Arequipa in Peru, a so-called White city, is perhaps one of the most underrated places to visit in Peru. Located in the south-west region of the country, it’s usually out of the way of those travelers who follow the typical Lima – Cusco – Machu Picchu – Amazon Rain Forest route.
Spoiler alert: What a hidden gem! It definitely didn’t disappoint.
UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000 is one of the most spectacular historic centres you will find in South America. Lively atmosphere with locals, who are wandering around while tourists are busy taking photos next to the Basilica Cathedral. It’s always quite a busy place!
If you are lucky to visit Arequipa on one of their national holidays, you will spot marches and festivals happening right there.
Located just 5 min walk from Plaza de Armas, Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the most popular sites. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you are welcome to visit the monastery, which dates back to the 16th century.
The most important colonial building in the city, it’s full of bright colours and drawings. You can walk around to visit the kitchen and rooms, which were used by nuns. Entrance fee is 40 soles / 12 USD.
As you walk around the city, you will be offered Colca Canyon tours. This is one of the main reasons people decide to come to Arequipa – to check if Colca Canyon really resembles the Grand Canyon and challenge themselves to hike it. It’s not an easy hike, and you will need to acclimatize before attempting it.
Also, Colca Canyon is the place to spot Condors taking off and landing right before your eyes.
If you come to Peru and don’t visit a single local market, what’s the point? This is where real life happens! Cheap, delicious meals for less than 2 USD, fresh produce and A LOT of potatoes.
Be careful to keep your belongings out of reach (don’t flash your new camera or iPhone 11) as there are known cases of pickpocketing.
Can you ever get enough of cute alpacas? Even after 3 weeks in Peru, when you get used to seeing them everywhere and know why Peruvian people randomly walk with them on the streets, I still recommend visiting Mundo Alpaca.
It’s a large wool store, where you can learn how they produce textile from Alpaca wool. Can be quite touristy but there is a bonus: you can pet a real Alpaca for free!
One of the best things to do in Arequipa is walk up to Yanahuara Viewpoint to have your breath taken away by the stunning view of the city and mountains surrounding it.
The Sillar brick archway is a truly romantic place for some IG-worthy photos as there are poems of famous Arequipeño poets unscripted on it.
This is the building you see in everyone’s photos from Arequipa. Located right at the Main Square, this is the largest Catholic Church you can find in White City.
Unfortunately, the original 16th-century building was destroyed by numerous earthquakes and fires. It was rebuilt and renovated twice, which still doesn’t lessen the beauty of the place. Entrance fee costs only 10 soles / 3 USD.
Arequipa is a city with a significant cultural and historical heritage. And the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries is the place to discover some of the best anthropological findings in the area.
Do you know the mummies can be found not in Egypt only? Actually, you can see one in this museum. The mummy of a 12-year old Inca girl, who was sacrificed in the 1450s, is kept here and shocks you with how preserved it is. Entrance fee 24 soles (7 USD).
As you arrive in Arequipa, you will see how “flat” the city’s architecture is and in contrast can appreciate the grandness of El Misti volcano. Trekking up this volcano isn’t for the faint-hearted.
And if you are arriving in Arequipa from low-altitude places, I highly recommend to acclimatise first, take pills to prevent altitude sickness. I learnt my lesson!
You have two options: either a free walking tour or DIY-let’s-get-lost tour. I decided on the latter option and didn’t regret it a bit! It’s not the biggest city, and you can explore it on foot.
Leave behind numerous shops selling souvenirs, coffee shops and cafés in the city centre and take yourself out there for a walk around local neighbourhoods. But I turned on my GPS in case I wandered off too far to find my way back without it. I did it solo in the daytime and felt safe!
Here comes my favourite part – talking about food! If you are tired of eating quinoa with every meal (that’s a staple food of many Peruvians just like what rice is for Asians), then Arequipa is a city which offers a twist on traditional Peruvian cuisine.
Every local restaurant will be happy and proud to offer you Arequipeño food, only found in their beloved city. Picanterias are the local eateries, immensely popular with local families. Peru isn’t a particularly vegetarian-friendly destination as most of the meals are cooked with either meat, fish or chicken.
Places worth checking out: La Nueva Palomino for lunch, not far away from the Yanahuara Viewpoint. For vegan lunch, head to Prana. Hands down the best vegan lunch I had in Peru!
Must-try Arequipeño food: The Rocoto Relleno (meat-stuffed pepper), Pastel de Papa (layered potatoes with cheese), Chupe de Camarones (seafood soup).
I tried all of the above in the restaurant next to Prana, on the second floor. It’s a relatively new place and not even located on the map, but they serve very delicious meals. Super-friendly servers will use Google Translate to help you choose your next dish if you do not comprendo Español. It’s slightly pricey than other places (I paid about 60 soles / 17 USD for a special meal with a drink for Arequipa National Day) but totally worth it.
To save money on food, you can take advantage of Menú del Dia. Almost every local restaurant offers a set, which consists of a drink, soup, main dish and sometimes even a dessert! For instance, the one in Prana was only 10 soles, and it was so good that I went there twice.
