Colca Canyon, in southern Peru, is the deepest canyon in the world, so the drive to see its world-famous birds is heart-in-the-mouth stuff, but the heebie-jeebies, and having to get up in the freezing hour before dawn, are well worth it.
We reached Cruz del Condor, 1000 metres above the canyon floor, at about 8.30 am and scrambled over the rocks of the viewpoint to find a good spot to wait. Andean Condors (Vultur gryphus) are big birds, weighing up to 15 kgs and with a wingspan of around 3 metres, so they need the thermals to glide up the canyon each morning, before flying off for up to 250 kms in search of their day’s food – dead animals! Patience is required – how quickly they come depends on what the weather’s like, when the sun hits the bottom of the canyon, how quickly the air warms up … But, eventually, we saw some small birds a long way below and kept watching until, by 10.30am, they had reached our level and were gliding past us just metres away.
There were several adult birds and two brown-feathered juveniles. The young birds seemed to tire and settled for a while on a rock very close to the canyon edge – a rare treat to have them so close to us. And the whole spectacle was marvellous to watch – I filled up a memory card with photos but eventually stopped clicking and stood enthralled by the condors’ seemingly effortless flight. One of nature’s miracles!