The city of Arequipa will always hold a special place in my heart. It felt like home in Peru as I was away from home in Europe for a long period of time. Beyond being Peru’s second largest city next to Lima, it is also unarguably the most attractive. The city is built almost entirely from a type of cement taken from the volcanoes know as Silar. It is a chalk white colour and the main reason that the city is known to many as the “white city.”
However, the city isn’t all white, as many have painted over the chalk exterior in full colours of red, blue, yellow, and basically any other colour you can imagine. Arequipa’s main plaza is perhaps the most beautiful in South America and sights like the Santa Catalina Covenant and visits to see Juanita the Ice Princess make this city a hit among tourists. Many simply use Arequipa as a base for excursions into the Colca Canyon (Infos coming soon) but the city is so much more than that, as those who spend time here soon find out.
Time Needed: 2-3 Days
Budget Needed: 35-40US$ a day
Getting in or Out of Town
Arequipa is the hub of Southern Peru, as such you can basically get anywhere by land. You’ll find that travel in Peru via air for foreigners isn’t very cost effective. A quick flight comparison will tell you that although there are plenty of flights within Peru, most are overpriced. You can fly from Arequipa to Lima, Trujillo, Juliaca (Lake Titicaca), Cusco, and many more places. There are also often flights to Arica, Chile and some other internation destinations for Arequipa.
Bus destinations are as follows:
- Lima (13-15 hours) is between 15-30US$ depending on the class. Most take this trip during the night
- Nazca (8-9 hours) buses on their way to Lima stop in Nazca and cost about 10-25$
- Ica (10-11hours) is just past Nazca you can get off in Ica which is the jumping off point for Huacachina
- Cusco (9 hours) is a popular travel route so be sure to book in advance. The cost is between 20 and 30 US$
- Puno (6 hours) on Lake Titicaca is about 10-20US$ and buses run very regularly.
- Chivay (3 hours; 4US$) is the base for most in the Colca canyon. If you want to head further in you’ll go to Cabanaconde which is two hours and 2US$ farther.
- Getting to Chile: To get to Chile you’ll need to catch the bus to Tacna (6 hours; 15$) and then take shared taxis to Arica.
- Getting to Bolivia: There are direct buses to La Paz daily. It takes 12 hours and costs about 35$.
Things to do in Arequipa
- Santa Catalina: This is Arequipa’s must see. It is an old painted monastery famous for the poor behaviour of the nuns that occupied it. It is as beautiful as it is interesting and well worth the price of admission
- Plaza de Armas: Especially at night the plaza is impressive. The Cathedral is worth a look inside and there are some great restaurants around the edges
- The cobblestone streets of Yanahuara: When I think back on my first visit to Arequipa, the memory that sticks out to me is my walk up Leoncio Prado, a pedestrian-only, cobblestoned street in the neighborhood of Yanahuara. It’s a tangible reminder of both Arequipa’s Spanish colonial origins and its unique aesthetic. In Yanahuara, the signature white, stone walled streets are always accented with bright pink or red flowers in wall-attached flowerpots. It’s truly a photographer’s dream and any aimless wanderer’s favorite place to get lost.
- Juanita the Ice Princess: They have actually now found a second princess caked in the glaciers of the nearby mountains so Juanita is alternated with her sister. This is creepy, but it is also impressive to see this young girl seemingly frozen in time. You can find her at the Museo Santury
- The Colca Canyon: This is the starting off point for most Colca Canyon excursions, but for more info visit the Colca Canyon guide (coming soon).
Where to Eat
In my opinion the food in Arequipa is the best in Peru. It has a little bit more spice to it than most places and there is an interesting meld between Andean and Coastal fare.
The local Arequipeña cuisine
As a self-proclaimed foodie, I have to start this love letter to Arequipa with a mention of the city’s extensive list of local cuisine. Arequipa has more local dishes than any other city in Peru.
A few of my favorites include rocoto relleno veg, a spicy vegetable-stuffed red pepper and ocopa, potatoes smothered in a creamy, herb-based sauce. For the seafood lovers, the must-try local dish is chupe de camerones, a seafood soup of tomato, shrimp, hot pepper, cheese, potatoes, milk, and eggs (i am vegetarian, so no Seafood for me).
Now that your mouth is watering, the place to try all of Arequipa’s local dishes is a lively and unique establishment called a picantería. The name comes from the fact that most of the dishes on the menu are picante, or spicy. Many of Arequipa’s picanterías are spacious and have an outdoor element to them. Try your luck at getting a table on a weekend and you’ll be knocking elbows with locals and their entire extended families.
La Nueva Palomino is my personal favorite picanteria. It has a great garden patio vibe to it and even better food. Their chupe de camarones is one of the best in town. Also, you can’t go to a picantería without ordering an enormous glass of chicha de jora, the famous corn-fermented beer that’s been enjoyed in Peru since the time of the Incas.
- Ary Quepay: Traditional dishes in a colonial-style building with Andean folk music and amazing fondues (Mains around 5-13US$)
The queso helado
Okay, I promise this is the last food-focused reason for visiting Arequipa, but I’d be amiss not to mention Arequipa’s unique claim to dessert fame. Queso helado, the creamy local “ice cream” made from coconut, condensed milk, and egg, is a rite of passage for any traveler to Arequipa. You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the signature bucket-like churn and often a traditionally dressed woman standing by it with a free cinnamon-topped sample.
- My favorite is a little hole-in-the-wall place just down the hill from the Plaza de Yanahuara on Alfonso Ugarte. The sweet woman who owns the shop makes her queso helado in a variety of flavors including papaya, strawberry, mango, and several local fruits including membrillo, aguaymanto, and chirimoya.
Where to Stay
Finding good accommodation in Arequipa isn’t all too difficult. There are a number of options and the styles cater to basically all travellers.
- La Casa de Leonardo: If you’re looking for a nice little hotel with a great atmosphere look no further. La Casa de Leonardo is popular among private tour groups which is always a good sign. There is a huge courtyard, swimming pool, on site restaurant and bar, and a beautiful included breakfast. Double rooms are around 25US$.
- Friendly AQP Hostel: A very nice hostel chain in Peru. Friendly AQP always seems to bring a bit of a laid back crowd with it. In Arequipa they are located on Pasaje Cusco 203, Vallecito – Cercado and run about 7-8US$ a night for a dorm.
- Katari Hotel: A beautiful Hotel in the heart of Arequipa. The Katari Hotel has a lot to offer. If you are a Photographer you should check out the Restaurant/Bar on the top of the hotel. In Arequipa they are located directly at Plaza de Armas and run about 60US$ a night for Double Room.
So, dear reader, what questions do you have about this region or Peru? Have you had a similar experience? Share in the comments!