Though Cusco receives most of the attention, many of Peru’s most daunting and spectacular adventures can be found around the southern city of Arequipa. Surrounded by massive volcanoes (both extinct and active), hikers and mountain bikers will revel in nearby access to peaks like Misti, Chachani, and Nevado Pichu Pichu, all topping out just below 20,000 ft. Travel a little further north and west and mastiffs like Coropuna, Ampato and the volatile Sabancaya cross the 20,000 ft threshold, offering vistas that may be somewhat less aesthetically pleasing than those of the Green Andes, but no less rewarding. Plan on spending at least a few days tackling most of these bad boys.
In stark contrast to these dizzying heights, the “White City” also plays home base to adventurers seeking out the two deepest cracks on Earth (go figure). Both the Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons, located northwest of Arequipa, were carved over thousands of years by their eponymous rivers, leaving in their wakes a stunning display of natural, rugged beauty in southern Peru. Those looking to stay dry can satisfy themselves hiking or rock climbing the incredible canyon walls, while rafters and kayakers with a taste for the extreme can challenge themselves to some of the best white water rapids the world has to offer (don’t worry, novices; moderate currents like those found on Rio Chili have you covered as well).
If your taste for adventure isn’t quite that extreme, consider venturing eastward towards Lake Titicaca. This massive, picturesque body of water is an ideal mix of tranquility and the great outdoors, with plenty of boating and camping opportunities that allow you to immerse yourself in the Peruvian countryside. There are also some great desert sandboarding sites much further north, near the towns of Nazca and Ica, displaying a vastly different geographical side to this unique South American country. All in all you just might find Arequipa to be the kind of an adventurous sucker-punch destination you didn’t see coming.