Always the first thing everyone does when they get to Arequipa—maybe after a day of rest—is hike the Colca Canyon, but with so many hiking options it can be a little bit confusing. If you’re short on time, there’s a one day option and it’s a long day (You’ll be picked up at 3 a.m. and return at around 7 p.m.) There are also a bevy of multi-day options, some including horses and rafting. If you really want to explore everything that the canyon has to offer, the multi-day options are recommended. It is also not required to have a guide and can just as easily explore the canyon by yourself. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels to stay at along your hike. To enter the canyon you’ll have to pay a 70 soles (around US$20) entrance fee and this fee is not usually included in tour prices.
The more time you spend in Arequipa, the more you’ll be looking up at El Misti, the volcano that looms over the city, visible in all the famous photos. The more you look up at the giant volcano, the more you’ll want to climb it. Despite being 5,822 meters above sea level, the climb to the top isn’t that difficult. In fact it’s one of the easiest in the world for its size. Unless you have the necessary equipment—like crampons and an ice axe—you’ll want to hire a guide. There are many companies that offer two-day hikes to the top with equipment included that costs around US$70–$100. You’ll get some of the best views of the city, see a yellow crater spewing gas—and, come on, you’ll be climbing a volcano!
One of the easier hikes you’ll do in Arequipa is a hike through Characato valley. You won’t need to wake up at some unreasonable hour and can leave whenever you want. Take a bus or taxi to Characato valley and from there you’ll walk through countryside landscape, see Inca farming terraces, and get uninterrupted views of the volcanoes El Misti and Chachani.
The volcano stands at about 6,000 meters above sea level and will require special equipment, like an ice axe and crampons, to climb. There are many options to choose from—two-, three-, or four-day treks—but no matter which you choose you’re in for an adventure. From the top you’ll get some of the best views of Arequipa and the entire valley below.
Laguna de Salinas
Not as recognized as the other must-see destinations in Arequipa, however, Laguna de Salinas is worth your time. During the dry months in Arequipa, the salt lake dries up into a salt flat, and during the rainy season you’ll see flamingos and Andean water birds. You can take a bus from Arequipa to Ubinas (which takes around three hours) and from there hike to the lake and around it, which may take a couple of days.
The city of Arequipa is one of Peru’s most beautiful cities and deserves your time. Walking around the city and checking out the Plaza de Armas may not seem like a hike, but once you’re done it’ll feel like one. There are free walking tours every day beginning in the main plaza.
Colca Canyon may get all the attention, but Cotahuasi owns the title of the world’s deepest canyon. At around twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Cotahuasi is a sight to behold and worth your time. The only way to truly explore the depths of the canyon is to do a water running tour, but there are still trekking option that you can do around the valley.