The paved road from Arequipa climbs northeast past El Misti and Chachani to this national reserve, which covers 367,000 hectares at an average elevation of 4300m. Drives here take you up to an oxygen-deprived 4910m where, in between light-headed gasps for air, you can ponder weird wind-eroded rock formations, trek on old Inca trails and watch fleet-footed vicuńas run across the desolate pampa at speeds of up to 85km/h. Both El Misti and Chachani volcanoes are part of the reserve.

As a national reserve, Salinas y Aguada Blanca enjoys better protection than the Colca Canyon, primarily because no one lives here bar the odd isolated llama-herder. Its job is to protect a rich raft of high-altitude species such as the vicuñas, tarucas envinados (Andean deer), guanacos and various birds, most notably flamingos.