Tucked away against the slopes of volcano Misti, you find Arequipa – the white city – all the way in the south dessert of Peru. The area is especially known for its mountainous adventures and retained culture, as many of the surrounding volcanoes have been used for ancient Inca rituals with many possible gems still to uncover. Arequipa has also developed great hostels and a lively nightlife over the past few years, accumulating in a vibrant city for backpackers, filled with amazing architecture, loads of sights, local products and surrounded by gorgeous valleys and volcanoes.
Arequipa, the city
In most, if not all Peruvian cities, the main central square is called Plaza de Armas. And of all cities to visit, Arequipa definitely stands out for its gorgeous square and surrounding antique buildings. For example, the immense cathedral on this square dates back to 1656 and has the exclusive right from the Vatican to proudly carry its flag.
If you are interested in the era of the Inca and conquistadores there is plenty to discover in Arequipa and around. The huge Santa Catalina monastery (admission $10) is a must stop here, which takes you on a journey 400 years back in time. Also the museum Arqueológico Chiribaya, which only opened as recently as 2008, is filled with interesting artefacts and gems from the local pre-Inca Chiribaya civilisation.
Where is the nightlife?
Although this title may have remained unanswered 5 years ago, nowadays Arequipa is home to a great variety of bars and clubs, especially triggered by increasing numbers of travellers year after year. In the center, places can be found all around, with the streets calle San Fransico and Zela as party central. From a Sunday to a Wednesday it can be a bit quieter around, but from Thursday till the late hours in the weekend Arequipa transforms in a great party scene, with cheap and great happy hours! With a huge variety, here are some popular places you might want to check out: Déjà Vu, Kibosh, Forum Rock Café, La Casa de Klaus, Siwara, El Tuturutu, and many more.
The food in Arequipa offers a huge variety and flavour with typical local ingredients. Places referred to as “picanterías”, known for their specialized local cuisine, serve typical dishes only on certain days. The food may be slightly spicy, but it will make your mouth come alive as never before, longing back for Arequipa’s food when you step one foot outside it.
Arequipa is also known for its Alpaca clothes. The wool, from the Alpaca, is extremely soft and durable and has been used as far back as the Incas. Worldwide in fame, you easily find prices back home topping over $200-$300 for just an Alpaca sweater. Be smart and do some shopping here as many producers of amazing Alpaca products can be found right here in Arequipa. Whether it is a standard hand knitted sweater or pants, or something typically local such as ponchos or chullos, you will be amazed by the options you can find here.
What to do around Arequipa
As mentioned before, Arequipa is known for its raw nature in the dessert, surrounded with Volcanoes. This is also the perfect opportunity to mingle with some extreme activities like rock climbing, white water rafting, or even discovering uncovered Inca structures.
Just over 15 years ago, the mummy of Juanita was discovered in the mountainous area around Arequipa, a young girl that was sacrificed in the ancient days to save her people. Also, in 1998 more mummified people where found on the slopes of Volcano Misti. Many Inca and pre-Inca sites have been and are still uncovered in this area, where the volcanoes haves mainly been used for ancient rituals.
Lastly, a must stop just outside Arequipa is the Colca canyon, the worlds´ deepest canyon. This valley is known for the protected and impressive Peruvian Condors soaring over this valley. The valley is also known for archaeological sites, other unique wildlife and its many activities. This valley can be found around 3 hours away from Arequipa.
How to get there
From within Peru the two most travelled routes are leading from Cusco and Lima to Arequipa. If you take a plane from Lima you are looking at around 1.5 hours travel time, whereas the bus from Lima will take you around 13-14 hours.
From Cusco you can take a plane ride of around 50 minutes, or the bus for around 12 hours. Although Cusco is much closer to Arequipa than Lima, the impressive but rough environment also slows down the ease with which the bus can travel.