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.