Top 7 reasons to visit Arequipa City in Peru

Arequipa is a white city in Peru | Arequipa

Arequipa, Peru

There is no evidence of the Inca civilization in Arequipa and one does not come here to see the glittering past of Peru as in the Sacred Valley around Cusco. Arequipa is a completely colonial city made of volcanic white stone. And it’s worth admitting that, for some reason, the Spanish obeyed the Inca rule of building by imitating nature and blending the structures into the surrounding landscape. And what did they achieve?

arequipa is

Arequipa

Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city at the foot of the dormant El Misti volcano in the semi-desert climate of southern Peru, second in size after the capital Lima. It was founded in 1540 by an emissary of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Today Arequipa is populated by about 1.3 million people. In Peru the city of Arequipa is called the Southern Cultural Capital, similar to the way St. Petersburg is called the Northern and Cultural Capital of Russia.

Traditionally Arequipa, located at an altitude of 2335 meters above sea level, is on the way from Lima to Puno (so it is more convenient to acclimatize in Peru, gradually increasing the altitude), and then to Cusco. Or vice versa. There are buses between all these cities. We came from Chile on our round-the-world trip in 2014, continuing our acquaintance with Peru, and the first city in the south of the country was Arequipa. We had planned to spend a few days here, and after some rest from the road, we set out to get to know it better.

Arequipa on the map

Arequipa what to see

What to see in Arequipa – the main attractions

In Arequipa, the famous Monastery of Santa Catalina is a must-see. And of course, from Arequipa start tours to the Colca Canyon. But we went there on our own and saw one of the deepest canyons in the world and soaring over it condors! And after contemplating the unseen beauty, of course, we wanted to see other condors painted on the ground. And for that we had to go to Nasca!

Arequipa sights on the tourist map

Map of Arequipa

Arequipa neighborhood map

Map of Arequipa

Plaza de Armas

As it should be, the Plaza de Armas is greeted with beckons to restaurants and tour agencies. However, there is one decent place here called IPeru, an institution that will tell you and tell you all about the city and provide you with maps (not just of Arequipa, but of other cities as well, if you say you’re not stopping in your exploration of the country). The workers speak not only Spanish but also English.

The Cathedral ( Cathedral de Arequipa ) is open to the public from 7.00 to 19.00, with a charge for 10 to 16 (10 soles) and free in the morning and evening. Like the whole town, the Cathedral is built of the same volcanic stone with which the area is rich because of its dangerous proximity. Volcanoes have destroyed the city more than once, but they were the material used to build it. So Arequipa’s low houses also whitewash among the mountain-desert landscape, as do the beautiful volcanoes.

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Inside the Arequipa Cathedral

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It is strange to see a Byzantine cross in a Catholic cathedral

Viewpoint Januar in Arequipa

Arequipa stands surrounded by a ring of volcanoes. They are white on the horizon and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city – somewhere better, somewhere worse. They have invented miradoras for tourists to enjoy the majestic view. We visited one of them, Yanahuara.

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The park nearby seemed very nice and pretty. Much to our surprise, we somehow managed to come to Janahuara at a time when there were hardly any tourists brought in by buses. So we had time for a quiet stroll, watching a local grandfather reading a book while sitting on a bench and basking in the sunshine, knowing the thick palm tree branches were keeping him in the shade. And the straw nativity scene looked very touching (it was still a month away from Christmas, but Arequipa was getting ready!). The volcanoes in the arches were reminiscent of Santa Barbara.

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The viewpoint here is wonderful, but the view from the balcony at our hotel was prettier, and from the newly opened bridge over the Chile River was even prettier. We also happened to be in the middle of a public celebration as everyone had gathered for the bridge opening ceremony and were rejoicing.

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On the way we also toured the pretty neighborhoods of San Lazaro and Yanahuara, which was very reminiscent of the old town of Acre (Acre) in Israel.

Our photos of Arequipa

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The new bridge with the volcanoes in the background

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Residents of Arequipa

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View of Arequipa from the roof of our hotel

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View from our balcony

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Colorful Arequipa

But the biggest secret of Arequipa is that the city is not at all white!

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Useful to know
10 Comments
  • Andrew by 26.03.2015 at 00:58

Very nice city. Immediately feels distinctive, although I think this can be said about Peru as a whole. How do you think it is safe to travel through the country for an independent tourist.

