Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city in Peru, and with nearly 1 million inhabitants it is also it’s second largest city. It’s not just the city that is full of beauty however – the location of Arequipa is gorgeous – it is surrounded by imposing volcanoes on all sides. It’s also a convenient stop to plan a trip to the amazing Colca Canyon!
Arequipa sits at 2,335m in altitude. Having been at sea level in Lima, Huacachina and Nazca, it was nice not to have to make the massive jump in altitude to Cusco (3,400m), as so many people do.
You can’t help but fall in love with Arequipa, its got charm oozing out of every street corner. From amazing cuisine to great sightseeing opportunities, this blog will look to cover everything to make you feel like a proper Arequipeña when in the city.
How to get to Arequipa
We arrived in Arequipa from Nazca, getting the overnight Cruz del Sur bus that took about 10 hours. The bus, as they are, was jam packed with tourists but relatively comfortable. Note that most people seem to go from Huacachina/Nazca to Cusco first, and then Arequipa. We didn’t for 2 reasons; firstly its a better altitude climb, and secondly the bus to Cusco goes through mountainous areas that have been known in the past to be susceptible to robberies.
Arequipa bus station is located about 3km from the city centre, a taxi shouldn’t cost you more than 10 soles. Note that when leaving Arequipa you need to pay a bus terminal fee, they do check for it.
Top Things to do in Arequipa
We spent 5 nights in Arequipa and below is the list of things that we did. T
Admire the beauty of Plaza de Armas
Arequipa is known as Peru’s “White City”, and when you enter the Plaza de Armas you can see why. Surrounded on all sides by stunning white colonial buildings (the buildings are built using a white volcanic stone), the Plaza de Armas is the main square in Peru’s second city. With it’s palm tress, majestic cathedral and views of the surrounding volcanoes, the Plaza de Armas should be the first place that you visit when you arrive in Arequipa.
This is THE place to be in Arequipa for people watching. You see everyone and everything here – backpackers, local businessmen in suits, the constant battle between policemen and people selling trinkets (it is common everywhere in South America for people to sell small things such as chewing gum in the main square, but for some reason it isn’t allowed in Arequipa), and tour guides (who are always asking tourists about the Colca Canyon tours). After arriving off the night bus from Ica we weren’t able to check in so we came to the Plaza de Armas and just people watched for a few hours!
There are restaurants on all sides of the square, offering nice views of the surroundings and the square itself. It comes highly recommended to go to one of these restaurants, but to be honest we went and the food was poor (especially considering the increased price) and it all just felt very touristy. Perhaps we just went to the wrong restaurant however!
The Plaza de Armas is just as beautiful at night time, and it really comes to life. With the Cathedral lit up and music playing, you can see why people flock to the main square.
Visit Museo Santuarios Andinos
Museo Santuarios Andinos is situated just minutes from the Plaza de Armas and is famous for being the resting place of Juanita, the “Ice Maiden”.
Juanita was a 12 year old girl who was used as an offering to the Incan gods in the mid 15th century. Buried at the summit of Ampato volcano, she laid here undisturbed until some volcanic activity made her frozen body become exposed in 1995.
The museum begins by showing you a short video, in both Spanish and English which explains why Juanita was killed, and how she was found. Next, you go through the museum with a tour guide, where you can see some of the items that were found in the burial site – shoes, statues, clothing, etc. You are then led into the last room, permanently darkened and chilled, and where the preserved and frozen body of Juanita lies.
It is important to know that the body of Juanita is not always in the museum. For conservation purposes the body is “swapped” for a different mummy (also sacrificed to the Incan gods) from January to April.
Entrance to the museum costs 20 soles (~ 5e). Tips are not included for the tour guide but seem mandatory, which is silly – just include it in the entrance price! Photography is not allowed!
Santa Catalina Monastery
Built in 1579, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina is often described as being a “city within a city” due to its sheer size. Once a cloister for Dominican nuns, and now still housing a small religious community, the monastery is an astonishing 20,000 square meters. It is full of chapels, bedrooms, kitchens, courtyards and provides a real sense of what it must have been like for the nuns living here, separated from the city outside it’s walls.
Entrance is a STEEP 40 soles (nearly 11 euro) per person. This is really expensive for Peru, and we considered skipping it. But we read rave reviews of it and so decided to give it a chance for ourselves. Our verdict? It’s worth the entrance fee, what tourist attraction would you get for a similar price in your home country?
The monastery stays open later than normal on Tuesday’s and Wednesdays (7.30pm) and you get a different sense of the place after dark (it’s kind of spooky). We probably went a bit late however, as it got dark when we were still walking around, so go at 5.30pm. Self guided tour took us about 2 hours, there are optional (for extra cash) tour guides available also.
