Arequipa; What To Do In Peru's Second Largest City
April 27, 2019
Having spent 6 months living in Arequipa, it slowly became my favourite city in Peru – yes, even more so than the charming city of Cusco. Known as the ‘White City’, Arequipa was conquered by the Spanish in 1540 and is famous for its neoclassical Cathedral which dominates the historic centre and the many colonial-style buildings which are constructed from ‘sillar’ rock, a white volcanic stone. When stepping out onto the streets, you feel as though you are walking around a Southern European city rather than being on the edge of the Andean plateau.
Arequipa lies at 2,335m altitude within the Andes region and is framed by 3 volcanoes providing you with a breathtaking and unforgettable view. Nothing can prepare you for the magnificent backdrop of snow-capped peaks as you sit on a rooftop sipping sangria or eating ceviche. It makes Arequipa that little bit more special.
When visiting Peru, many people question whether to visit Arequipa or simply give it a miss, usually in favour of the ancient Incan capital Machu Picchu or for a trip across Lake Titicaca. However, the second largest city in Peru has plenty to offer.
Trekking and High Altitude Climbing
If like me, hiking is something you love to do, then add Arequipa to your travel list. It is a gateway city to the surrounding Andes mountain range meaning there are numerous trekking locations nearby. The most popular location is Colca Canyon; a 2-day hike will take you deep into the second-deepest canyon in the world through dry rocky landscapes and lush green forests packed with avocado trees, ultimately reaching an oasis at the bottom of the ravine. An experience not to be missed, Colca Canyon lures tourists from around the globe with a rare chance to see the Andean Condor – the largest flying bird in the world.
Chachani, Misti and Picchu Picchu Volcanos
Travel agencies, which are abundant through the vibrant streets in the centre of the city, also offer 2-day hikes on the prominent volcanos; Misti, Chachani and Picchu Picchu. These hikes give people the opportunity to climb to their summits and experience spectacular views of the city and surrounding landscape from great heights. As the smallest mountain, Picchu Picchu has a height of 5,664m above sea level, whereas Misti and Chachani lie at 5,822m and 6,057m respectively. Being very remote climbs, there are no refuges onsite meaning climbers need to sleep in tents. As daunting as this may seem, it allows you to eat a home-cooked meal on the mountainside whilst watching an incredible sunset which awaits you. Misti’s close proximity to the city means a night spent on the mountain allows you to peacefully watch the changing colours of the horizon before the city lights are revealed.
Things To See
Besides hiking and other extreme sports such as white-water rafting, there are plenty more things to see and do in Arequipa. Santa Catalina Monastery is by far the most visited attraction in the city. Built-in 1579 and stretching over 20,000 square feet, the monastery still houses nuns to this day. The perfectly maintained rooms located within rows of cloisters painted a beautiful shade of blue or deep orange will make you want to pack your bags and move in. Make sure you also pay a visit to Santuarios Andinos Museum where there is a frozen Inca-mummy, known as Juanita, on display. The story of Juanita will leave you speechless as you walk around the rest of the museum on the highly informative guided tour.
Best view of the city
Mirador de Yanahuara is also a not-to-miss attraction and my personal favourite. Outside of the Plaza de Armas and across the bridge lies the affluent and bustling area of Yanahuara, not frequently visited by tourists. The viewpoint offers spectacular and uninterrupted views of the city and neighbouring Misti. It is also the best place in the city to witness the sunset. As the sun goes down, a bright red-pinkish hue reflects onto the grand volcano giving it the illusion an eruption is about to occur. The sunrise from this spot is just as magical.
What To Eat
Traditional Peruvian Food
Yanahuara is also home to many Picanterias serving traditional Peruvian food. At peak lunchtime hours you will be lucky to find a table as locals descend into the simple and rustic eateries. The most common dishes to try are Rocoto Relleno (meat stuffed in pepper), Chupe de Camarones (a creamy shrimp soup) and Cuy or Guinea Pig as we call it; the region’s delicacy.
Menús are another popular go-to among the locals as they give you a choice between 5 dishes which are made fresh that day. The black chalkboards outside the Menús often present some of Peru’s favourite dishes: Lomo Saltado (beef), Pollo de Milanesa (chicken) and Pastel de Papa (potatoes), all served with rice. A menú also includes a jug of juice, a starter of soup and a dessert (usually jelly or fruit). For as little as 6 soles, which is equivalent to around $2, you might find yourself eating here every day, not least because the dishes change on a daily basis too.
If Peruvian food is not quite to your taste, there are plenty of other options too, from independent cafés serving brunch dishes and sandwiches to more up-market modern fusion restaurants. An insider tip; buy avocados (Spanish translation: palta) from either the supermarket or San Camillo market. They are the best I have ever eaten (and I eat a lot of avocados). Soft and creamy, eat them smashed or sliced in a pancita (Peruvian bread), perfect for an afternoon snack or to take on a hike for a wonderful energy-packed meal. You can either make them yourself or buy them ready-made from the numerous street sellers for as little as 2 soles.
Whether you love food, city life, trekking, architecture or history, Arequipa has it all and is an incredible city to visit for a short stopover or long-haul trip. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.