There are a few ways you can keep costs down on your visit to Arequipa. Here are some top tips:
At lunchtime in Peru, you will find most local restaurants serving a menu del Dia, which is basically a set menu of the day. You can oftern get a great meal for 9 Sol ($3 USD). It’s cheap and will keep you full all-day.
A collective is a common term used in Latin America for a minivan that runs along a set route transporting local people around. they are always cheap and often there is a door opposition (audante). The cost is always very cheap, normally around 1-2 Sol ($0.30-0.60 USD) per ride.
If you want to save money by cooking for yourself then I would strongly suggest checking before booking that the accommodation has a kitchen.
This is how I was able to stay in Guatemala for almost a year rent-free! There are lots of opportunities in Peru and it’s not expensive to join and if you join through my link and use the discount code in this blog post you get some money off… you’re welcome!
Although the water isn’t safe to drink directly from the tap, almost all businesses including hostels have clean drinking water and they will almost always provide it for free. Although some hostels may ask for a small fee if you want to fill up large water bottles. So be sure to bring a good water bottle with you.
Overall, casual clothes are beautiful to explore Arequipa. Comfortable shoes are must-have for a nice walk around the city. If you plan to trek either Colca Canyon or El Misti, or perhaps both of them, pack hiking boots, fleece jackets and leggings.
The best option for accommodation in Arequipa would be booking something closer to the historic city centre, and luckily that’s where most hotels and hostels are.
Low budget and party vibes: Wild Rover, famous party hostel chain in Peru. Although, Arequipa one is slightly quieter than other locations. Mostly young-ish backpacker crowd looking to socialise, drink beer and mingle.
Mid budget and cosy vibes: Selina is a trendy accommodation/coworking chain in South and Central America, famous for designer touch to each of their hostels.
I stayed at Selina in Arequipa and can’t recommend it enough! They offer plenty of cosy indoor and outdoor space. The treehouse in the garden and swings are the most loved places to chill. And they even have got a swimming pool!
They also have co-working space for those who need to get work done.
High budget and design vibes: Katari Hotel is located right at the Plaza de Armas. The mix of colonial elegance and Andean heritage makes you fall in love with this hotel. Great location, high-class service and friendly staff make your stay in Arequipa unforgettable.
As a solo female traveller, who sometimes would arrive or leave to new cities in ridiculous hours (5 am or 10 pm), I always used Uber to get to my accommodation property. It’s really affordable and saves you a hassle to bargain with local taxi drivers.
If you arrive in Arequipa from Lima, Puno or Huacachina, I recommend taking Cruz Del Sur bus company. It’s slightly more expensive than another famous bus company – Peru Hop. Still, they offer such a high-quality service on all their bus rides, including wi-fi, snacks, water, blankets and even have in-built entertainment displays.
Peru has a well-developed extensive bus network, which allows you to travel from one city to another on a budget. You can take regular class tickets or splurge on VIP ones.
Just make sure to plan your itinerary considering time and distance between destination A to destination B as Peru isn’t just big, it’s MASSIVE. I’ve taken a few overnight buses as a solo traveller, including being the only foreigner on some of them. It felt safe as every bus company checks your passport or another form of ID before letting you on the bus and have their lists of passengers printed at all times.
Remember that every bus company in Peru has its own terminal either at the central city bus station. But they also can be located on the other side of the city (talk about the confusion!). Always double-check which bus terminal you need.
At some locations, you will need to pay transportation tax to get your ticket stamped. Usually, it’s only 2 soles or even less.
I visited Peru in August when it was winter in the southern hemisphere. However, Peru is a large country with many different climate zones. While Cusco and Lima were cold with low temperatures, Arequipa was surprisingly sunny and warm.
The best time to visit Arequipa is from early April to early December when it’s the dry season in Peru. You would need a light jacket or long-sleeve shirt to keep your warm at night. But bring your swimsuit too in case if your lodging has a swimming pool, you won’t resist taking a dip!
If you want a guide to Machu Picchu written by a very adventurous adventure writer Turn Right at Machu Picchu is it. It’s a New York Times best selling travel memoir, and a pretty funny account of Mark Adams’s attempt to recreate the original expedition to Machu Picchu. The biggest problem though is his lack of experience. Although he called himself an adventure travel writer, he has spent more time writing about adventure, than actually having it. In fact, he had never even slept a night in a tent!
Conversation in The Cathedral takes place in 1950s Peru during the dictatorship of Manuel A. Odría and it’s the perfect companion if you want to gain a deeper understanding of Peru’s history.
The book is a work of fiction that weaves a complicated web of secrets and historical references. Llosa analyzes both the mental and moral mechanisms that govern power and the people behind it. Conversation in The Cathedral tackles the subject of identity and how a lack of personal freedom can forever scar a people and a nation.
In this book, José María Arguedas beautifully describes the magic of the Peruvian landscape, as well as the grimness of the social conditions in the Andes. The story follows Ernesto, a young man whose internal identity conflict reflects the larger struggle between native and Spanish cultures in Peru.
The book explores the serious and deep-rooted social issues still prevalent in Peru today while capturing the beauty of the landscapes. It’s a great read for anyone wanting to delve a little deeper.