Yanahuara is a lovely middle-class district located over the River Chili from the main center of Arequipa. Yanahuara is famous for its Mirador or Viewpoint, which showcases Volcan Misti in all it’s glory.
Yanahuara is also a pleasant district to just stroll around. We were there on a Sunday and it was PACKED with people, so take this into consideration. The weather in Arequipa was quite unseasonably cloudy and rainy when we were there, so our opportunities to visit here were quite limited. It is good to know that on your walk over the bridge you get just as nice of a view of the Volcano as at the mirador.
One delicacy to try in Arequipa is Queso Helado (translating as Cheese Ice Cream). We tried it off one of the vendors in the main square in Yanahuara and it was delicious. Don’t worry, there is no actual cheese in Queso Helado. Instead it contains cinnamon, coconut, vanilla, milk and egg!
Eat, Eat, Eat – Spoil yourself
Okay first thing is first, we spent 10 month’s in South America, and for the vast majority of those 10 months we ate in local, cheap places. We got Menu del Dia everyday we could and when we treated ourselves, it was to a burger at most. Arequipa however has so many different delicacies, even different to other part’s of Peru, that, for me at least, even the Menu del Dia’s felt like a treat.
If there is one dish to try in Arequipa it is Rocto Relleno. These are hot red peppers, stuffed with minced meat, cheese and spices. I was definitely a fan, Aoife found it too hot to handle!
We wouldn’t normally mention restaurants, but for sheer diversity, Hatunpa deserves a mention. They specialize in potato dishes, stocking dozens of different types and colours of potatoes (did you know that there are 4,000 different types of potatoes in Peru alone!). You can then get a topping of your choice on top of the potatoes – I chose Rocto Relleno!
Arequipa has a wide range of restaurants, suiting all types of budgets. And, if like us, a burger is considered a treat – head to AQP Burger Company – quite possibly the best burgers in South America (that we tasted anyway!).
Visit San Camilo Market
Visiting a market in an Andean town is an experience in it’s own right, and Arequipa is no different. Despite the classy, shiny white impression you get when in the main plaza, a visit to San Camilo market reminds you that you are in a working-class Peruvian city. Expect to see all types of things for sale – animals, clothes, flowers, smoothies, etc.
Anywhere that translates into Llama World has to be a great place, right? Throw in the fact that it’s free would make it even better? You would think so, and because it is free we cant be too harsh, but to be honest if you are short on time, give this a skip. We read so many blogs that raved about this place so we were excited to go there, but – there isn’t much to it!
It is essentially a factory that makes (and sells) extremely expensive clothes made from llama, alpaca and vicuna wool. So it’s kind of a way for them to bring people in to purchase these goods. If you skip through the shop to the back you can get a tour around. We weren’t spotted entering so nobody gave us the tour. Which meant that when we went to the llama and alpaca enclosure the guy working in it didn’t bring the camelids over (cheers for that Jose).
As you walk on further you get to touch some wool, feel the differences, read abit about how the clothes are made, and then you see a traditional textile woman weaving. After this you walk through some of the factory but because nobody approached us about the tour (and we didn’t know to look) we lost all this information. There are some amazing textile pictures in the gallery however.
So yeah, if you go here, make sure that somebody gives you a tour around. Maybe then Jose will bring his lovely llama’s over.
Only bottom on our list of things to do because we already wrote a guide about it. Bottom of this list but should be top of your list of things to do when in the Arequipa region. Not to be missed!
- Stay close to the main square – Plaza de Armas. Most of the tourist attractions and restaurants are within a few blocks of here so it makes the most sense. We stayed in Park Hostel near Parque Duhamel for $20 a night, which was just a few blocks away. The rooms in the hostel were nice, and there was a nice roof terrace with views of the volcanoes. The weekend staff was poor though. When leaving I asked the guy could he call us a taxi, to which he replied: “I don’t have a number for a taxi”. So at 7 pm, in the dark (and in a rush) we looked for a taxi. We ended up getting one outside the hostel and within 5 minutes I realised the driver was drunk. Thankfully we lived to tell the tale!
- Traffic can be pretty bad in Arequipa around rush hour so if you need to leave the city at this time for a bus, get your taxi to the terminal early!
- There is a supermarket – El Super – in Plaza de Armas, perfect for buying inexpensive snacks and fruit if you can’t get to the market.
- Shop around when booking a tour to Colca Canyon, what’s offered and the price for it varies massively!
- There is a woman who walks around with a baby lamb. You can take pictures with them for a tip – it’s pretty cute!