Arequipa is, without a doubt, one of South America’s prettiest cities. From an incredible backdrop of three, often snow-capped volcanos to the stunning white volcanic rock buildings throughout the city, there’s beauty on every corner.
Arequipa’s beauty, combined with it’s close proximity to other great destinations (such as The Colca Canyon, Cusco, Puno and La Paz) and the fact that the city is filled with unique and interesting things to do means it’s surprising that I knew very little about the city before visiting.
Given my lack of knowledge, it’s safe to say that Arequipa surpassed all of my expectations. Arequipa quickly became one of my favourite stops on my South American adventure, with so many quirky and interesting things to do, it was unlike any other cities I visited in South America!
RELATED: I spent three months travelling through South America – if you are planning on visiting Arequipa, maybe consider where else you can visit? You can read my full 3 month South America itinerary here.
It wouldn’t be an Escaping Essex city itinerary without a recommendation to take a free walking tour during your first few hours in a new city! My bus to Arequipa got into the city at 5am, so I was extremely tired but dragged my butt out to explore.
I’m so glad that I did – the free walking tour was a great way to get my bearings without having to concentrate too much (being able to aimlessly follow a guide is good when you’re tired)! On first glance at the city, I fell in love!
RELATED: Free walking tours are a great way to travel on a budget. Read my entire spending report for three months in South America here.
The free walking tour that I joined began inside the Chaqchao Choco Museo, which is always a good start to a tour! The Museo sold gorgeous handmade chocolates (you can also take a bean-to-bar workshop) and over 60 types of artisanal Peruvian beers.
Arequipa has a luxurious feel to it, the streets are clean, the vibe is relaxed and some experiences are slightly pricier than in other Peruvian cities. Adding to this modern vibe is the increase in somewhat “hipster” cafes, restaurants, bars and breweries. I thoroughly enjoyed this food and drink scene, even if my backpacker budget did not!
One thing you must try is queso helado – a delicious artisanal ice cream. Despite it’s name, queso helado is not made from cheese at all!
The Historic Centre of Arequipa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 and it’s easy to see why!
Most cities in South America have a “Plaza Del Armas”, which is generally the main square of the city. Arequipa’s Plaza Del Armas is leaps and bounds above the rest with the most gorgeous architecture!
Arequipa is often dubbed “The White City” due to the white volcanic rock used to build much of the architecture in the city. You can therefore expect beautiful while buildings surrounding the square – I recommend people watching and enjoying the gorgeous scenery from one of the many cafes in the area.
Santa Catalina Monastery feels like another world. While Arequipa is a generally quieter and more relaxed city than many in South America, entering the Santa Catalina Monastery feels like you have been transported to a tranquil paradise. It reminded me of stepping into a peaceful riad from the bustling streets of the Marrakech medinas.
The monastery covers an area exceeding 20,000 square meters and is made up of winding streets, brightly coloured architecture and beautiful fountains – it is certainly worth spending a few hours wandering through the beautiful area!
While now predominantly a tourist attraction, the monastery once housed 450 people (both nuns and servants) and has an interesting history. You can pay extra to have a tour guide (available in various languages). Due to my backpacker budget, I opted to skip the guided option and wander around of my own accord. While there are some signs in English, I feel like the guided tour is a great option as I left wanting to google so much!
I’m not a huge museum lover, so it takes a really unique and interesting exhibition to pique my interest, and Museo Santuarios Andinos is exactly that. In fact, I’d say that the experience is unique to anything else I have ever experienced.
On arrival, you watch a short documentary outlining the Incan historic sacrificial rituals. The most beautiful children were selected for a religious sacrifice on the mountains surrounding Arequipa. It is thought that the children did not know exactly what would happen to them, yet being selected was a huge honour.
The children would hike for days in incredibly harsh weather conditions to reach a ceremonial shrine on the mountains before being killed and buried with other objects offered to the gods.
In 1995, during an ascent of Mount Ampato, two hikers found a bundle in a crater that had fallen due to recent ice melts. The bundle turned out to be the body of a young girl “Juanita” completely frozen and incredibly well preserved.
After being guided round the museum by a tour guide, you are led into a dark refrigerated room where Juanita’s preserved body is on display.
For a few months a year, Juanita’s body is moved to a pitch black refrigerated room for conservation purposes and is replaced by another young child (a few bodies have since been found on the mountains) – I visited while Juanita was not on display and this did not hinder my experience at all.
It is a truly harrowing sight (how often do you get to see the dead body of a 15th Century child?) but extremely fascinating and a great insight to the Incan beliefs and rituals.
Many South American cities have an incredible market and Arequipa is no exception to this rule. San Camilo Market hosts an array of stalls and vendors, from food to clothing to pet supplies!
My favourite stalls at San Camilo Market were the incredible fruit stalls – you can pick up a punnet of fruit for an incredible price to eat as a snack while you are exploring the city. Some stalls are able to wash the fruit for you, so it’s ready to eat immediately.
There are also some incredible smoothie stalls offering an array of fresh fruit and vegetable smoothies – if you have a sensitive stomach, always be sure to visit the stalls which are using bottled water and advertise that they are safe for tourist consumption.
As at most markets, haggling is a standard affair (although I hate haggling, so will just pay “full price”) and you are usually able to try samples before purchasing.
Mirador de Yanahuara is known as being the best spot for views of Volcan Misti. To reach the Mirador, you will need to cross the river into Yanahuara, a quiet neighbourhood filled with beautiful white buildings and churches which is lovely to wander around.
I’d love to visit the Mirador at sunset as the views are supposed to be incredible. I visited with a group of new-found friends at midday and we were all very hot and sweaty after a lengthy walk (we may have got lost en-route) on a scorching day.
A less-than-professional but very kind taxi driver agreed to let us all squeeze into his 5 seater taxi (with 6 people including the driver) so that we could get back to the air-conned glory of our hostel!
What happens when you combine a stunning city with a cool food/drinks scene? Of course, you get lots of hostels and hotels with rooftops that you can hang-out on, as well as a number of rooftop bars and restaurants in the city centre.
We spent most evenings on a rooftop of some description – whether it be a café in Plaza Del Armas with a beverage or with some takeaway pizza on The Flying Dog Hostel rooftop (I’m not actually sure we were supposed to be up there…).
It’s no secret that Peruvian food is incredible, so when I ended up with a spare afternoon in Arequipa, I jumped at the chance to learn how to cook some Peruvian dishes!
I booked the “Traditional Menu” at The Peruvian Cooking Experience and it was fantastic. I cannot cook to save my life… So this led to some “interesting” experiences – who knew I would struggling to cut a tomato in the exact required way to form a decorative flower? Thankfully, the tutor was extremely friendly and laughed along with me!
For an absolutely unknown reason, I decided not to visit Mundo Alpaca while I was in Arequipa – probably due to lack of time! Now that I am back in the UK and not bumping into cute alpacas on a regular basis, this seems like a stupid decision!
If you want to meet lots of cute and cuddle alpacas, see how alpaca wool is woven, learn more about alpacas and their importance in the Peruvian culture and have the opportunity to purchase lots of alpaca wool souvenirs, make sure you take a visit!
While the city is beautiful, one of the best things to do in Arequipa is book a trip to the nearby Colca Canyon. You can opt for a one day bus tour, or a two-three day trek into the canyon. I opted for a two day trek which you can read all about here.
Whichever tour you decide to take, you will not be disappointed! The Colca Canyon is extremely beautiful and seeing the Andean Condors soaring overhead is a once in a lifetime experience.
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