How to Peru in 2 weeks – Day #12: Mirador Lagunillas – Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca – Chinitos Patahuasi – Tocra swamps – Mirador de los Andes – Chivay – Yanque
Shortly after we exit the busy streets of Juliaca, we see again the landscape we got so accustomed few days before, along the Route of the Sun.
The bushes become dwindling bundles; the grass turns into thistle clusters. Hundreds of shades of brown mixed with shades of grey. When we see a green patch of land, we know a little spring or a pond is trying to give some life to these parched lands at 4,000+ m altitude. Otherwise, most land looks arid, and dreary. The barren land looks dried and frail, sad in its majesty, generous in its magnificence.
Lagunillas, was our first stop after leaving from Puno. The itinerary advertising states it is possible to observe some migratory birds such as flamingos, but April was not a good month to see them. As a birdwatcher I was disappointed of course, but nothing we can do about our timing here.
The next stop, Patahuasi, is a great spot (normally) where one can admire Chachani and Misti volcanoes from, two of the most famous volcanoes in this area. But as the weather conditions can change very fast in the highlands, we were not so fortunate to have a clear view. Instead we admired some interesting rock formations right across the road. We also changed our bus here, getting into a van with 10 more people, and an amazing guide who has quickly introduced us all the other passengers. We found ourselves part of a big family, with a French, and an Italian family – a great change after we have spent almost 4 hours by ourselves in a huge couch.
Mountains, hills, valleys, snow-capped peaks, we were mesmerized by the beauty. Here it came the best of Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca. I felt thrills of joy when I saw patches of tick moss, meaning life sprouts around. More grass, food for wildlife, especially vicunas and guanacas. We were explained that vicunas are the wild version of alpaca, and has the softest wool out of all camelids from South America. Once endangered, vicuna became the national animal of Peru.
Rocky tops mixed with flat plateaus, brown hills mixed with large valleys, we got immersed into a different world.
We were amazed to notice some tick, green, healthy bushes when we expected less, and were surprised to see a hollow land when we anticipated to see it alive.
The guide told us about the wildlife and vicunas, and she kept asking the driver to slow down or to stop when we wanted.
If you are a birdwatcher, then a stop at Tocra swamps is a must. Nevertheless, one should not miss it, in my opinion, as there is no other place along the way to watch few Andean wild birds into one place. This was the most amazing stop we’ve done so far, and my patience was so nicely rewarded.
The next rewarding stop was Patapampa. We knew this was the highest point on our route, but didn’t realize our hearts will get to the rhythm to match all those 4,910 metres (or so we felt). From this point Mirador de los Andes we could see the whole mountain range, Ampato, Sabancaya and Hualca Hualca volcanoes, as well as the snowy Mismi, which is considered as the place where The Amazon River is born because it is the farthest tributary of it.
Shortly after, the road slopes down to the foothill of the town Chivay, a little oasis in the middle of high rises. To our relief, as the altitude decreased a lot, about 1,300 m. We’ve had one more stop before continuing to the end of the road, in a spot that offered us the most handsome view of this small cozy town of Chivay, surrounded completely by these majestic mountains.
After we left the French family in Chivay, we were headed to Yanque, where our arrangements for the night were made. This was the moment when we got the first glimpse of the canyon, along Colca River. After a pretty boring morning, we were suddenly overwhelmed, fascinated by a new, thriving landscape, totally different. A new world, a new wonder.
Killawasi Lodge in Yanque proved to have a very different standard than the rest of the hotels we encountered along the way; however, the price was proportional. Since our guide advised me against the hot springs due to my altitude difficulties, we decided to visit the village, and have a good evening rest on our own little patio.
A stroll in the village won’t take too long, and we had another nice surprise when we decided to visit the local museum Musei Universidad catolica de Santa Maria where we saw a reproduction of the mummy ‘Juanita’ (the frozen original body is in the Andean Sanctuaries from Arequipa).
The evening ended so nicely, having a cup of tea in the lodge restaurant while chatting with other tourists, and some relaxing time on our own patio, admiring the garden and the surrounding mountains.
Tip(s) of the day:
- Puno – Colca – Arequipa tour was a 2days guided tour with a night spent in Yanque;
- The tour has a local guide, the best source to learn about new places; ask if you would like a stop along the way, they are very accommodating;
- Puno to Lagunillas is about 2.5 hrs, and another 1.5 hrs to reach Patahuasi – these are the longest legs of the trip. The remaining Patahuasi to Chivay/Yanque will fly by very quickly. The whole trip for the day is about 7 to 8 hours;
- Have small change with you, as all facilities along the route are not free;
- Entrance fee to Colca Canyon is 70 soles, paid separately through our guide once we arrived in Chivay; the tickets received were good for next day as well;
- Other things to do in Colca Canyon: hiking, horse-riding, hot springs, visiting villages along the canyon, visiting/staying with a local family.
~ visited in April 2019