The spectacular countryside around Arequipa rewards a few days’ exploration, with some exciting and adventurous possibilities for trips from the city. Most people visit these sites on an organized trip with one of the tour companies in Arequipa. If you are prepared to put up with the extra hassle, you can visit many of the sites by much cheaper public transport.
The attractive village of Sabandia and the historic Casa del Fundador are both within 20km of the city centre; further afield the Inca ruins of Paucarpata at the foot of El Misti volcano offer excellent scenery, great views and a fine place for a picnic. Climbing El Misti is a very demanding but rewarding trek, but should not be attempted without a professional guide. The attractive village of Chapi makes a good day-trip, while the Cuevas de Sumbay, just a few hours’ drive from Arequipa on the road towards Caylloma, contain hundreds of unique prehistoric paintings.
Yet the greatest attraction here is easily the Colca Canyon, some 200km to the north of Arequipa, usually accessed via the quaint town of Chivay and second only to Machu Picchu in its ability to attract tourists, it is developing fast as a trekking and canoeing destination (best in the dry season, May–Sept). On route to Colca, the road passes through the Reserva Nacional de Aguada Blanca, a good place for wildlife. One of the canyon’s pulls is the Mirador Cruz del Condor, where several condors, symbols of the Andes, can be seen flying most days. Called the “Valley of Marvels” by the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, it is in places nearly twice the depth of Arizona’s Grand Canyon and one of the country’s most extraordinary natural sights.
Around 120km west of Arequipa, you can also see the amazing Toro Muerto petroglyphs and perhaps go on to hike amid the craters and cones of the Valley of the Volcanoes, roughly 25km to the northeast. A little further north is the Cotahuasi Canyon, which some people believe could usurp Colca’s claim to being the deepest canyon in the world.Read More
- Chivay and around
- Colca Canyon
Valley of the Volcanoes
Valley of the Volcanoes
Following some 65km of the Río Andagua’s course, the VALLEY OF THE VOLCANOES (Valle de los Volcanes) skirts along the presently dormant volcano Mount Coropuna, the highest volcano in Peru (6425m) and the highest peak in southern Peru. At first sight just a pleasant Andean valley, this is in fact one of the strangest geological formations you’re ever likely to see. A stunning lunar landscape, the valley is studded with extinct craters varying in size and height from 200 to 300m. About 200,000 years ago, these small volcanoes erupted when the lava fields were degassed (a natural release of volcanic gas through soil, volcanic lakes and volcanoes) – at the time of one of Coropuna’s major eruptions.
The best overall view of the valley can be had from Anaro Mountain (4800m), looking southeast towards the Chipchane and Puca Maura cones. The highest of the volcanoes, known as Los Gemelos (The Twins), are about 10km from Andagua. To the south, the Andomarca volcano has a pre-Inca ruined settlement around its base.
First navigated by a Polish expedition in 1981 and declared a Zona de Reserva Turística Nacional in 1988, the magnificent COTAHUASI CANYON (Cañon de Cotahuasi), 378km from Arequipa, has since opened up to visits that don’t involve major rafting trips. However, getting to this wild and remote place is even more adventurous and less frequently attempted than the trip to the Valley of the Volcanoes. One of the world’s deepest canyons, along with nearby Colca and the Grand Canyon in the US, it is around 3400m deep and over 100km long.
Arriving from the south along the difficult road from Arequipa (some 375km long) the route passes along the bottom part of the canyon, where the main settlement, Cotahuasi (2684m), can be found. This remote and attractive settlemenet boasts quaint narrow streets and a small seventeenth-century church. It has a variable climate but isn’t particularly cold and is rapidly developing a name as an adventure travel destination, offering by far the best local facilities.
Continuing north to the village of Alca (near the hot springs of Luicho), the road forks. To the right, it heads into the deeper part of the canyon where you’ll find the village of Pucya; further up the valley, heading pretty well northwest you end up at the astonishingly beautiful plateau of Lauripampa, from where you can walk down into the canyon or explore the massive Puya raymondi cacti hereabouts. The left fork continues to the pueblo of Pampamarca, where the locals weave lovely woollen blankets. Above the pueblo there is a fabulous trail that leads to the Uscuni waterfalls on one side of the valley and the natural rock formations of the Bosque de Piedras on the other. A little further on you’ll find the thermal springs of Josla, an ancient spa that’s a joy for tired legs after a long hike.
About 40km from Cotahuasi, the Wari ruins of Marpa can be seen straddling both sides of the river, but another hour away is the larger and better-preserved Wari city of Maucallacta.