We went with Pepe (and Antonia B, review below, was on our trip) below on the 3-day Colca Canyon trip. It was a fabulous experience -- from the booking to the dropping off at our hotel afterward in Arequipa. This company is listed in Frommer's or Fodor's, can't remember which, but IT NEEDS TO BE IN EVERY GUIDEBOOK, especially Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, etc.!!!! Catherine answered every one of my many questions by email. Our group was very small -- just my husband and me, and two women from LA. It was very intimate, and they were able to customize the trip for us. For example, they picked us up in Yanque (where we had a wonderful stay at Miskawassi B&B), and we did the scenic stops from Arequippa to the Canyon on the way back instead, so we didn't miss them. I also really liked the timing of this company's trip. They don't leave at the crack of dawn, or get you up at 3 a.m. to hike out of the canyon. They spend only one night in the canyon, and frankly, although we really liked the oasis on our second day, I'm not sure i would have liked to stay there. (On the other hand, i could see doing a longer Canyon trek, as there is so much to see there -- Land Adventures can make this happen too!)
So, Pepe was incredible -- he is so knowledgable and really shared his knowledge with us -- flora, fauna, geology, history, culture, etc.. As part of his 5-year program to be certified as a Colca area guide, he stayed for a while in a small village in the canyon and worked to really up the number of students who attended school there. Unlike other guides, who passed the town by, we sat for a good 45 minutes in the little town as he really explained what life was like there, especially the needs of the school and the medical clinic. (If anyone wants a service project in a health clinic or a school, Pepe will hook you up.)
Pepe is fun-loving and kind and went out of his way for all of us to make sure we had a great and safe experience. We are not young (55 and 59), and my husband was getting over, um, stomach problems, so he was a slow hiker. Pepe managed to bop between the 30-year old women (who run the fire trails in LA) and us, keeping both sets of us in mind.
A couple of pointers. TAKE THE MULES OUT!!! I hiked out of the Grand Canyon when I was younger, and although this is a shorter hike, it is by far steeper. No sweeping switchbacks. It is essentially a rocky stair case straight up. The best thing Pepe did was show us a portion of the trail as we hiked through the canyon in the morning that was about 20 minutes long but the same steepness as the out-of-the-canyon ascent. That showed us all, especially my husband, that the mules would be 60 soles very well spent. I don't know if you can reserve them in advance, but we had a moment of panic (esp for my husband) when there were no mules when we got to the Oasis. But, as usual, Pepe to the rescue. We paid for his mule up to, so he wouldnt have to walk beside us.
Second, about the lodging, you might want to try to find out from Catherine where you will be lodged. You can spend $50 extra for 3-star accomodation (Kunturwassi), which is quite lovely. We didn't mind lesser accomodations and did not pay extra. However, it was the Festival of the Virgin del Carmen, and there was not a lot of availability. We were placed in the (coincidentally named) Hostel Virgin del Carmen, which really wasn't that great (though the bed was comfortable and they had plenty of hot water). Also, it was new construction, and withstood the earthquake.
As Antonia notes, we were there during a 6.0 (says USGS) earthquake more or less centered in the town. 20 houses were flattened (80 in the next town over), rockslides on the road,ruined water supply, and tremendous rockslides in the canyon, closing some of the trails and sending up clouds of dust that darkened the skies all the way to Arequippa. Frightening. But it sure gave us something to chat about on the long (and so beautiful) ride home.
Can't say enough good stuff about the trip: great drivers, good food (great buffet in Chivay), magical time in the canyon (simple accomodations expected and very adequate there), the organization, and especially our great guide Pepe. Looking down through other reviews, I see other people really liked their guides too. I'm so glad - it's a real testament to the company. (But I'm sure Pepe still is the best!)
, but none of them could compare for value ($200/pp including the Colca Canyon ticket) or
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