  • Ariana by 26.03.2015 at 09:51 am Author

We have traveled all over the country on buses (mostly for locals) and have never once felt in danger. There were times when we were prompted to hide our camera in Lima or the volunteer druja in Nazca decided to personally escort us to a tourist site, figuring we’d rather protect our tourists than leave them alone. The cab driver in Arequipa told us how best to choose a cab. But these are all small things. And all of these cases are written about in our blog. In general, we had an extremely positive impression of Peru. A positive attitude, backed by common sense, is the best advisor. We never expected or thought about trouble, they bypassed us. But we didn’t venture into troubled neighborhoods in the evening either.

On the whole, the locals are quite peaceful, they even treat foreigners with some deference. Of course, those who work in the tourism industry and speak English, try to squeeze more money out of the tourist, but at the same time, so that the tourist will be satisfied. And if you know the local prices, compare the cost of tours in different agencies and do not mess with the guides (to us, by the way, almost never imposed any “help”), then travel is quite comfortable. We went with zero knowledge of Spanish, but on the spot have the basic phrases and phrases have become understood and were able to engage in simple dialogue with the locals. In hostels we never had problems with that to leave things, but the truth we put the laptop in a suitcase and closed a suitcase on the lock, and all valuable things and documents carried with itself. In general, the police work well, and regulate the traffic, and patrol the streets, but we did not see any blatantly provocative crime, so that robbery or theft. Everything was peaceful and quiet, and even in the buses no one was rummaging through things, as they warn about on the Internet. You need to observe basic safety rules and you won’t have any problems!

  • Pauline Vamonos on May 31, 2015 at 04:15 am.

Guys, where did you stay in Arequipa? Did you like the hotel? And how to choose the right cab driver?

  • Ariana by 31.05.2015 at 08:54 Author

Pauline, if you take the bus to the terminal, the cab drivers should be there on the grounds. And the price will be ten soles. These are official cabs. We were also told that real cabs should always have a radio antenna and the company name and phone number written on board. And the main advice is to catch a cab that you just got out of something. We stayed at a small hotel, but we wouldn’t recommend it to you because it’s quite cold and the rooms are very small. You and the kids won’t have much fun there.

  • Ariana by 31.05.2015 at 08:41 Author

Pauline, if you take the bus to the terminal, the cab drivers should be there on the grounds. And the price will be 10 soles. These are the official cabs. We were also told that real cabs should always have a radio antenna, company name and phone number written on board. And the main advice is to catch a cab that you just got out of something. We stayed at a small hotel, but we wouldn’t recommend it to you because it’s quite cold and the rooms are very small. You and the kids would not have much fun.

  • Pauline Vamonos by 28.08.2015 at 21:09
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What do you guys think of Arequipa? We’ve been there on our way to/from Chile a few times, but so that to walk around somehow no longer had the strength. Now I’m thinking about going there for a couple of days. Is it worth it?

  • Ariana by 28.08.2015 at 22:36 Author

Pauline, Arequipa is nice, if you close your eyes to the usual dirtiness of Peru. But overall it’s cleaner than other cities. We enjoyed just walking around there without a purpose. We happened to catch the opening of the bridge, just walking around. And from the sights we went to the super popular monastery Santa Catalina. But we liked it there – colorful and cozy. And most importantly, it’s cool on hot days. Here’s a link to Santa Catalina, see if you like it or not. http://paikea.ru/peru-arequipa-santa-catalina/ In Arequipa, we lived in style – we got hooked on the local pastries and cakes, gained a few pounds, but it was worth it, and we shook them off later As a change of scenery – quite a nice trip. It’s kind of the cultural capital of the country. They are there on their own, do not like the capital and Chile at the same time Even from there, you can go to the canyon Colca and go to the track (if your husband wants to) and look at the condors (very promoted event!). Only trouble is, the condors don’t know and don’t fly in every time. http://paikea.ru/peru-cabanoconde-colca-canyon/

  • Pauline Vamonos to 28.08.2015 at 23:06

Nastya, thank you so much for the answer! My husband doesn’t want to go anywhere at all, so this is me looking for myself :)). I’ve already decided I don’t want to go to the canyon, and I’m thinking about the city…. It’s scary that it will be a typical Peruvian town – dirty, noisy, and from the sights a plaza.

