The countryside around Arequipa, laced with canyons and volcanoes, is one of the best in Peru for outdoor adventure travel. Trails crisscross the Colca Valley, leading across mountain ridges, agricultural terraces, and curious rock formations, and past colonial towns and fields where llamas and vicuñas graze. The most common pursuits are river running, treks through the canyon valleys, and mountain climbing on the volcanoes just beyond the city. Many tour agencies in Arequipa offer conventional 2- and 3-day visits to Colca Canyon, as well as longer, more strenuous treks through the valley and to Cotahuasi Canyon. Some of the most interesting (but most time-consuming and difficult) expeditions combine rafting and trekking. Your best bet for organizing any of these activities is with one of the tour operators mentioned below; several in Arequipa focus solely on eco- and adventure tourism.
The rivers and canyons around Arequipa pose some excellent river-running opportunities for both novices and experts. The best months for rafting are May through September, when water levels are low. (In the rainy season, when water levels are high, the canyon rivers can be extremely dangerous.) The most accessible rafting, suitable for first-timers, is on the Río Chili, just 15 minutes from downtown. It offers Class III and IV runs, and is a great way to get your feet wet during a half-day trip. Year-round runs of similarly moderate difficulty and scenic beauty can be arranged on day trips to the Río Majes (the Río Colca beyond the gorge). Rafting in Cotahuasi and Colca canyons is serious stuff for confident rafters; there are 3-day rafting trips to Colca (about $175) for those with moderate experience, and longer, 10- to 12-day trips to either canyon for serious white-water runners. The Río Colca (Class IV-V) is extremely technical, although some upriver sections are less dangerous and difficult. Río Cotahuasi was first explored only in 1994; it has 120km (75 miles) of Class IV and V rapids (and some Class VI). A few agencies offer annual trips that combine trekking with hard-core white-water rafting in Cotahuasi. These organized trips are expensive ($2,000 and up) and lengthy, usually 12 to 14 days total.
Mountain & Volcano Climbing
At the foot of the western Andes, Arequipa is ideally positioned for a variety of ascents -- many of them not technically challenging -- to volcano summits and mighty Andes peaks. Climbers in good physical condition can bag 5,000m (16,400-ft.) summits on ascents of 2 days or less. The best months for climbing are July through September, although some peaks can be climbed year-round. Climbers should be sufficiently acclimatized before making any ascents; if you've spent several days in Cusco or Puno before arriving in Arequipa (and are in good physical shape), you should be fine. Adventure travel operators in Arequipa provide logistical support, porters, and guides, but you must provide your own sleeping bag and boots. Be sure to ask plenty of questions about weather conditions, equipment, and experience before setting out with any guide.
El Misti, a nearly 6,000m (19,680-ft.) volcano, dominates the Arequipa landscape from a distance of about 20km (12 miles). The most popular climb among both locals and visitors, Misti is a demanding 2- or 3-day trek with few technical challenges. It is suitable for inexperienced climbers accompanied by professional guides. Most climbers stay the first night at the base camp Nido de Aguilas (Eagle's Nest) and reach the summit after about 7 hours of climbing on the second day. Arequipa's other major volcano, Chachani (6,075m/19,931 ft.), also presents an excellent and technically straightforward climb, a good opportunity for inexperienced climbers to brag about reaching a 6,000m (19,680-ft.) summit.
The Colca Valley has a number of peaks that draw serious climbers, including the Ampato volcano (6,288m/20,630 ft.), a 3- or 4-day climb, and the Hualca Hualca glacier (6,025m/19,767 ft.). Coropuna (6,425m/21,079 ft.), perhaps the most stunning mountain in the Cotahuasi Valley, requires a couple of days of travel from Arequipa to begin the difficult climb.
Reputedly the deepest canyon in the world, Cotahuasi (3,354m/11,000 ft. at its deepest point) was only explored by rafting teams a few years ago. As enticing as trekking or rafting in the world's deepest canyon no doubt is to many, the effort required to get to Cotahuasi is substantial. It's a full 12 to 15 hours from Arequipa by bus, more than 400km (250 miles) on pretty difficult roads. Although some adventurers do go independently, trekking or rafting in the Cotahuasi is much better and more safely organized by a professional outfit such as Zárate Aventuras.
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.