SOUTHERN PERU. FIRST PART: ARICA (CHILE) - AREQUIPA

The southernmost zone has great attractions, such as one of the most beautiful cities in the country or the two deepest canyons on the planet. Neither more nor less. Now it is your turn to visit them:

 

  • Tacna

  • Arequipa

  • Colca Canyon

Tacna

City near the border with Chile (capital of the department of Tacna). No big deal, but if you come from Arica (Chile) you can stop here a day or two (it is on the way). To emphasize the Main Square (Plaza de Armas), quiet and beautiful, and the tours to the olive groves and wineries in the surroundings.

Arequipa

One of the most beautiful cities in Peru, with buildings and white colonial houses (nicknamed the White City for its constructions of light colored volcanic rock), wide squares and green areas. Against a backdrop of a mountain range on which stands the gigantic Misti volcano (a perfect cone of 5822 meters), flanked by the Chachani (left) and the Pichu Pichu (right). Its mixture of big and cosmopolitan city (second largest city in the country), on the one hand, and its Andean environment, on the other, makes it very attractive for the traveler. Some of the things you can do in Arequipa are:

 

  • Stroll through the colonial center enjoying the churches, convents and mansions

  • Go out at night

  • Visit some museums. Two stand out above the rest: the Museo Santuarios Andinos, focusing on different aspects of the Andean culture (the main attraction are the Inca children offered to the gods/mountains, in whose climatic conditions they were perfectly preserved), and the Museo de Arte Virreinal Santa Teresa.

  • Hiking in the mountains. There are many routes to choose from, among which we can mention the popular ascent to the Misti volcano (bring coca leaves for altitude sickness!). It takes between two and three days to go up and down.

 

About the Colca Canyon you can visit it with a guide, but I recommend doing it on your own (much cheaper and at your own pace). The road is spectacular, passing through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve, the inhospitable altiplano (areas close to 5000 meters), and the descent to Chivay.

Colca Canyon

Impressive Andean area, home to the two deepest canyons in the world: Colca and Cotahuasi canyons, both about 3200 meters deep. Here the condor flies majestically, and a handful of magical villages contribute the cultural heritage. We will focus on the most touristy Colca Canyon (I do not have the pleasure to know the Cotahuasi). You can get from Arequipa to Chivay (about 3 hours), from where a road runs parallel to the spectacular canyon. These are some of the plans that you can carry out:

 

  • Visit the towns and observe/chat with their people: Chivay, Yanque, Maca, Cabanaconde, Huambo...

  • Go to the Condor Lookout, just before Cabanaconde. The best moment is at dawn, when these giant and magnificent birds are more active flying over the canyon.

  • Excursion to Sangalle (The Oasis), at the bottom of the canyon. The descent begins near Cabanaconde (in the San Miguel Lookout) and lasts an average of four hours. This wonderful downhill route that ends in a small community with natural pools, palm trees and exotic flowers. Perfect to relax one or two days (or more, but it is expensive)... You can also take a dip in the river. The climb back, which is done by another way, is deadly (remember: you are climbing the deepest canyon in the world!), so be prepared. It can also be done on a mule (by paying), the same ones that transport food down/up the hill...

 

On the other hand, the Cotahuasi Canyon is more remote, but, apparently, a dazzling beauty. If you have time and you are into hiking, go for it!

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