  • Ariana to 08/29/2015 at 10:05 am Author

That’s pretty much it. But the impression is brightened by the volcanoes, which can be seen right from the city limits, the inhabitants dressed in European style and the feeling of their “Peter” in Peru (without the sights as in St. Petersburg). In fact – a couple of days there wandering about nothing and wanting nothing is the best.

Arequipa

A jewel of Peru’s colonial architecture, the distinctive and vibrant Arequipa is worth a stop on the way to the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

I was captivated by the sun’s glare on the white walls, the bright colors of St. Catalina Monastery, the jets of the Plaza de Armas fountains, the condors soaring over the three-thousand-foot abyss and the snowy summit of the proud El Misti volcano.

How to get there

By air

Small planes fly from Lima to Arequipa by local (Peruvian Airlines and LC Peru) and Latin American (Latam, Avianca) airlines.

An hour and a half in the air, $70-$170 for a one-way ticket, and you get dropped off at the small Rodríguez-Bayón airport, where there aren’t even any buses, and passengers walk across the airfield, admiring the volcano on the horizon.

You can find your ticket on various aggregator sites, for example, here.

Train

Peru is very poorly covered by a network of railroads. Trains run only between individual cities.

The station of Arequipa is connected by rail with the picturesque towns of Molendo and Matarani on the coast.

By bus

It takes 14-16 hours to travel by bus from the capital to Arequipa.

There are many companies to choose from:

The bus fleet and ticket prices are comparable; all that remains is to choose how much your seat back will recline, and pay between $20 and $40 depending on that.

The buses arrive at the Estación Ferro Carril Del Sur (Estación Ferro Carril Del Sur), a rather progressive building compared to other Latin American comrades, which is next to the train station near the city center.

By car

The route by car from Lima to Arequipa is along an excellent highway, one of the branches of the Pan-American Highway. The route runs south along the ocean coast, the rookeries of the seals in Paracas, the Martian deserts of the center of the country, and the mysterious Nazca lines.

You won’t be able to get lost without a navigation device, but it’s a must to have free time to admire all the sights flying by on the way to Arequipa!

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Read more about rental car in Peru here. To read the prices for car rental can be found here.

When is the season. When it’s best to go

Residents of Arequipa enjoy comfortable temperatures of +23°C to +25°C and bright sunshine all year round. The conquistadors chose a very good location for their outpost – the city spreads at an altitude of 2 thousand meters above sea level, so it is always sunny and fresh, thanks to the winds. Andean mountain ranges and the surf of the Pacific Ocean are far enough to change the climate of the city, but the neighborhood with the desert regions in the north and south provides it with heat. These comfortable temperatures and minimal rainfall make any season favorable to visiting White City.

In summer, when the entire northern hemisphere begins its vacation season, Peru kicks off its high season. From December to February, when summer arrives in Latin America, Brazilians, Argentinians, Chileans, and their other neighbors rush to explore their home continent.

Therefore the best time to visit Peru and Arequipa in particular is autumn or spring. And the weather, as I said, is favorable: when I was here in May, the sun was shining, a pleasant breeze was blowing.

Arequipa – weather by months

Districts. Where to live

The entire center of Arequipa is an old white-stone conquistador building with authentic churches, plazas and parks.

A hotel on any street or alley from the bus station to the Selve Alegre Park south of the Chile River would make a wonderful and comfortable temporary home for the traveler.

You can book a hotel on Bookings – here, and here you can compare prices from different sites. Some travelers prefer to rent apartments from private individuals – with accommodation options in Arequipa and prices can be found here.

What are the prices for holidays

Accommodation prices start at $5 for a bed in a shared room at a hostel up to $200 for a room at a global chain hotel.

On average, a room for two in an inexpensive but nice hotel will cost $30-50. Often this price includes breakfast.

It’s better to book lodging in advance, especially during the high season. For example, in May I was in a situation when almost all the inexpensive options were sold out.

A cab in the city center will cost $0.5 (2-3 soles), but I would advise to walk and admire one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America.

Churches are free to visit, but to enter the museums and the monastery of St. Catalina you will have to pay from $ 3 (10 soles) to $ 10 (34 soles).

