Top 3 Things to do in Arequipa, Peru

April 8, 2019

by Kristen Elizabeth

I recently spent the last eight months traveling with my children through Arequipa, Peru.  Famously named, “The White City,” for its buildings constructed from sillar, an ashy variety of volcanic rock formed from eruptions of andesite lava, Arequipa leaves the wandering explorer with an impression of quaint, colonial architecture and picturesque charm.

Welcome to Arequipa

Collected from three imposing peaks, Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu (all of which can be viewed and summited from the city itself) sillar forms the composition of almost all of the colonial buildings in Arequipa. From the impressive, “Mirador de Yanahuara,” (where one can take in a stunning view of the entire city), to the beautiful walls surrounding the Santa Catalina Monastery and leading to the Plaza de Armas, this uniquely constructed citadel is rich in beauty and historic awe.

A traveler views the Plaza de Armas at sunset from one of the many restaurant balconies surrounding the square.

Peruvian Culture and History

During the course of our stay in Arequipa, we were able to learn the basics of a new language as well as engage in amazing experiences that have led to the creation of lifelong memories.  In an interesting turn of fate, I also met my husband while traveling in Southern Peru!

Peru is a country known for its incredible Inca civilization (and cultural heritage) as well as its famous local cuisine.  After visiting stunning indigenous sites like Machu Picchu outside of Cusco in the Sacred Valley, and the Nazca Lines near Huacachina (both of which are must-see wonders in and of themselves), I’d like to recommend a few, “off-the-beaten-path,” locales right inside the vicinity of our favorite city, Arequipa.

Machu Picchu, National Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Cataratas de Sogay and Characato

No trip to Arequipa is complete without a visit to the stunning waterfalls of Sogay.  The Sogay waterfalls are about a 2-hour hike through lush, green farmland and nearly unspoiled terrain from the drop-off point near an exquisitely, quaint town square in Sogay.  If you make the trek in late March (just after the rainy season) expect to see local flora bloom as you meander on winding trails (perfect for families) and as you scramble over creek beds and rock formations that will pique the interest of any geologic-minded adventurer.

Traversing the Falls

For the advanced wanderer, there is even a portion of the hike just beyond the first viewing point of the spectacular falls where the practiced rock climber can hoist themselves up over the waterfall’s ledge, scramble along several steep embankments, and slide down into the watery base of the falls.

This refreshing plunge is not for the faint of heart and this article in no way makes this recommendation without the warning of risk. For those who do decide to traverse the edge of the drop-off, however, there are usually locals available to offer guidance as to which holds are most secure. Once submerged, it’s a quick slide over the smallest fall into the chilly pools about 300 feet below.

Road Refreshments (Picarones and Chicha Morada)

For those interested in a more leisurely experience, simply ditch your pack at the first viewing point, wade in the shallow pools, and enjoy a refreshing glass of chicha morada (fermented purple corn drink), beloved in the Andean region and occasionally sold by families just before the entrance to the falls.

After your hike, take a combi from Characato station (about 1 S/. per person) to the nearby Distrito de Characato and enjoy a batch of fresh Picarones (Peruvian, fried pastries) at Characato Picarones Especiales Doña Leny just off the gazebo in the main square.

Hikers dip into the pools at Sogay Waterfalls (Cataratas de Sogay)

Arepa Fusión and Tanta by Gastón Acurio

Self-described as a, “down-home cooking,” restaurant, you really can’t pass through Arequipa without stopping by Arepa Fusión on Calle Bolivar close to the Plaza de Armas. On any given day, this family-run business boasts every Arepa (traditional Venezuelan bread) variety under the sun. From their famous Pabellón (a traditional Arepa consisting of a mixture of plantains, black beans, cheese, and melt-in-your-mouth, delicious shredded beef) to their classic Reina Pepiada (shredded chicken with guacamole-mayo between a hot and crispy corn-flour Arepa), this Venezuelan couple and their son (who love to chat up their customers whilst dishing out their local cuisine) will not disappoint.

A Diverse Culinary Approach

Due to the presence of its bustling airport and its close proximity to neighboring countries like Chile and Bolivia, Arequipa is a popular destination for economic migrants and individuals from neighboring countries who are looking to start new enterprises and/or share valuable skills. Peru’s own ethnic food identity is complemented by the presence of diverse cuisine from around the region.

