Arequipa is one of the prettiest cities in Peru and in South America in general. This city has everything, from the beautiful architecture, to the market, to the typical Peruvian food, so there are so many reasons why you should really make sure you don’t skip it.
After spending a night in Nazca, we got a night bus from Ica to Arequipa where we spent a few days and absolutely fell in love with this place. If you are looking for how to get to Arequipa, click here.
If you want to find out what are the top things to do, skip to this part instead.
With its over 1 million inhabitants, Arequipa, is the second most populated city in Peru, after Lima, and a very important commercial spot for Peru.
The historical centre of the city was declared a UNESCO Heritage World site in 2000.
The city is located at 2,328 metres above sea level and it’s surrounded by a series of volcanoes that dominate the skyline.
Apparently, Arequipa is the place is SOuth America with highest sun radiations, so don’t forget your sunscreen! Temperatures range from 7 degrees to about 25 degrees through the year, and it is mostly dry through the year, with the exception on the months between December and March, which is the wet season.
During the wet season, it is usually still sunny in the morning, but we found that it would rain a lot during the afternoons/evenings.
Things to see and do in Arequipa:
- Do the free walking tour
- Visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina
- Take a trip to the Colca Canyon
- Spend some time in Plaza de Armas and check out the Devil Carving in the Cathedral
- Take a look at Juanita, the mummified girl
- Take a look at the Iglesia de la Compañia
- Enjoy some of the best food in Peru and take part in the nightlife
- Find a volunteering project in Arequipa
- Visit some markets
- Take a trip to Yanahuara
Like in most places we visited, the free walking tours are the best way to explore a new city, learn about the history, get to talk to local people and make some friends. There several companies that organise free walking tours, but the two best ones are Free Tour Downtown and Inkan Milky Way, but we picked the first one.
The itinerary is kind of the same. After visiting the main square, you will go on to the Compañia Church and Cloister, take a look at some colonial houses and visit two of the main Barrios of the city – El Solar, one of my favourite, and San Lazaro. The tour continues to the first jail in Arequipa and the first hotel, love park and it finishes with a Pisco Sour tasting!
No matter how many colonial buildings you have seen by now, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina is something you really shouldn’t miss when you are in Arequipa. The monastery, that occupies a whole block, is not just a religious building, but a museum and a real citadel. Even though you can hire a guide, you don’t really need one. You can just grab a brochure at the entrance and visit the place yourself.
You don’t need to follow a specific path, but you can start by taking a look at the main cloisters, including the Novice Cloister that you enter by going through a courtyard with a tree and an arch that says “Silencio”, the Orange Cloister that takes its name from the orange trees in the courtyard and the Great Cloister, that has the chapel on one side and the museum of religious art on the other. When moving from one to the other, you’ll walk through some real streets, see the Profundis Room (the obituary), the Canteen, and the nuns cells.
Two nights a week – on Tuesdays and Thursday – you can visit the monastery at night time, until it closes at 10 pm. Entrance fee is 40 soles, but it’s worth so much more, as this is really the highlight of our time in Arequipa.
Another of the must see things in Arequipa, is the Colca Canyon, a canyon above the Colca River, a bit over 150 km away from Arequipa. You can decide to hike here or take a guided tour.
There are different options if you are looking into hiking here, such as guided treks that can last from 1 to 3 nights, or you can hike it independently. However, after almost 7 weeks in Peru, we were anxious to continue on to the next country, so we simply took a tour of this place. I will however talk about this in my next post, so if you want to find out more about the differences between the trek and the tour, or want to know what the tour includes, come back next week!
If you do the walking tour, you will visit Plaza De Armas. However this place is so pretty that it’s worth going back for a second visit. Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is one of the most beautiful in South America and during our walking tour, they told us to go back there and visit the Catedral to take a look at the art inside. In particular, among all the beautifully decorated walls and columns, there is a carved wooden pulpit decorated with a menacing figure of a devil with a snake tail.
Entrance to the Catedral is free and it’s open every day from 11:30 am to 7 pm.
A very popular attraction in Arequipa and one of the reasons behind the fame of this town is Juanita, the mummified girl. This girl was killed when she was approximately 15 back in 1450 as a sacrifice to the Inca gods but her body was buried by the snow, which helped keep it almost intact and today you can see it at the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries.
Unfortunately, when we were there, Juanita was going through a restoration process and it wasn’t possible to see her.
Another spectacular example of art and architecture in Arequipa is the Iglesia de la Compañía and its main cloister. I don’t think I have ever seen something with carvings as pretty as this one!
Besides art and architecture, Arequipa has a lot more to offer. For example, here we had some if the best food in all of Peru. There are plenty of typical food restaurant, but one of my favourite was Las Gringas. In this place they make pizzas but modified accordingly to the Peruvian culinary traditions. Arequipa is also full of bars and places to enjoy the nightlife. Weirdly enough – or not! – the most popular places here where local young people hang out are Irish pubs. We found a pub called Farren’s where besides enjoying some traditional cocktails like pisco sour, you can also play some board game. This is a very good spot to be out!
If you are looking for something different to do in Arequipa, why not join a volunteering project? There are three main ones here, although probably the staff in your hostel will be able to point out more for you. The main ones are:
- Rayo de Sol – a non-profit organisation that helps children living in poverty in the area of Alto Cayma. They also own a bakery where they sell French style products and use the profits to support the organisation.
- Volunteers Peru – they work on two projects: a home for abandoned girls in Arequipa and a primary and secondary school in Cotahuasi
- Hoop – an NGO that works in the area of education to help young people develop skills that could help them break the cycle of poverty.
Finally, if you have some extra time, why not take a trip to the Mirador de Yanahuara?! This viewpoint is located only a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas in Arequipa – approximately 2 km -, but it gives you a great view of the Ciudad Blanca. Entrance is free and you can visit it all day!
How to get there
There are different ways you can get to Arequipa and being one of the major cities in Peru, there are direct buses from almost everywhere. We got a direct bus from Nazca with Cruz del Sur for less than 30$.
Where to stay
You wont struggle to find places to stay in Arequipa, as the town offers lots of hotels and hostels. If you want to stay within a budget but you don’t want to stay in a party hostel or share a room with lots of people, we recommend hostel Bubamara. The rooms were amazing and clean and the stuff was very helpful, giving us the best tips on where to eat or what to visit. They also have a beautiful terrace where they serve a delicious breakfast.
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