Prices in restaurants and cafes
Meal (lunch/dinner) at inexpensive restaurant 130 rubles
Lunch/dinner for two, 3 courses, middle class restaurant 409 rubles
McMeal at McDonald’s or similar combo-dinner 236 rubles

Main attractions. What to see

Almost all of Arequipa’s attractions are located in a small historic center bounded by train stations to the south, the river to the west, Jorge Chavez Avenue to the east and Juan de la Torre Avenue to the north.

Top 5

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Of course, the main attraction of Arequipa is the colorful Monasterio de Santa Catalina, founded by the Spaniards in the early 17th century.

For many centuries, the daughters of wealthy Peruvian families lived here. To enter this privileged community, one had to pay a generous price. It was the gathering place for the cream of the female society of the time, educated girls who devoted their time not only to prayers and the economy, but also to the arts.

Today only a few nuns remain, and a large part of this beautiful “city within a city” is devoted to the museum.

You can spend a few hours (and $10) to walk around the streets and buildings of the convent, get into the spirit of history and feel what it was like to be a nun under the wing of St. Catalina.

Plaza de Armas

Any walk through a colonial South American city must begin at Plaza de Armas, the Plaza de Arms, which invariably houses the cathedral and the governor’s house.

Arequipa’s main square is beautiful and full of life, just like the city itself. The sun jets in the fountains, children run in the green lawns, and retirees relax in the shade of beautiful colonial buildings.

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Le Cathedral

Life in Peru for centuries has revolved around religious centers, first pagan and then Catholic. While St. Catalina’s Monastery has stayed out of the city’s bustle, the Cathedral has undoubtedly been the main axis of city life in Arequipa.

A contemporary of the city, the cathedral represents the dignified heart of the city: monumental and beautiful, yet simple and unpretentious. Full of warmth and light, it reaches for the sky with its two bell towers and, against it, the third tower of El Misti Peak rises as if it were a third tower.

Old Town

The entire historic center of the city can be called one big attraction. The white-stone colonial buildings leave you feeling timeless, like you’re in the 16th century. The cobblestone sidewalks and bottomless sky seem to remember the mustachioed conquistadors and lacy signoras who passed through here.

I wandered these streets with great pleasure, forgetting about the map and enjoying the wonderful feeling when the edge of time becomes shaky and the houses begin to whisper their stories to you.

Palacio de Goyeneche and Casa del Moral

These palaces, which belonged to the nobility of Arequipa, deserve special attention.

Like the inhabitants of sunny Peru, they seem simple and stocky on the outside, but inside they harbor a wealth of riches: brightly colored courtyards, carved oak furniture, murals, paintings, and evergreen trees.

Churches and temples. Worth a visit

In addition to the monumental Cathedral and the alluring Convent of St. Catalina, there are several other beautiful churches in the historic center of Arequipa:

  • The Church of St. Francis (Iglesia San Francisco), a majestic 16th-century ancient church, next to which sits the city’s largest market with local handicrafts and souvenirs.
  • The unique Church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit order, Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus), whose architecture intricately combines the Catholic Baroque and cultural heritage of local tribes.
  • The Monastery of Santa Teresa, named after one of the few canonized saints of Latin American origin. This monastery, like its sister monastery dedicated to Saint Catalina, is still functional (from the 17th century!).

You will also find the Iglesia Santo Domingo (Church of Santo Domingo), the Yanahuara Church and many other interesting and unique churches that Arequipa is rich of.

Museums. Worth visiting

The most interesting museums in Arequipa are undoubtedly its churches, monasteries and mansions. But apart from these, another small museum deserves a visit, the main exhibit of which is the Ice Maiden.

In 1995, at an altitude of almost 6 thousand meters near the crater of the volcano Ampato mountaineers found the mummified body of a young girl. Scientists determined that Juanita, as she was nicknamed, died in the 15th century at the age of 11-15. It is assumed that she was sacrificed according to an Inca ritual.

Today she is housed in the Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of the Sanctuaries of the Andes), where a special temperature is maintained. You can see Juanita from May to November, the rest of the year the Ice Maiden is kept in a dark place, which helps preserve it.

Admission to the museum costs $4 (20 soles).

It is located a stone’s throw from the Plaza de Armas.

What to see in the surrounding area

One goes to Arequipa not only because of its beautiful white mansions and colorful churches, but also because of the delightful nature.

Colca River Canyon

The deepest canyon where the condors, huge birds of prey that the Incas worshipped as sacred animals, nest. Located just outside the city.

