The Route to Chivay


Chivay isn’t really the end point; the main attraction is the Colca Canyon and, at least for me,  the Andean Condors.  Chivay is a little town located at the head of the Colca Canyon.  We stayed one night so that the following morning we could get an early start into the Canyon.  The objective was to get to the Condors by 8:00AM.

The route to Chivay goes through the National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca, where we saw grazing llamas, alpacas and vicuña.

There were two challenges to be faced on this part of the trip: Altitude and the condition of the roads.

Once leaving the Pan American Highway the roads are for the most part gravel and for much of the time very bumpy, especially in the Colca Canyon.  Normally it takes between 3 and 4 hours to drive the approximately 120 kms to Chivay, largely because of the condition of the roads.  Our tour took a leisurely 5 hours as we stopped at several points along the way.  One quickly gains an appreciation of how difficult 19th century stagecoach travel must have been.  

The next challenge of this part of the journey is altitude.  To put things into context, Toronto, which is near where I live is 105m above sea level. Calgary is just over 1000m above sea level.  Arequipa is at about 2400 meters, which was noticable; it was hard to sustain walking at my normal pace. Chivay is 3600m.  The drive to Chivay takes us up to 4900 meters. 

The advice we received was to drink lots of water and gatoraid, don’t drink too much alcohol, don’t eat too much, and eat coca in some form or another. Along the route to the highest point I consumed:

  • 3 coca candies
  • 1 coca tea
  • 1.5 l water
  • 7 coca leaves, chewed not stired.

I was fine until lunch, but I ate too much–they served alpaca steaks and I just had to try them out–and the digestion process sapped me.  Fortunately our agenda allowed us to relax the rest of the afternoon. I spent the time taking pictures of a nearby llama.

The main symptoms were shortness of breath with accelerated heart rate, headache and thirst. In the end avoiding physical exertion mitigated the shortness of breath & heart rate.

While the consumption of coca in its vaious legitimate forms increased thresholds, a couple of asprin cleared the headaches.

Coca tea was good to drink but as it is a simulant it’s best not to consume too much nor too late in the day. So water was the preferred choice after late morning or noon.

The dryness at this altitude meant waking up frequently during the night to have a drink of water. That of course disrupted my sleeping pattern.  On the other hand, one of the benefits of the dry air was any cloths we washed were mostly dry  within a day.

Enroute to Chivay

Dressed up Llama

Two boys eating

Grazing Llama

Andean girl in native costume

Baby Andean girl in native costume


Rock piles marking 4900m point


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