A Visit to Arequipa, Peru’s Most Underrated City
Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and for me, it’s also its prettiest. Nestled at the foot of three dormant volcanoes, Arequipa has the perfect setting. Nicknamed the “White City” due to its historic centre that is packed with chalky white buildings made from volcanic rock, Arequipa is a great city to wander around. It’s also a great place for foodies, there is no shortage of great restaurants showcasing the best local cuisine.
Arequipa is the main gateway to the Colca Canyon and most people only allow a day or so in the city before visiting the canyon. Many visitors don’t even make it to Arequipa and instead head straight to Cusco. But I can’t imagine not visiting the “White City”. Within the first hour of walking around this beautiful city, we’d both fallen in love with it.
Arequipa is worth a detour and we recommend you spend at least 2 or 3 days there to just relax and take it all in.
What to do in beautiful Arequipa?
Hang out at the Plaza de Armas
The Plaza De Armas is the best place in Arequipa for people watching. Arequipa’s main square in the centre of town is where everything happens. You’ll find plenty of locals and tourists alike there, all enjoying the shade of the palm trees. The square is surrounded by beautiful white colonial buildings and towering churches. There are many cafes and restaurants tucked away amongst the arches or set up on one of the balconies above. You can also visit at night to experience a very different atmosphere.
Take a free walking tour
Like every other city in Peru, you’ll find free walking tours in Arequipa. They are a great way to learn about some of the city’s interesting history and to find out more about what to see and do in the city. They depart daily at 10 am and 3 pm from the Choco Museo Chaqchao. Be sure to tip your guide.
Visit the Santa Catalina Monastery
This was my favourite thing to do in Arequipa! Yes, at S.40 per person it’s steep by Peruvian standards but it’s worth it. As soon as you enter the monastery you will understand why. The place is a photographer’s paradise! I spent over two hours photographing every inch of it. You can take a guided tour which costs extra but for me, it was all about getting lost inside its walled grounds and clicking away.
The convent used to house about 450 people and covers an area of more than 20,000m². It’s a small city within a city! In a city that is pretty much all white, this is the most colourful part of Arequipa. It’s a real delight and a must-visit while in Arequipa!
Museo Santuarios Andinos
This is probably one of the weirdest places I have ever visited. Juanita, also known as the Ice Maiden of Peru, was the Chosen One. She was selected by the Inca elites as an offering to the gods when things weren’t going well. Earthquakes? Volcanoes erupting? Too much rain? Not enough rain? Who knows? She was killed with a blow to the head at the top of Ampato mountain and eventually her body was discovered when a melting glacier exposed her tomb.
Her mummy can now be viewed in the Museo Santuarios Andinos. When you visit the museum, you first watch a 20-minute video that tells Juanita’s story and how she was discovered. You are then allocated a guide who will take you around the museum and show you other types of offerings. Some were found in Juanita’s tomb, while others were found in the tombs of other sacrificed children. You will also come face to face with Juanita herself. The whole visit gave me goosebumps and not just because the building is kept chilled.
Entrance fee: S. 20 per adults. You also need to tip the guide at the end as this is not included.
Feed the Alpacas at Mundo Alpaca
Alpaca Mundo is a very expensive shop selling clothing made from Alpaca wool. But whether you plan to shop there or not, you should still visit for two reasons. Firstly, there are some small exhibits at the back that explain how Alpaca wool is harvested, cleaned and woven.
But let’s not lie and say that these even matter. What you want to do in Alpaca World is meet the friendly Alpacas and Llamas that live there. If you arrive at the right time, you might even be able to give them a few snacks. They are sooo cute! I visited twice, just to spend time with them. That’s the beauty of having nothing else better to do!
The best part is that it’s free and no, you don’t have to buy anything.
Have lunch in a Picanteria
If you are keen to try some traditional food, head to a Picanteria. A Picanteria is a traditional lunchtime restaurant found mainly in the Arequipa and Cusco regions of Peru. They serve spicy dishes, accompanied by the traditional drink of Chicha.