Easy to get by bus ($ 5-7). Take the early morning bus to Chivay and in 2.5 hours get off at the Cruz del Condor stop (better notify the driver in advance). You can buy tickets at the bus station or from the driver.

Or go to the canyon organized tour, which options are a great many: one day or more, hiking or horseback riding (cost from $ 20 or 100 soles). This tour can be purchased almost anywhere in Arequipa.

Tourists are taken to a lookout where, around 9-10 a.m., condors begin posing as they fly out to hunt. After a million pictures of the proud birds, you can go down to the bottom of the canyon to the river (2-3 hours), and either spend the night there or go back up on foot or on horseback (4-6 hours).

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El Misti Volcano.

Another place that attracts travelers. The ascent to a height of 5.8 thousand meters is open all year round, you do not need a special permit, but some physical preparation is required.

From the city you can get to the volcano with a tour group or by renting a car. You should bring hiking equipment, because the ascent and descent will take at least 2 days.

Food What to Try

In Arequipa I had one of the most memorable gastronomic experiences of my life!

In the enfilades of long stone buildings surrounding the Plaza de Armas, there is a huge number of cafes and restaurants. To be honest, I chose almost at random: I liked the woven authentic tablecloths in Soncollay.

And now imagine a huge clay bowl full of fragrant hot tomato soup (sopa de tomate) cooked from real ground tomatoes, not tomato paste.

And then they brought us pachamanca, a traditional Inca dish. The technology of its preparation resembles a ritual. First, a hole is dug in the ground and a fire is lit. After the embers are burned, they are removed and the meat or fish is placed into the pit. Vegetables and herbs are also placed there, and everything is covered with earth on top. After a few hours, the dish can be served. So we got a deliciously tender fish, cooked for us by Mother Earth herself.

For dessert, a traditional Arequipa delicacy – a frozen cheese called Queso Helado (cueso mlado). As a drink, I highly recommend trying the piña jugo con leche – freshly squeezed pineapple juice with milk.

The whole meal cost us $16 (70 soles), and it’s in a cafe in the central square!

Also, try two dishes that were invented in Arequipa:

  • Rocoto Relleno (Rocoto Relleno) – familiar to any Russian stuffed pepper. Only in the local version the pepper is spicy, and in the stuffing in addition to meat they add vegetables and cheese.
  • And I suggest finishing a busy day (and night) with a traditional “hangover” Adobo. Originally, this dish was a “hot” dish, but in Arequipa they turned it into soup. A thick soup with pork, peppers, onions, beans and spices. It is said to revive after a crazy night in no time :).

Holidays

Latin Americans are very fond of colorful celebrations, so at any time of year travelers have a great chance to observe and take part in a procession or carnival of one of the local settlements.

Arequipa, for example, hosts colorful and colorful celebrations for Holy Week in April, City Day on August 15, and Saints Chapi and Ursula in May and October.

Vivacious Peruvians in national dress fill the ancient streets of Arequipa and, accompanied by the sounds of flutes and drums, engage the audience in a mysterious and authentic act.

Safety. What to beware of

Arequipa is a calm and safe city, you will not try to be cheated by traders and cab drivers, or pickpockets, in the center you can safely walk around at night, and if you want to visit the outskirts, you just look at the locals surprised.

But as in any country in the world, you need to observe the usual rules of caution: do not carry large sums of money, do not leave unattended equipment, and single girls should not go walking at night in remote areas.

Things to do

Shopping and Stores

The shopping in Arequipa is rather peculiar: very poorly presented clothes, shoes and accessories of world brands, but a huge selection of products made of alpaca, llama and vicuña (the latter only in luxury boutiques); many musical instruments, dolls, paintings and other souvenirs.

The entire Old Town is full of stores, stalls, boutiques, and outdoor tents where you can buy something Peruvian. Prices are quite comparable to other cities.

Bars. Where to go

In the evenings, the city center is illuminated by the cozy lights of numerous bars and cafes, and tourists and locals stroll leisurely from one establishment to another.

The selection of things to do is wide. Arequipa offers both traditional (La Tradición Arequipeña and Las Quenas offer live music and cocktail nights at weekends) and trendy venues (Déjà Vu, Casona Forum and Kibosh Pub), even German and Irish pubs (La Casa de Klaus and Farrens Irish Pub brew great beer). All are within walking distance of each other in the historic center of the city.

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