The spectacular canyon country around the city of Arequipa – a UNESCO World Heritage-listed gem home to Spanish churches, stately mansions and volcanic sillar-white stonework – is one of high altitude deserts and sweeping terraced valleys.
Plunging more than 3,000 metres from the cactus-studded desert near Arequipa, this spectacular river canyon is the second-deepest on earth. But, it's not just its scale that impresses. Along its 100 kilometre length, the changes in landscape are just as awe-inspiring, ranging from barren rocks and steppes to terraced farmlands peppered with tiny villages and grazing llamas. And, high above, condors soar on thermal currents. Giant birds of prey with two-metre wingspans, they're best seen from the popular viewpoint at Cruz del Condor, some 1,500 metres above the canyon floor.
Peru's second city is tiny compared to the Lima. And, that's no bad thing. There's no wasted space here, with everything from the grand colonial masterpieces of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre, all carved from white volcanic sillar stone, to a full spread of superb restaurants – think everything from high-end dining to locals' favourite picantería eateries – crammed into a space ten times smaller than the sprawling capital. Of particular note is the main cathedral, one of Peru's most impressive Spanish-era buildings, set against the backdrop of the conical El Misti volcano.