The city of Arequipa in the south of Peru was on our list because the second largest city of Peru is a stunning colonial city, also called la Ciudad Blanca (White City), surrounded by an active volcano El Misti. Arequipa is also as a starting point for the trip to Colca Valley and so if you plan this trip, you should definitely spend some time in Arequipa too. Here are 10 Things to do in Arequipa, hope they will inspire you! 🙂
10 Things to do in Arequipa
1. Admire the white sillar architecture
Plaza de Armas is dominated by the Cathedral and surrounding buildings made of white-grey volcanic stone called sillar, that create a beautiful contrast with the deep blue sky. Arequipa lies in about 2,300 m above the sea level and there are 360 sunny days in a year (lovely, isn’t it?), so the sky here is like this most of the year!
Another nice example of white sillar architecture is the Inglesia de la Compania de Jesus. The stone arcs are decorated with carved Inca symbols.
2. Visit Santa Catalina Monastery
Monastery from the 16th century founded by a rich widow has about 20,000 sq. meters and 450 people used to live inside at that time. Nowadays only 20 nuns still live here and a part of it is open for public. The walls are painted in live colours, which makes the Monastery a sight worth visiting.
3. Go see the iced mumie of a young girl
In Museo Santuarios Andinos you can see a frozen mumie of young girl Juanita, that was sacrified in the 15th century by Incas to their gods. Her frozen body was found in 1995 at the summit of Ampato volcano in a very good state, allowing the archeologists to get some precious information about her life and culture. The discovery is considered as one of the most important findings in the history of the Americas.
4. Take a hike to Mirador de Yanahuara
Another unforgettable thing out of the 10 activities to do in Arequipa is to take a hike to Mirador de Yanahuara, from where you can see pretty well El Misti volcano (5.822 m n.m.), that dominates the White City. The last eruption happened some hundreds of years ago and so the inhabitants are expecting a new one coming soon. It is estimated that with the eruption, 90% of all the inhabitants of Arequipa would be gone.
On your way to the mirador, you can see the Chachani volcano (6.057 m n.m.). The city is actually surrounded by 3 volcanoes – the third one called Pikchu Pikchu is that not visible from the city though.
5. Eat in the typical picantería and try local specialties
Typical restaurants in Arequipa are called picantería and you will find the best ones out of the historic center. I can really recommend picantería La Dorita, close by the Miradoru de Yanahuara. We were warmly welcomed and ate with the locals, who recommended us the famous Peruvian cuy (the guinea pig) that we saw hanging on the rope next to the bar. Even my boyfriend who is normally meatlover, resisted in this case and rather had a traditional meal from the region – rocoto relleno arequipeño (stuffed bell pepper) accompanied by pastel de papa (baked slices of potato and cheese). For me, they offered me a vegetarian salad with rice, how sweet of those Peruvians that love meat! 🙂
6. Learn about alpaca in Mundo Alpaca
In Mundo Alpaca, you first visit the animals on the garden and learn about the difference between llama, alpaca and vicuña. Lama is the biggest out of the Southamerican cameloids and was domesticated already in the pre-Inca times. It was very important in traditional rituals, for work and meat. Nowadays, llama is breaded especially for wool and for meat. Alpaca produces wool of better quality than llama with much more fiber. It lives above 3,000-4,500 meters above the sea level and its meat is very nutritious with low cholesterol. The best quality wool is from vicuña, the smallest Southamerican cameloids. There are only 150,000 of vicuña’s in the South America, out of which 80 % lives in Perú.
But during your short visit, you can also better understand the production of alpaca and llama clothing, as you can see how the fiber is produced and coloured. You can get some good quality baby alpaca products here as well. (You can also see many “baby alpaca” tempting in the city center, but be careful as these are rather “maybe alpaca”.)
7. Wander in small hidden colourful streets near the city center
You should also take some time for a walk in the streets around the city center, as there are many beautiful colourful houses and to see. Colours like deep red, blue, and yellow create a nice contrast with the white sillar. One wouldn’t see a city completely without such a random walk, so this is why I put it to the list of 10 activities to do in Arequipa.
8. Have a Pisco Sour on a terrace while watching the sunset
To wrap up you Arequipa experience, do not forget to have a drink on a terrace on Plaza de Armas in one of the surrounding bars/restaurants. The food is not exceptional but the view is stunning. You can see the Plaza de Armas from above and see the cathedral being surrounded by the volcanoes Chachani and/or Misti. Try to make it during the sunset.
9. Discover the city after sunset
Observe how the White City changes after the sunset. White sillar buildings being in an artificial light give th city a majestic look. Completely different atmosphere!
10. Don’t forget to book your trip to Colca Valley and Cruz del Condor
There are many agencies offering the trips to Colca Valley. They offer various options: several days’ trek or 2 days’ cultural visit of Colca Valley with short hikes with prices depending on your choice of accommodation. We were very happy with Zarate Adventures, that has many years of experience and you can find their agency few steps from the Plaza de Armas. At the end as we had only 2 days for this trip, we opted for the cultural trip – you can see pictures and read more about it here.
Some practical information:
You can take a plane from Lima, otherwise there are buses from the main touristic cities such as Paracas, Nazca, Ica, Cusco or Puno. We took a night bus from Ica, where we did dune buggy and Pisco Tour. The night in the bus was fine as the Cruz del Sur buses are really comfortable and you can sleep pretty well and you get a dinner plus breakfast!
We stayed in hostel Mango, that was very well located – just few meters from the main square, Plaza de Armas. It is a nice colonial house with basic rooms, but pleasant staff and large baggage room which we used to store our bags when leaving for our 2-days trip to Colca Valley.