We had an amazing time in Arequipa. After traveling 2 months in South America and desolate places this quite Western and colonial city was such a relief. Known as the white city and one of the prettiest in Peru, Arequipa should definitely be on your list when visiting Peru. It is also the starting point for visiting the Colca canyon. There is a lot to do in this vivid city. In this blog post we listed our top things to do.
Some background and facts
There are two different stories about the origin of the city. The first story is that the name was given by the people called Aymara and that the name Arequipa means ´behind the mountain´ The mountain we are talking about is Vulcan Misti. Another story goes that the leader of Incas, Mayta Capac was that charmed by the valley that he yelled: Ari, quipay! Translated, it means: ‘Yes, we stay here!
The city is surrounded by volcanoes and suffered a lot from earthquakes. The last heavy earthquake was in 2001. Because of these earthquakes, the city is dominated by low buildings. But the buildings are definitely worth a look. Colonial buildings made out of ashlar (squared building stones) decorate the streets. It feels very Western and we thought we accidentally were teleported to a Spanish city like Barcelona.
The town is the birth place of Mario Vargas Lloza, who won the Nobel Prize Literature in 2010. There is a library named after him that is worth a visit. As you can see already, it’s a charming place with a lot of history.
7 top things to do in Arequipa
1. Plaza de Armas
Considered as one of the prettiest plazas in entire Peru. It is the most important public place in Arequipa and you can notice that by the buzzing atmosphere on this square. In the middle of the plaza de Armas, there is a small park with a fountain in the middle. On the fountain, you can find the statue of Tuturutu, an important symbol of the city. Around the plaza, you can find some important buildings, with impressive portals and balconies. La Catedral is also a major attraction here. The cathedral itself is impressive both from the inside and outside.
Fun fact: the first organ ever shipped to South America is inside this cathedral. The interesting fact though is that it’s 100% Belgian export. Something to be proud of as a Belgian tourist.
To summarize, wandering around this square, enjoying the sun and observing the locals is a top thing to do here.
Cost: Nada, it’s free to wander around and observe the locals.
2. Monasterio de Santa Catalina
One of the most fascinating religious buildings in Arequipa. And a very photogenic place as well.
Originally from 1579, this monastery is built in Mudejar style (like the Alhambra in Granada, Spain) with brightly colored walls. The monastery has a rich history. In the beginning, the cloister accepted only women from the Spanish upper class society to become a nun in the monastery. From the cells, you can still see that the nuns living in the monastery were very healthy as they brought a lot of expensive things with them. However, in 1871, the Pope send a more strict nun to the monastery and all the rich ladies were send back to Europe.
The total surface of the monastery is rather large, so take plenty of time to visit it. Wander around through the colorful little streets, enjoy the vibrant colors of the flowers that decorate the monastery and get an insight on how the nuns lived here.
Cost: It is rather expensive, 40 soles per person. But according to us, it’s definitely worth it.
3. Museo Santuarios Andinos
This museum is dedicated to one person, a 12-15 year old Inca girl, Juanita, whose body was discovered at Mount Ampato. She was offered to the Inca gods somewhere between 1450 and 1480. Because the body was frozen, the mummy is really well-preserved and has been subject to different scientific researches. Since 1996, her body is at the museum.
Besides the mummy herself, the museum displays different objects that were found together with Juanita. Beautiful clothes, ancient bowls, figurines made of wood, silver, gold, … There is also a 20 minutes film about the discovery of ‘the Ice Maiden’, as Juanita is sometimes called.
Cost: The entrance fee to the museum is 15 soles. A guide is obligatory but free, although a tip is expected at the end. The tour takes about one hour.
4. Churches, a lot of beautiful churches
You can find a lot of churches in Arequipa. The most impressive one is the cathedral at the main square. It is unique in Peru, as it is the only cathedral that stretches the length of a plaza. A lot of the cathedral is rebuild since 1868, as it suffered a lot from earthquakes and fires. The inside is airy and simple.
Cost: Seeing the cathedral from the outside is free, entrance fee for the inside is 10 soles.
Other churches that are worth a visit are Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, which is said to have the most beautiful interior of all churches in Arequipa. Beautiful carvings, paintings and statues.
The Iglesia San Augustin is a perfect example of Baroque mestizo style and has a beautiful high altar, plated with gold. On our download page, you can find a walking tour that takes you to the most important churches of Arequipa.
5. Making new friends at mundo Alpaca
Right in the center of the city you can discover a whole new world, Alpaca world! It sounds like a cool theme park and actually you can have a pretty good time here. This place has been designed to let tourists discover and interact with alpacas. It is only a 10 minute walk from the main square (Plaza de Armas). It offers:
- Beautiful colonial architecture with grass areas
- An interactive and educational experience with alpacas
- Demonstrations of weaving and traditional fabric sorting
We had a great time here, and best of all it’s totally free. You can feel kind of obliged to buy something in the gift shop, but they are not pushy.
6. Experience authentic Peruvian life at Mercado San Camilo
When visiting Arequipa, this market can’t be missed. Although the city has a lot of big supermarkets, the local people still prefer to buy their food on this market. It’s a place where you can wander around for hours. An entire row full of ladies selling the best smoothies you ever had, with exotic fruits you haven´t seen before. Another row of butchers that are selling literally every part of the animal, and little stands with herbs and cheeses. Or find your perfect authentic souvenir on this market, with colorful table cloths, stuffed alpacas or a typical Peruvian hat.
Tickle your taste buds with some authentic Peruvian food like a Salchipapa or get your daily dose of vitamins with one of the delightful smoothies. And don´t forget your camera, as this place is very photogenic and bursting with color.
Cost: It´s for free to wander around, but we advise you to buy something to eat. It’s so cheap and delicious!
7. Cozy cafes and restaurants with delightful food
One of the things we missed a lot in Asia were cafes or restaurant that are intimate and cozy. But in South America, and especially in Arequipa, they know how to make a room atmospheric and cozy. Walking through the streets you can find one café after the other, all inviting you to enter and order a cocktail or a Pisco Sour. Not to mention the many rooftop bars with a magnificent view over the city and the backdrop of volcano Misti!
But Arequipa is also a place for foodies, withe some amazing restaurants, delicious food and educative workshops. We will write a blog post about top places in Arequipa for foodies soon.
Have you been to Arequipa? Let us know what you liked or disliked about it in the comments below. As always if you have any questions or remarks we are here to help!
Thanks for reading,
Matthias & Mieke