Some good Picanterias to try in Arequipa: The Nueva Palomino, La Dorita and Victoria – Picantería democrática.
Some traditional dishes to try in Arequipa: Rocoto Relleno, Chupe de Camarones, Caldo Blanco and Pastel de papa.
Take a morning tour of the Ruta de Sillar
As mentioned earlier, the buildings in Arequipa’s Centro Historic are made largely from local volcanic stone. This stone is called Sillar and you can take a morning tour to visit the quarries where it comes from.
During your tour, you will visit two quarries and stop to check out some viewpoints of the volcanoes that surround Arequipa. The Añashuayco Quarry is still in operation and is starting to attract more tourists. The skilled stone cutters there have begun carving artwork into the faces of the quarry. One of them, a replica of one of Arequipa’s churches, reminded us of Petra’s Treasury building.
The second stop is the Quebrada de Culebrillas where you will take a short walk inside the small canyon formed by the passage of water. Its walls are 15 to 20 meters high and are pretty impressive. At the end of the walk, you will come across old petroglyphs made by the Wari culture over a thousand years ago.
Cost of the tour: Around S.50 per person. You can book it from most hotels or all agencies in town.
Enjoy the views of the volcanoes
You just can’t miss the views of the volcanoes as you wander around Arequipa. The El Misti, Pichu Pichu and Chachani volcanoes are very imposing, they are a sight to behold. Some good places to see them are Puente Bolognesi and the Yanahuara Lookout.
Tip: After snapping a few photos at the Yanahuara lookout, make sure you wander around Yanahuara. It’s a much quieter area of Arequipa and just as nice as the Centro Historico.
Head to Mercado San Camilo
Mercado San Camilo is a very typical market. There, you’ll find lots of crafts, exotic fruit, food, natural remedies and some pretty weird stuff such as mummified Llama foetuses! Warning: if you are a vegetarian or an animal lover, stay away from the meat section!
Drink Pisco Sour from a rooftop
Pisco Sour is one of my favourite things about Peru. I just love drinking them! The best place to sample one in Arequipa is at the Sunset Rooftop Bar because not only do they have a happy hour but you can enjoy fabulous views over the volcanoes at sunset as you enjoy your drink. They even run a Pisco Sour workshop where you can learn how to make a Pisco Sour yourself.
The Pisco Sour workshop costs US$10 per person. The Sunset Rooftop Bar is located inside the Le Foyer Hostel.
Last but not least, Head to the Colca Canyon
Arequipa is the main gateway to the Colca Canyon and many tours to the canyon leave daily from Arequipa. You can choose between a one or two-day sightseeing tour or a two or three-day hike. We recommend doing the two-day sightseeing tour or the three-day hike. Find out more about our hike in the Colca Canyon here.
Tip: Make sure you stay at least a couple of days in Arequipa beforehand to acclimatise if you are coming from somewhere closer to sea level such as Huacachina.
Where to stay in Arequipa?
Hostal El Remanso was our home for our six nights in Arequipa. This small, family-run hostal was perfect for us. It’s just a five-minute walk from the main square. Hostal El Remanso is clean, spacious and the owners went above and beyond to make our stay there comfortable.
The hostal is right across from the San Catalina Monastery and the hostal serves breakfast upon their terrace overlooking the monastery. We would personally not stay anywhere else in Arequipa. Check out their latest prices here.
Of course, there are many other good places to choose from in Arequipa. If you are the partying type, head to Wild Rover. Otherwise, Casa de Avila, Casa Vallecito, Hoteles Gutiérrez Mansión and Mirador del Monasterio also get really good reviews.
If none of those are suitable, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all of the major accommodation websites. We use it all the time.
How to get to Arequipa?
You can catch a local bus to Arequipa from Lima, Cusco or Puno. Alternatively, you can fly there if you aren’t on a budget. But the option we chose was to travel with Peru Hop. We caught an overnight bus with Peru Hop from Huacachina and arrived in Arequipa bright and early after a decent night of sleep on their comfortable sleeper bus. Peru Hop also travels in the opposite direction, so you can also catch an overnighter with them from Cusco.