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Travel Guide for Arequipa & Colca Canyon in Southern Peru

Arequipa, also called The White City, lies in the Andes at 2.335 meters (7,650 feet) above sea level. Famous for being surrounded by volcanoes, offering a mild climate and having one of Peru’s most beautiful main squares, it is a destination not to be missed. Two highlights of this walkable city are the Santa Catalina monastery and the Museum Santuarios Andinos where “Juanita”, the frozen girl of Ampato can be seen. Arequipa is perfect for acclimatizing well to the upcoming higher altitudes.

After at least two days of acclimatization in Arequipa you will make your way to the Colca Canyon. This spectacular canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world and offers breathtaking views. Especially the Incan terraces are noteworthy and the Cruz del Condor is THE place to go condor spotting. The altitude is approx. 3.580 meters (11,750 feet) above sea level, and it’s advisable to take it easy here. Therefore, and because distances within the Colca Canyon and to next destinations are quite long, we always suggest to stay two nights in the Colca Canyon.

In both destinations we offer a wide range of activities; the most popular being community-based tourism in the Colca Canyon. Visit our partner communities of Coporaque and Sibayo, spend time with local host families who will show you around their town and share their stories and lives with you. If you’d like to be more active, you can choose to go horseback riding with the Peruvian Paso horses, mountain biking, or hike the area (both multi day treks and beautiful shorter hikes are available). 

If you prefer a comfortable stay in any of the area’s delightful hotels with natural hot springs, spa and other relaxing activities, please do get in touch with our team of experienced travel designers and let them design the perfect trip for you.

Finally, please remember: acclimatization to the altitude is of utmost importance when planning your trip into the Andes; some travelers tend to underestimate that. We are happy to share more information with you here and if you prefer you can always let our team of experienced travel designers design your trip for you.

View on the main square of Arequipa from a hotel terrace, with the volcanoes on the background. - RESPONSible Travel Peru
View on the main square of Arequipa from a hotel terrace, with the volcanoes on the background.

What we recommend in and around Arequipa

Although Arequipa’s city centre is a place where main attractions such as the museums and the famous Santa Catalina monastery are within walkable distance of each other, perhaps you would like to be a bit more active while spending a couple of days in the White City.

In the city itself you could join our walking tour, where your local guide shows you around and tells you all about the city’s history, or you could do a guided visit to the virtual museum located in the house where the writer Mario Vargas Llosa was born. Just outside Arequipa you could also do a Sillar Tour, where you learn all about this volcanic stone, out of which practically the entire city of Arequipa is built and because of which it has its nickname “the White City”. 

Leaving Arequipa

For day activities in the surrounding area, you could think of mountain biking, horseback riding, rafting or an experience about the local gastronomy. The Sabandia and Yumina areas are very beautiful parts of the countryside around Arequipa.

You should actually not leave Arequipa without trying traditional food and nothing better than doing so in the local picanterías where pre-Columbian dishes become contemporary. There is also the option of following an old Inca trail out of the city and reaching a unique place where you can renew your energy with traditional dishes and ingredients.

Rent-a-car

When renting your own car for a self-drive trip through Peru, Arequipa is the best place to start your Road Trip. Why we recommend starting here, and all the other ins and outs of discovering Peru by car can be found in our “Road Trip section”.

Spectacular views of the terraces of the Colca Canyon during an offroad route on our Road Trip - RESPONSible Travel Peru
Spectacular views of the terraces of the Colca Canyon during an offroad route on our Road Trip

What we recommend in the Colca Canyon

When your next destination is the Colca Canyon, why not stop on the way there, in Aguada Blanca: one of the few places where you can discover all four Andean camelids at the same time. Here you will be able to feel like a real shepherd for a moment, under the expert supervision of Don Sergio who will teach you how the appreciated alpaca and vicuña wool is transformed into fabric. Afterwards the reward is a Huatia (a traditional lunch prepared by creating an earthen oven).

When continuing to the Colca Canyon, there are a number of activities we’d like to emphasize on: above all, it is the perfect place to enjoy Community-Based Tourism with one of our partner communities for an in depth local experience, off the beaten path. We recommend you to look further than the capital of Chivay and stay in less touristy parts of the Canyon.

