Nestled in southern Peru amongst canyons and volcanoes, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and a must-see destination if you’re visiting Peru. It’s best to dedicate one to two days to this often-called “White City” before you embark deeper into canyon country, such as a trek into the Colca Canyon (many of these treks can be booked directly from Arequipa as well). Here are some of the places that make for great exploring in Arequipa.
The Historic City Centre
Arequipa’s historic city centre spans an area of 332 hectares and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a clear mix of native and colonial influence on the architecture, referred to as “Escuela Arequipeña.” Most of Arequipa’s top attractions are easily accessible from the centre, so it’s best to find accommodations as near or within the centre as possible. I stayed at the Bothy Hostel, which had an amazing rooftop patio with a view of the volcano El Misti, and was also close to the Santa Catalina Monastery.
There’s plenty of people watching to be had in Plaza de Armas, as I watched what felt like thousands of pigeons flock to people young and old who were scattering breadcrumbs. Stroll through the side streets and admire the lightly-coloured architecture, or head to one of many cafes, such as the Cafe Capriccio, which offered some very delicious coffee and cakes (for a country that grows coffee beans, good coffee is sometimes hard to come by!)
Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery was built in 1579 and is still an active convent. It is a must-see, and it’s best to go in the warm, late afternoon light as the sun at that time is the perfect compliment to the vivid colours of the monastery’s walls. Though one section of the convent is closed off for current nuns, the rest of the monastery is historically preserved, with remnants of old kitchens and other ways of living from the past.
Museum of Andean Sanctuaries
In addition to learning a lot about Andean history and culture through visuals and artifacts, the Museo Santuarios Andinos, belonging to the Catholic University of Santa María, also houses the famous Incan mummy, Juanita, who was killed as an offering to the Incan gods in the 1400s when she was a young girl. She is one of the world’s best preserved mummies, due to being found completely frozen on Mount Ampato in the Andean Cordillera near Arequipa. Pictures are not allowed inside the museum, unfortunately, so I don’t have any personal photos of Juanita, but there are plenty of scientific articles about her and pictures of her on Google (or, you could just go see for yourself).
El Misti Volcano
It’s hard to miss the domineering El Misti from almost any point in Areqiupa. The adventurous traveller can trek to the volcano and ascend it. I have heard it is not a technical climb to the summit, but the high altitudes (over 5000 m) can be difficult for those who aren’t in great shape. I chose to simply awe at the volcano from my hostel’s rooftop patio, as I had just come from a gruelling two day trek in the Colca Canyon.
It’s possible to book tours to Colca Canyon from Arequipa, for both the avid hiker and those who only wish to stand and look down from the Cruz del Condor viewpoint. That being said, if you’re booking a trekking tour, you will have to be awake and picked up at your hostel around 3 AM – which, for me personally, isn’t the most ideal for a day of trekking in a hot and dry canyon! It is much better to arrange your own transportation to Cabanaconde after you have visited Arequipa (a bus takes five hours – though it’s not a ride for the faint of heart, as the bus weaves up and down canyon switchbacks on a road that’s barely two lanes, and it sometimes feels like you’re dangling off the edge). From Cabanaconde, either arrange a guided trek, or do it on your own – I tell you how to do that in a separate post.
Have you been to Arequipa? What were some of your favourite things to see there?