Chivay, the largest and highest settlement (at 3635 metres above sea level) in the Colca Canyon, at first appeared to be a small, normal Peruvian altiplano town.
Life revolved around the Plaza de Armas (which, unfortunately during our visit was undergoing some major renovation and was mostly closed off to the public) and the Mercado Andino, where people milled around, going about their daily business.
Just around the corner, though, was a street where the town's quirky side was first revealed.
Weird and shockingly realistic statues of characters from everyday Peruvian life, as well as imaginary and somewhat terrifying human-animal hybrids that looked like they might come to life any moment and terrorise you down the street and run you out of town.
There were also benches designed to look like hats…
and a wall of murals, some creepily cute…
and others trippily surreal.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the weird side to the town, Chivay is a popular base for exploring the Colca Canyon, as it is the transport hub and has the most services in the region. Minibuses to smaller, outlying towns along the canyon leave from corners of streets behind the Mercado Andino when full, and there are many travel agents who will arrange tours to Cruz del Condor (the deepest point of the canyon and a good place to spot condors) and one or multiple day treks through, in and around the canyon.
Buses to and from Arequipa as well as to Cabanaconde at the opposite end of the canyon leave from the bus terminal, just four blocks from the main square. Several companies serve the route and there are up to nine departures a day to Arequipa (journey time is between 3 and 4.5 hours), and tickets cost between S/13 and S/15 (£3-3.50) but we would advise that you book a ticket in advance as they fill up fast.
There's not a huge amount of choice in Chivay when it comes to food, but there are some decent options. Note that in the evening, you will probably need to keep your coat and hat on when inside a restaurant, as none of them seem to have heating, and even sometimes leave the door wide open!
For straight forward gringo food, this is a good bet. The set menus of a soup and main for S/15 (£3.50) are generous enough, but it's the cakes and hot chocolates that really make it worth a visit.
This huge place with an equally huge buffet for S/25 (£5.80) is certainly not the cheapest, but the food is good, you can eat as much as you want and there's a lot of choice. It gets pretty full of tour groups though, some come early to get a table to yourself and pick of the best dishes.
A cute, diminutive place with two tables and a large selection of coffees, hot chocolates and teas, this is a nice place to spend an hour relaxing after a hike. The only things that could make it better would be a bigger selection of cake and a wifi connection.
We stayed a Kollawas Home Inn where a double room with private bathroom and breakfast but no wifi cost us S/75 (£17.50) per night. The owner was friendly, accommodating and helpful, but like everywhere in town, it was very cold at night, though plenty of blankets were provided.
Other than hiking in the countryside immediately around the town or taking a tour further into the canyon, there are two things to do in town that we missed but would have liked to do.
3km from town are the Aguas Termales la Calera with water of around 38C which you can soak in outdoors for S/15 (£3.50).
Every evening at 19:30, there is a explanatory presentation in English at the observatory in the Casa Andina hotel where entrance is S/25 (£5.80). We didn't go because it was cloudy, which is unfortunately often the case in the evening in Chivay.