Off the beaten path

First of all, there is Coporaque: one of the most beautiful communities among the dozens we work with in Peru and one of the best organized. Staying with a host family here means getting a very clear understanding of what daily life is about in this area. You don’t have to worry about sharing everything with your hosts, you will be offered a private room with a private bathroom. 

Coporaque is located relatively close to the capital Chivay, so it could be very well combined with exploring the Colca Valley with its lovely little towns, impressive Incan terraces and the Cruz del Condor viewpoint. In Coporaque itself your host family is more than happy to show you around, but you could also opt for a beautiful horseback riding route of about three hours. One of the host families owns the comfortable (and obedient) Peruvian Paso horses! This activity has been a highlight of the trip for many travelers already. When back from the ride or after a tour into the Valley, you deserve a relaxing moment in Coporaque’s thermal baths, it’s impressive how many stars you get to see in the sky. Hardly any tourists come here, so your day couldn’t be more complete!

Secondly, Sibayo offers you a very similar authentic experience. Sibayo is a village that doesn’t seem to have changed in hundreds of years and proof of this are its authentic houses, streets and walls made of stone. Consequently, Sibayo is known as Rumillaqta: “the stone town”. Not only will you enjoy the authentic village itself, you also get a chance to discover a bit more of its surroundings and daily life. Depending on what is available when being there, activities are planned such as working on the land, fishing, gathering firewood and learning how to weave. Like in Coporaque you will have your own private room with an ensuite bathroom.

From Sibayo you can walk the wonderful Collagua Route back to the Colca Valley. Starting in Canocota, a local guide will lead you the way on this (approx.) 3 hour hike, following pre-Incan paths that are still being used by residents to commercialize their products in the valley. The route is fairly flat, which is perfect for these first days at altitude. The Huaynalima canyon is formed by vertical walls eroded by the Colca River. You’ll enjoy beautiful views, will hardly meet anyone and can really enjoy the tranquility of nature.

Mountain biking

If you are a real mountain bike geek or just very much interested in new ways of exploring off the beaten paths, check out our mountain bike options in the Colca Canyon. Get to know small villages, ruins no one else goes to and pass through spectacular landscapes. Are you ready to join us on these downhill adventures?

Travelers enjoying a typical meal in Coporaque, Colca Canyon. Community-based tourism in Peru with RESPONSible Travel Peru.
Enjoying a typical meal in Coporaque

How Arequipa & the Colca Canyon connect to other destinations

Arequipa is well connected, especially with the southern coast of Peru (Sur Chico), the Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca. Travel times vary from 4 hours (Arequipa to Colca) to 12 hours by bus (Paracas to Arequipa). When you’re on a tight schedule you could come straight from capital Lima or Cusco by airplane, but please consider the enviro impact of such a domestic flight. When having more time, we recommend arriving by a comfortable (night) bus from either Paracas or Nasca, which makes most sense in a general itinerary through Southern Peru. Traveling into the Colca Canyon (or from the Colca Canyon to Arequipa) is mostly done by shared tourist buses, where an English speaking guide and stops on the way are included.

The Colca Canyon, besides being easily accessible from Arequipa, is well connected to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Similar shared tourist buses as mentioned before are used on this route, a very practical way to travel between these destinations. 

Both Arequipa and the Colca Canyon connect with Cusco as well: 

  • Arequipa – Cusco by night bus or domestic flight;
  • Colca Canyon – Cusco by shared tourist buses, but only three times a week!

From Arequipa to Chile

Finally, you could travel from Arequipa to Chile by taking a 5-hour bus ride to Tacna and then a private taxi (30 to 40 minutes) to the border crossing of Arica, Chile. From the border it’s just a short taxi ride on to Arica. In total, your travel time from Arequipa to Arica is around six hours excluding time for the border crossing formalities.

Consider the easy way

If you prefer real experts to plan your itinerary for you, consider taking a look at our custom itineraries section. We have more than a decade experience in tailor-making unique travel experiences throughout our beautiful country. We’ll take all the work out of your hands and leave you only to look forward to your dream trip. 

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ABOUT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU

RESPONS’ mission is to improve living conditions in Peru through developing and promoting sustainable tourism. We’ve implemented a business model in which all areas of human relations are respected, and - equally important - respect for the planet is incorporated.

Following this business model, we practice fair trade, foster cultural identity, promote equal opportunities, and we preserve the environment that surrounds us and other species.

Together with you we improve, day by day, on the always-demanding path towards sustainability.

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