Chivay is a small town about halfway between Cabanaconde and Arequipa. We stopped in for a night to visit the famous hot springs, which turned out to be just OK, but really fell in love with the town and this area in general. At around 12,000ft in elevation this is definitely highland country, and the light here is incredible. Many of the local women wear colorful traditional clothing, there are llamas wandering around, and in general it’s the sort of place that makes you want to take way too many photos.
We arrived in the afternoon and found a cheap hotel where the desk clerk insisted on demonstrating the hot water available, even from the sink. When he ran the tap and I told him I believed him, he wouldn’t shut it off until I came and felt for myself. He was justifiably proud; a water heater is pretty unusual in this area filled with instant electric shower head heaters, which are both scary and only marginally effective most of the time.
We dropped off our stuff and headed to the town square to catch a shared taxi to the hot springs, which are a few miles out of town. When we asked a cop where to find the taxi he pointed it out and told us the correct price to pay, which we thought was nice, and then when we got in our fellow passengers whispered to us the same payment advice. Friendly people, and after all that the driver didn’t even try to rip us off!
The hot springs were pretty crowded with tour groups, which seem to use this as a standard stop combined with a visit to the Colca Canyon. The hot water is piped into a few different concrete pools, but only one was open when we visited due to maintenance issues. We debated at the entrance whether it was worth the slightly expensive entrance fee (I don’t remember now – it was probably only a few dollars, but we’re cheap, and so are non-touristy things in Peru), and ended up going in. The hot water felt great so it was probably worth it, but overall it was only an okay experience.
That night we went out for dinner at a cheap restaurant that had our favorite type of tea service: a big thermos of hot water at the table and a bowl of coca leaves. You just pour the water over the leaves and add sugar to taste. Coca tea is everywhere in the Andes, and it’s fantastic. We like the taste a lot, and it has a mild stimulant effect similar to a cup of coffee but without the jittery-ness that caffeine can give. I can also drink it in the evening and it doesn’t give me problems sleeping like coffee will. We talked to a few travelers who were uncomfortable with the cocaine connection, but as they say in Bolivia “Coca no es Cocaina.” Really, it’s not; it’s also supposed to be good for preventing altitude sickness.
The next morning we went down to the market area for breakfast and were pleasantly surprised to find some of the best street food of the trip. All kinds of weird herbal drinks and teas, coffee stands with old men complimenting the quality of the milk, lots of quinoa and llama meat (inside the market there were dozens of whole skinned llama carcasses hanging from meat hooks), chicken, trout, beans and rice… Unable to resist all the cheap tasty offerings we had three fantastic breakfasts, one after the other.
Later in the day we sat in the plaza and played cards and were approached by a ten year old girl who wanted to join in. We played cards and then catch with her while locals walked by and smiled and waved. We only spent one night in Chivay and really didn’t do anything of significance, but we remember our time there better than most places we’ve been. There was just something about the place that made us feel happy, and we plan on going back and using the town as a base for exploring the nearby hiking, which is supposed to be really good.