Friday, March 13, 2009

Cabaconde and Sanguille Oasis

Bumping along the Rio de Colca through the majestic Andes mountains, there are many towns along the way- little villages that appear to be dwarf siblings to Chivay. As the bus moves through these pueblos, the dirt roads searching for the vehicle’s tires, the people come out to their Plaza de Armas and get ready to board. They bring upon their colored nylon sacks filled with who-knows-what. They carry on their children, alpacas, or store tied up sheep in the storage compartment below. The crowded bus changes in population many times by shrinking and growing from people standing in the narrow aisle to an abundance of seats available before we reach our final destination of Cabanaconde.

This little place seems to be situated at the end of the world, or maybe at the center on its own high-rise post with nothing but clouds surrounding it. It has found a convenient location in the Andes Mountains that lets you look at the world from high above. For this reason, it has become a haven for hikers. Here, deep within the range and along the Rio de Colca, it is possible to hike for days around and over the river and canyon taking in all the natural beauty and observing the amazing condors.

One particular hike, the one I can speak of since it was the one we chose to tackle, leads down, straight down, the mountain to Sanguille Oasis. The path starts at the edge of town, through the local crop fields, before it begins its steep descent into the canyon. The drop is harsh and unyielding. Large loose rocks cover the three-foot wide trail acting as ball bearings beneath our feet. Always to one side of us is the cliff that is dotted with tall cacti and jagged rocks. The other, a sharp stonewall.

The path continues to fall quite steeply, zig-zagging in and out in a tight pattern. Condors pass overhead as our legs burn deep trying to keep our bodies from sliding down the mountain. The sun burns bright with midday heat, while, from up above, the oasis shows two blue dots that promise to be cool pools.

As we move further down, sometimes losing sight of our prize and wondering if we have taken a wrong turn, locals from the above town move past us. As we huff and puff for air, these workers run by guiding mules and carrying shovels and sledge hammers for work down below. They wear nothing but sandals on their feet and move at twice our pace...with ease. Strange, vaguely marked graves pop up ever so often.

After four hours of trudging and thinking of our poor, neglected lungs, we arrive at the oasis. We found one of the guides that assist in maintaining this interesting paradise. Surrounded by palm trees and cacti, he directs us to our mud hut, one of maybe thirty. We cool off in the promised pool and dip our feet in the raging river. The entire place is without electricity and at night we eat dinner by candle light with fellow backpackers and hikers while sharing stories of our adventures. The huge full moon is high enough in the sky now to light the way back to our bungalow. Here we attempt to rest our sore muscles and achy bones on the reed mattress as we prepare for our march up the next day.

Opting to allow a beast of burden to carry our backpacks up the mountain for a minimal fee, we set off at 6:30 am to avoid the midday sun. The climb is as if we were living the previous day in rewind without the weight on our backs and the scorching heat. Although we have a couple of advantages on our side, we’re still fighting gravity and sore muscles. Our legs still burn and our feet continue to scream, but after the final step, four hours later, our minds are at rest and we feel accomplished.

Although this journey was the only one we chose to do, there are many more that are much longer in duration- there are other towns to walk to and sights to be seen. A week can be spent hiking around this mind-blowing area seeing plenty of amazing scenery, wildlife and people.

Travel tips:
1. Take the local bus instead of a guided tour to get to Colca Canyon. A guided tour ranges from $10-25, where as the local bus company, Milagros Tourismo, is less than $1. The guides rush you through various lookout points and pueblos, where as you can relax, take it in and spend a lot less with this bus.

2. Consider this: The “canyon entrance fee” is s/35 (about $11), but the only place we saw and heard of them collecting it was at the Cruz del Condor, a heavily touristy spot just before Cabanaconde. Once we hiked in and around Cabanaconde, we saw plenty of condors and didn’t pay any sort of fee. The fee is rumored to be a scam by some.

3. Just a thought: We packed a bit too much to carry up and down the mountain and successfully left our extra goods at the local hostel overnight for about sixty cents. Upon our return the next day, everything was intact.


  1. Hey guys, great blog. My understanding is that the S./35 fee is collected by the local Government to make money from tourism. The price is a bit steep in my opinion, but at least it goes to locals, many of whom are poor.
    Is it a scam? Technically yes, because according to Peruvian law such fees are not legal.

  2. To Staurt´s comment: This is true. We were told that the idea of collecting this fee was to improve roads and general conditions in and around the canyon.