Not only is amazing Arequipa aptly named the ‘White City’ with dazzling Spanish-influenced architecture, but it is one of those cities that you instantly fall in love with and this is why…
The fact that you can arrive and instantly feel relaxed and at ease in this gorgeous South American city, is such a lovely change.
Stayed for around ten days in Arequipa, absorbing the culture discovering a favourite quaint coffee shop, and exploring, whilst taking it slowly…what’s the hurry?
Tip: This article is now available as a mobile app on iTunes and GooglePlay. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.
Don’t believe the timeframe that Google maps at right displays – it’s all fabricated. If you’re catching a bus from Puno to Arequipa, then this journey takes around 6 hours, if all goes to plan – protests and road blocks last month saw long delays.
Long-distance bus journeys such as the Cruz del Sur buses, leave from Puno’s Terminal Terrestre De Puno on Jr. Primero de Mayo, n.703.
Today’s scenery became spectacular after Juliaca, so have your camera ready.
Expect to see loads of Llamas, Alpacas, and Vicunas whilst travelling along the open flat road, through the expansive plains of the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve Park.
Arriving right on peak hour at the bus station, which is three kilometres from the city centre, decided on a taxi with a fixed price to the hostel. You can also take a bus or combis to the Plaza de Armas.
Three soaring snow capped mountains enclose Arequipa on one side with majestic El Misti, a massive active volcano at a height of 5,822 metres, on the other. Misti’s last awakening from slumber was in 1985, so hoping that she lays dormant during our stay.
Just so you get the picture, Misti sits happily between Pichu Pichu – another but inactive volcano, only a couple of hundred metres lower than Misti – and Mount Chachani, a couple of hundred metres higher than Misti.
The region has been inhabited since 7,600 B.C., followed by the pre-Inca tribe the Collaguas, and then the Incas, which gave Arequipa its name around 1,300 B.C. Of course, don’t forget the Spanish arrived in 1540, so with this colourful historic background, Arequipa is a fusion of cultures, which is also visible in local faces.
Arequipa holds much for a traveller and captivates enough to make you want to stay here for a month or two…
The more you wander around this beautiful city, the more you want to stay and explore further – I’ve only scratched the surface in this post. Everything seems clean and orderly, and a pleasure to discover.
Plaza de Armas
Striking about this plaza and different to others in South America so far, is the dazzling soaring buildings constructed in Sillar – a white volcanic stone.
Part of the historic centre and UNESCO World Heritage list, the plaza’s architecture emanates charm and timeless beauty. The plaza’s sheer size is jaw-dropping.
As with most public spaces in a city’s centre, which draws many locals either enjoying watching their children feed pigeons, or just soaking up the warmth amid the winter’s clime, typically they are a city’s hub and favourite meeting place.
Dating back to around 1540, the splendid neo-Renaissance-style cathedral with a splash of Gothic, is breathtaking. Taking up one whole side of the plaza, this imposing building really is massive and stunning.
Suffering four earthquakes between 1600-1700s, then again in 1868 and another in 2001, reconstruction commenced following each earthquake.
Hailing from France over two hundred years ago, the curious solid timber showpiece of the ‘Winged Devil’ at the base of the pulpit, is a surprise to bump into in this cathedral, and attracts many tourists each year.
La Compañía Church
Dating back to the 17th century, the impressive and opulent interior of the Jesuit Church of the Company of Jesus, was built for religious and living purposes by the Jesuits.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
From the moment you walk through the monastery’s ochre-hued arch, a silence and peacefulness envelops you – albeit for the occasional rowdy tourist.
Founded in 1579 by Doña María de Guzmán, the monastery is now maintained in vibrant colours, which makes it a pleasure to meander through, whilst discovering more of the history around each colourful corner.
Widowed, without children, and very wealthy, Doña María de Guzmán decided to become a recluse in this monastery, which was still under construction.
The frescos gracing the cloisters are intricate and also restored.
Some of the statues exude pain and are realistic.
Local students are content with resting against the cooling aged stone, whilst creating their masterpieces. With more than fifteen universities in Arequipa, there’s no shortage of education.
San Camilo Market
Stroll only three blocks from the main square and you bump into this traditional market, which is the oldest in Arequipa.
Local sights here will remain with you forever.
The butcher’s area is gripping…
Lunch and juices are inexpensive at the markets and loads to choose from, so why not indulge in traditional cuisine or fresh produce?
Great for people-watching and your lens.
Lucky enough to have stumbled on an exhibition of artisans creating brightly woven indigenous pieces, paintings, ironwork, wooden sculptures, and excellent to watch artists at work.
All types of artistic creations in the making in many mediums, right in front of our eyes.
Passed down through the ages, techniques haven’t changed either…
Makeshift work space in the park.
Whilst travelling in South America we heard about the Colca Canyon trek, which is one of the deepest canyons in the world, so decided to book a three-day/two-night trek from Arequipa. More on the exciting but arduous trek in this separate post: Incredible Colca Canyon 3-day Trek.
Lots of active volcanos in the vicinity, so may also do some volcano trekking, purse permitting.
A plethora of wonderful restaurants and cafes await any discerning palate, and all budgets.
Valenzuela Cafe Gourmet
By far my absolute favourite for its ambience and great service, the cosy Valenzuela, which reminds me of an underground bunker or train tunnel, offers delicious Peruvian coffee and great snacks.
A comfortable place to sit back and unwind.
Where to sleep
The fabulous Hostal Santa Marta is a colonial building dating back to 1650 with a beautiful interior and only four blocks from the main square – couldn’t have picked a better hostel. Staff are wonderfully friendly. The spotlessly clean comfortable room boasts a 3-seater black (faux) leather lounge and a decent bathroom complete with an actual bath – lush.
Included in the room’s price, a delicious breakfast awaits each morning in the lovely dining room.