World Famous Cuisine

Banking on this abundance of diversity, Gastón Acurio, one of the world’s top chefs (specializing in Peruvian and European fusion), opened up several fine dining restaurants and urban hot-spots hoping to light the fire of passion for diverse culinary tastes. You can swing by Tanta (just one block down from Arepa Fusion on Calle Santa Catalina) and pop in for his specialty, “Huevos de Gastón,” or try his classic Ceviche, Aji de Gallina, or Pastel de Choclo. If you are interested in sampling a bit of the best of everything that Peru had to offer, you do not want to skip a visit with  Gastón.

“Huevos de Gastón,” at Tanta in Arequipa, Peru

Peru Hop from Arequipa to Puno, Cusco, and Ballestas National Islands

Nothing says Peru like adventure.  Due to its Southern location and its close proximity to a bustling airport, Arequipa is an excellent staging ground for visiting the rest of the country.  Just book an AirB&B close to the Plaza de Armas or in the nearby, urban Yanahuara district and google Peru Hop or any of the other local bus companies aimed at assisting both locals and tourists with their traveling needs. (Alternatively, you could just meander down any one of the side streets off the Plaza de Armas and stop into one of the dozens of travel headquarters located off the square to book your itinerary on-the-spot with guidance and local expertise).

 Traveling with Family

Due to the fact that I was traveling alone with children, I wanted a company where I could map my entire route in advance. Peru Hop offers dozens of two to three-day excursions like those to nearby Colca Canyon or down to Puno and the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Puno skyline on a stormy night.

Traveling Alone

For the fiesta-minded youth traveler, Wild Rover hostel in Huacachina (which can be booked alongside Peru Hop) is an excellent singles meet-up spot that offers all-night celebration. We opted to stay in a more family-friendly abode complete with roof-top coffee and orange juice, and a stunning breakfast view of the entire desert oasis. Our complete journey lasted about a week and took us from Huacachina and the Nazca lines along the coast to Lima. Our favorite stop was in Paracas where we took a 15 S/. boat ride to Ballestas National Islands. If you are a kid (or an animal lover) you will be thrilled by the abundance of seabirds, seals, crabs, penguins, and other marine wildlife. Don’t forget to bring your camera on this amazing excursion.

Three young travelers enjoy a view of Ballestas National Islands in Paracas, Peru.

So whether you are traveling with your family, in search of adventure, or simply keen to learn all there is to learn about Peru, Arequipa is the place to start.

Every journey has a beginning. I hope that yours begins here. I wish you the best of luck in this amazing city.

¡Disfruta! Enjoy Arequipa!


Kristen Elizabeth

By Kristen Elizabeth

Explore, Dream, Discover As a student of philosophy and immigration policy, and as an adoptive mother to two young boys who have, in the past five years, left their home in Africa and joined the wave of migrants crossing national borders in search of a new home, I have always been drawn towards education and employment that examines the experience of humans in transition and draws from such experience a new outlook on life. I write this message from Arequipa, Peru where I recently moved for a period of six months to work, study, travel, and heal from divorce. Before moving, I completed my Masters Degree in Liberal Studies at Loyola University, Maryland. A majority of my courses centered on policy research and analysis in the fields of foreign policy and immigration policy reform. My primary work involved the organization of multiple technical and written tasks as well as work with an assistantship managing and organizing staff and undergraduate students interested in learning about and working to prevent homelessness in Baltimore, Maryland. While traveling through Peru (and working as an English teacher), I met my husband, Daniel. Daniel was born in Caracas, Venezuela but is living, studying, and working in Peru while we wait for him to immigrate to the United States. I am so excited to share our family's journey and hope that you will follow our story! Life is full of surprises, disappointments, struggles, and new beginnings. There is always something new to discover! So in the words of Mark Twain, "throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails." This life is an incredible adventure. I hope you will join us as we . . . Explore, Dream, and Discover! Very Sincerely, Kristen Elizabeth


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April 12, 2019

Amazingly written, Kristen!! I haven\'t been to all of these places but this definitely made me want to go back to Arequipa and explore some more.