This is what an overnight hike to the Colca Canyon looks like
The Colca Canyons' a long, winding descent down followed by a short, intense hike out.
The day starts out like most hikes in Peru, with a 3am pick up.
By this stage I was used to the early starts, but that didn't stop me from falling into a head-lolling sleep while the van drove us to Chivay (3800m) for breakkie.
After carb loading once again on bread rolls with jam, we piled back into the van headed for Mirador Cruz Del Condo. Jostling with all the other tourists en route to the third most visited destination in Peru, I looked out into the wide, long precipice where half a dozen Andean Condors were hovering through the air.
Some of them swooped so close, I could see each feather on their 270-320cm wingspan curling at the tips.
After watching the condors glide over the canyon for an hour or so, we got back into the van, headed for the trailhead. We arrived around 10am, stocked up on the snacks on offer at the entrance, then set off straight away.
The Colca Canyon is located between two volcanos Coropuna (6377M) and Ampato (6380M), with a 1300 metre descent down to the Colca River than runs through it's middle. The descent took around four hours. Most of the time we were walking down dry, dusty earth with no problems, but after the Inca Trail and Rainbow Mountain, my Nikes were losing some grip, causing me to slip more than once on a few crumbly, misplaced pebbles.
At the bottom of the canyon, we crossed over a wooden bridge to begin our ascent up the other side.
The other side of the canyon is greener, lusher, more livelier. We hiked through a trail thick with trees, spectacular Dr Suess looking plants and waterfalls.
It's like another world on that side of the canyon.
We stopped in the small village of San Juan de Chuccho for lunch around 1.30pm, before continuing to hike for another four hours.
There's more small villages (Malata and Cosñirhua) along the way (and a lot more hills!) before you make the descent down into the Sangalle / Oasis to spend the night.
Sangalle is a funny wee sight.
In the heart of the canyon, palm trees grow around a pool surrounded on all sides by bamboo bungalows. It looks like Lima had a hand in its design. You have to make yourself look up at the magnificent cliffs, or out onto the river, to remind yourself where you actually are.
Sometime during our overnight stay in Sangalle, I woke up needing to use the bathroom. The bright lights hung around the bar were glowing when I stepped outside my bungalow. I made my way to the bathroom hut with the beat of the eighties music amplified by the dark depths of the canyon, feeling like I had tripped and fallen into a hippies iowashca dream.
The next day we woke up at 4am to begin the ascent up to the left rim of the canyon, to Cabanaconde.
It's a vertical, three hour hike up 1050m at 3280m high.
As the sun starts to come up over the canyon, it spills onto the rocky cliffs illuminating the entire landscape. It amplifies the mirage like way the top seems to be right there every time you look up, but an hour later your still winding you way up towards it.
Behind us, the oasis got smaller until the canyon swallowed it whole.
When we finally make it up out of the canyon, my lungs felt like oversized puffer fish unable to deflate back to size.
The view back out over the way we came was awesome.
After the ample amount of photos such a view demands, it was a short walk to breakfast, then on to finish the tour.
We stopped for an hour to soak in some muscle soothing hot springs, then began the drive back towards Arequipa, stopping at various viewpoints along the way.
If you can brace yourself through icy, jacket piercing wind, it's worth getting out of the van to view the three volcanoes (Misti, Picchu Picchu and Chachani) that surround Arequipa.
You'll no doubt see some llamas on the drive back, but if your lucky you'll spot some vicunas on the way too.
We arrived back late afternoon, just in time to grab a drink before sitting down to enjoy one of the most spectacular sunsets of the entire trip.