see how it comes out, I will obviously put up pictures of BsAs/Santiago trip photographs in my blog, souvik-de.tumblr.com. I can’t wait to get myself into a local parillas, thanks again for all your suggestion and help. Will be in touch.

  • Carmen Allan-Petale

    Wow, what spectacular photos. We are going to Peru at the begging of next year and I think we certainly need to check this place out. Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • http://handcarryonly.com/ Adrian Seah

      Hi Carmen, I’m pretty sure you won’t regret going! I’m guessing you’ll be flying through Lima, many will be tempted to skip Lima but I’d say, if you can spare the time, a couple of days there will be well spent too.

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