When you think of Peru, you think of the fantastic culture of the Inca and their architectural achievement, Machu Picchu. You’re familiar with Lima the largest city and Cusco the town where you go to hop on to Machu Picchu. But a short hop and skip by bus or plane is Peru’s second largest city. El Cuidad Blanca, or White City.
Arequipa is often used as a gateway for trekking and tours to the Colca Canyon or a stop-over for travelers coming from Chile on their way to Cusco. However, the city as more to offer than just a stopover. Here are ten reasons why you should explore it.
1. The Plaza de Armas & Cathedral
The Plaza de Armas Arequipa is the most beautiful in Peru. It boasts an impressive twin-towered Cathedral that was founded in 1612 and is made of sillar. Sillar is a white volcanic rock formed hundreds of years about from deep inside a volcano that exists in Peru. The city itself is made mostly of this material, hence earning its nickname the White City.
There are many restaurants, handicrafts & shops, and hostels right at the plaza. The Plaza de Armas is also the center for fiestas and other activities. The center is a UNESCO world heritage site.
2. Getting lost in the city by local transportation (Combi)
Controlled chaos. That’s what describes the transportation system in Arequipa. Combine this with your lack of the command of the Spanish language, and you’ll have something that can be best described as anarchy. Just hop on a Combi and find out for yourself. You can discover new locations or get lost for cheap.
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What are Combis?
They’re minivans converted to buses. They’re hard to miss. When one hurtles towards you, you’ll notice a fare collector yelling his or her lungs out “Sube Sube Sube!” Do not fear. Grab a seat in the back if you can, and let the Combi run its course as far as you can. The fare collector will probably notice and kick you out somewhere.
Here’s where the adventure begins, you have to find your way back to the place you were staying at.
You must get creative on how you go about this. Do you walk the 4 to 10 miles back? Will you try your luck at another Combi hoping you can decode some of the different directions? Or chicken out and take a Taxi back? Either way, it’s exciting. You’ll never know what you’ll discover. Arequipa is safe but as always keep common sense.
3. The Mountains and Volcanoes
Arequipa is surrounded by tall mountains and massive volcanoes. For the brave, you can scale the active Volcano Misti which has an altitude of 19111 feet (5825 meters). You can climb, Chachani, the tallest mountain in the area at 19,872 ft. (6057 meters) Or the extinct volcano Pichupichu. If the possibility of edema or mountain sickness not your cup of tea? Try hikes in the Chilina Valley just outside of Yanahuara (see #10 below).
4. The Amazing Food
Arequipa has some of the best street food scenes in Peru. Here is where you can try the infamous, traditional Cuy dish. The Cuy (Guinea Pig) is barbecued or baked and served with fries and salad. Not your cup of tea?
Another dish you should try here is the ceviche! Since Arequipa is only 2 hours from the ocean, the fish is fresh (unlike Cusco). Check out the Manta restaurant and try their Ceviche sampler. Arequipa is host to quite a few Picanterias. Picanterias are traditional local eateries offering daily menus from soups “chupes.” Mondays you can have Chaque de tripas (tripe), Tuesday, Chairo (stew), Wednesday, Chochoca (beef) Thursday, Chuño, etc.
5. The Frozen Inca Princess
Mummies aren’t just found in Egypt. You can find one in Arequipa! Displayed in Museo Santuarios Andinos, the Inca Ice Maiden or Mummy Juanita is a Time Magazine top 10 discoveries. The body is almost frozen, making it a significant archeological find. Juanita was 12 years of age when she sacrificed to appease the gods of Mount Ampato at around 1440 A.D. It was common for the Inca to select a child at birth to be offered as a sacrifice to their gods.
6. The Distrito de Sachaca
Sachaca is only about a 20-minute taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas (8 soles). There’s an observation tower about five stories high. It offers the BEST 360 view of the entire city. Bar none. Here you can see how awesome Arequipa is. Surrounded by massive volcanoes, endless mountains, an adventure beyond the horizon. Sunsets here are worth a thousand words. Just check out the photos below!
7. The Santa Catalina Convent
On Santa Catalina road just two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, Santa Catalina is a fine example of Peru’s close affiliation with the Catholic Church. Santa Catalina is a fully functioning convent open to the public from 8 am to 8 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The rest of the week, the convent is open from 9 am to 5 pm. For a nominal fee, you can tour the monastery with a guide or explore it yourself with a map.
8. The Sabandia Mill
Constructed in 1785, the Sabandia Mill represents the typical use of Sillar stone as the main construction material. Located just 4 miles southeast of the city, its Arequipa’s first ever stone mill. Views of Misti Volcano dominate the landscape outside.
9. You Can Learn Spanish For Cheap
I’ve met a lot of travelers in South America who’s there to learn Spanish. The majority is going to Sucre, in Bolivia. Bolivia is a lot cheaper than Peru. However, I’d pick Peru over Bolivia for a long-term stay. The reason? Number 4 above, the food, way better than what is in Bolivia. Arequipa is cheaper than Cusco or Lima, making it an ideal place to stay and learn Española.
10. The Mirador de Carmen Alto
While not the best view of Arequipa, that’s Sachaca #4 above, Carmen Alto provides a better view of the Chilina Valley. You can also see Volcano Misti and Cachani up close. You won’t see much information about this place in English so if you know a local (like me); ask them to take you there. It’s about a 30-40 minute drive from town.
- The fastest way to get to Arequipa is by plane, landing in Rodríguez Ballón airport. LATAM flies from Lima and Cuzco, Avianca and Peruvian airlines from Lima.
- There are buses from Lima, Cusco, and Puno that goes to Arequipa. Be sure to pick a reputable bus company as some of them can be dodgy.
- Use combis to get around in the city, it’s cool but exercise common sense. While it may not seem as bad as Lima, it can still be pretty dodgy in certain parts.