From towering active volcanoes to cobblestone streets and majestic cathedrals, Arequipa does not lack for splendor as Peru’s second largest city after Lima. The perfect first stop in Peru if you’re heading north from Bolivia, Arequipa may just be the most beautiful colonial city in the country. Built out of white washed volcanic stone, the entire downtown area surrounding the famous Plaza de Armas sparkles in the sunlight and puts many other main squares to shame. Enjoy dinner on one of the many terraces overlooking the Plaza de Armas or just sit back on a park bench and enjoy the view.
There are numerous museums and intricate cathedrals and churches in town to keep you busy for several days including the famous Monasterio Santa Catalina that occupies an entire city block and is practically a citadel within the city. One of the most famous museums in towns exhibits “Juantia the Ice Princess” the human remains of a sacrifice to the Inca gods over 500 years ago – both creepy and fascinating at the same time.
The best way to seek out some of Arequipa’s hidden gems and learn more about the grand architecture is to sign up for a free walking tour, which departs the main square at 3 pm daily. Working solely off tips, these informative guides showed us around the best parts of town that would have easily been over looked. Along the way we visited an organic boutique chocolate shop, enjoyed a pisco sour tasting and got to visit a hand spun llama workshop, llamas included. It was probably one of the best city tours we have been on in our travels at a fraction of the cost of your more traditional bus tour.
With three of the country’s largest mountains in the backdrop included the active volcano of El Misti and the world’s deepest canyons in the surrounding countryside, Arequipa is also the perfect place to launch an action packed adventure with treks ranging from a quick overnight to several nights or more. A quick getaway includes a two day trek into the canyon with a few other notable stops along the way – details and pictures of the hike in the next post!
Where to Stay: For a range of hostel options from budget to midrange, head straight to Puente Grau street. More than enough options to choose from and only a few blocks from the main square.
Jen’s Overall Recommendation: With cheap eateries and a ton of affordable accommodation options, Arequipa gives Peru a great first impression. It’s a must visit destination for any of your Peru travels.