Easy day trips from Arequipa include jaunts to the relaxed small towns of Paucarpata and Sabandía, in the beautiful countryside surrounding the city. But the excursions of primary interest to visitors -- for many, the main reason for a visit to Arequipa -- is Colca Canyon, where the highlight is Cruz del Cóndor, a lookout point where giant South American condors soar overhead. The region around Arequipa is unimaginably blessed by nature. It has soaring, active volcanoes, perfect for experienced mountaineers and trekkers; the two deepest canyons in the world, Colca and Cotahuasi; and chilly rivers that lace the canyons. The opportunities for trekking, rafting, and mountaineering expeditions through the valley are some of the finest in Peru. Out in the desert are ancient petroglyphs at Toro Muerto.
Tour agencies have mushroomed in Arequipa, and most offer very similar city and countryside (campiña) highlight trips (about $30 per person). Going with a tour operator is economical and by far the most convenient option for visitors with limited time and patience -- public transportation is poor and very time-consuming in these parts. Of the many agencies that crowd the principal streets in the old quarter, only a handful of tour operators in Arequipa are well run, and visitors need to be careful when signing up for guided tours to the valley. Avoid independent guides who don't have official accreditation.
The Outskirts (Campiña Tours)
Paucarpata, 7km (4 1/3 miles) southeast of Arequipa, is a pretty little town surrounded by Inca-terraced farmlands and El Misti volcano in the distance. About a kilometer down the road, the peaceful village of Sabandía is where many Arequipeños visit on weekends to dine at country-style restaurants. For out-of-town visitors, the highlight of the village is a large, early 17th-century stone molino, or water-powered mill. There are several nice colonial estates in the surrounding countryside. One of the nicest is La Mansión del Fundador (tel. 054/213-423; www.lamansiondelfundador.com), a handsome colonial mansion in the suburb of Huasacache, 10km (6 1/4 miles) from Arequipa. The house, once the property of the founder of Arequipa, Don García Manuel de Carbajal, is nicely outfitted with original antique paintings and furnishings. It's open daily from 9am to 5pm; admission is S/10.
Getting There -- If you are one of the few who decides not to go with an organized tour, you can catch a Sabandía colectivo from San Juan de Dios or Independencia, a few blocks from the Plaza de Armas, but it's much simpler to take a taxi for S/10. The molino is on the same road as the El Lago Resort at Camino al Molino s/n, Sabandía (tel. 054/448-383), a good spot for lunch.
About 3 hours from Arequipa, near the town of Corire, is Toro Muerto, touted as the world's largest field of petroglyphs. Whether it is actually the world's largest number of petroglyphs in one place is hard to say; many contend that other places have more. But the site is certainly exceptionally big, unique, and fascinating: Carved on hundreds of volcanic boulders, the glyphs lie scattered in an area at least a couple kilometers long. Most historians believe that they were created by the Huari culture more than 1,000 years ago (and perhaps added to by subsequent peoples such as the Incas).
The enormous scale and the beautiful desert setting, more so than the individual drawings, are what most impress visitors to the site. The carvings comprise somewhat crude animal, human, and geometric representations. Although some estimates claim that there are 6,000 engraved stones at Toro Muerto, many more stones are not carved, so walking among the boulders in the sand and under a hot desert sun in search of the engraved stones requires considerable effort. The site draws very few tourists. Its distance from Arequipa and the difficulty getting there (and, no doubt, the competing popularity of Colca Canyon) preclude many groups from going to Toro Muerto.
Getting There -- General-service tour agencies in Arequipa arrange group trips to Toro Muerto. You can also hire a taxi from Arequipa at a cost of $35 to $40.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.