Southern Peru ranks just behind Cusco and the Sacred Valley on the visitors' circuit. The mountainous desert landscapes are some of Peru's most distinctive, and the region is a beacon to outdoors enthusiasts who enjoy hiking, mountain climbing, and river running. The deep sapphire expanse of Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable body of water at nearly 4,000m (13,100 ft.) above sea level, is one of the world's unique sights. The volcanoes and deep canyons near Arequipa hold tremendous opportunities for trekking and viewing the elusive Andean condor, one of the world's great birds, which at one celebrated spot above Colca Canyon soars directly over the heads of spectators every morning. New upscale hotels on the banks of Lake Titicaca, in the historic center of Arequipa, and among the terraced landscapes of Colca Canyon testify to surging interest in the region among travelers once content to leave it to more adventurous sorts.
As cities go, bleak and often brutally cold Puno is not, for most of the year, one of Peru's most interesting or attractive -- although its position perched on the banks of Lake Titicaca and as the epicenter of the creative partying at some of the country's legendary folkloric festivals couldn't be more spectacular.
Arequipa, on the other hand, is perhaps Peru's most sophisticated city, a lovely colonial town framed by three snowcapped volcanoes. The people of Arequipa have earned a reputation for thinking themselves different or better than their compatriots to the north (and thus also earned the antagonism of many Peruvians). Certainly the city's elegant historic center, built almost entirely of white volcanic stone, looks quite distinct from the rest of Peru. Behind the thick walls of the Santa Catalina monastery, one of Peru's most glorious sights, you'll almost feel as though you were in southern Spain rather than southern Peru.