The rays of the morning sun begin to evaporate the mist that shrouds the depths of Peru’s Colca Canyon. You’ve come out in the early hours to see the condor, or Andean vulture, in action, and as the mist dissipates, you can see hundreds of others have done the same. Many cluster at the mirador or Cruz del Condor. Others perch above pre-Inca terraces embedded into walls twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Audacious visitors clamber to the rocks below to see the condor, but a short hike along the rim of the canyon allows for a viewpoint that is less precarious and just as private.
Wrapped up against the cold, you whisper excitedly and wait for the show to begin. Suddenly, a condor rises on the morning thermals, soaring like an acrobat – so close you think you could reach out and touch its giant charcoal wings. It scours the surroundings, swooping lower and then higher, then lower again, in a roller-coaster pursuit of food. Soon it is joined by another bird, and another, in a graceful airborne ballet.
Eventually, the birds abandon the audience in their hunt for sustenance, and the mirador becomes home to a less elusive species. Peruvian women, brightly dressed in multilayered skirts, squat on their haunches, hawking food, drinks and souvenirs – everything from woolly Andean hats to purses embroidered with the condor.
The panpipe sounds of “El Condor Pasa” are played so often in Peru that they become the theme tune for many trips. Simon and Garfunkel might have made the song famous with their cover version, but it’s the eponymous bird that deserves a place in your Peruvian holiday.