You may already know that Andean condors are among the most beautiful and majestic sights to see in Peru, but did you know that the best place to see them is a stunning and easily accessible canyon that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon and much more interesting?
Peru’s Colca Canyon was once overlooked by tourists, but now with better roads and spreading word about its magnificent views, it attracts more than 150,000 visitors each year. You could be one of them, and you could have an up-close experience with the largest land bird in the world, the Andean condor. The Andean condor is Peru’s most widely recognized symbol of beauty, grace and majesty. That fact alone says something about the condor’s splendor given how many other amazing birds, animals, plants and architecturally significant structures exists in this land that humans have been enjoying for more than 8,000 years.
Mainly black, adult Andean condors have bands of white around their throats and males have white on their wings too. For some natives of Peru, the Andean condor’s bones, feathers and even eyes have magical and mystic properties and have been used for millennia in shamanic rituals. Songs have even been written about this bird that’s said to soar more often than it flies. The song “El Condor Pasa” by Peruvian musician Daniel Alomía Robles was already famous in its own right when Paul Simon used it as the basis for his composition “If I Could”.
Because the Andean condor has such a heavy body, it takes advantage of warm thermal currents to carry it seemingly effortlessly on waves unseen by humans. The Andean condor is considered endangered. Although they certainly do not seem to be short supply, when you rise early on a sunny Peruvian morning to greet them as they scan Colca Canyon for their sustenance.
The bird’s natural habitat is along the coasts of Peru and Argentina and also in the Andes. While they can be found in many places in South America, the Colca Canyon area offers the best opportunities for close-up viewing because of its unique geography. Early each morning, visitors gather at Cruz del Condor and other locations to watch as the condors rise gracefully from the chasm on warm air rising from the awakening canyon and the active volcanoes in the area. The birds glide along, rarely flapping, showing off their 10-foot wingspans. Late every afternoon, the process is repeated as the birds continue their search for carrion — that is, remnants from animals that have been killed or died. The Andean condor only rarely kills, relying on what is left behind by others and cleaning up the messes of living wild to help prevent the spread of disease that harms all species. These important players in the Peruvian ecosystem exist in Colca Canyon alongside the giant colibri, the world’s largest hummingbird, as well as the Andean Goose and animals including the famed vicuna, another national symbol.
The Colca Canyon is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and is a much different experience for human visitors. Because of the Grand Canyon’s steep walls, there are few people who live around it. Wildlife is even limited by the extremely rugged terrain. Peru’s grandest canyon in the world is much friendlier to people. With sides that slope gently in many places, people live comfortably along it in small communities and on terraced farms. Most of the people who come to Colca Canyon today, however, are tourists, anxious to see Andean condors on the birds’ own terms. They are rarely disappointed.
We cannot say for sure that you will find this canyon more interesting than the Grand Canyon, but we suspect you will always remember your visits to both of them. You feel privileged to be watching the caretakers of an amazing part of the world at work, keeping it pristine for tomorrow’s visitors.
by: Mike and Tajinder Hammer, Eagle-Condor Peru Adventures
Mike and Tajinder Hammer have a passion for the teachings of the medicine people of Peru, and leads regular tours to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley area of Peru. Join them for the best Trips to Machu Picchu!