A UNESCO World Heritage site with not one, but three impressive volcanoes protecting its city walls, Peru’s second largest city Arequipa belongs on every South American travel itinerary.
A city made almost entirely of white volcanic sillar rock, Arequipa is fondly referred to as “La Cuidad Blanca” or the White City by both local Arequipeños and visitors alike, who flock in their thousands to witness the formidable baroque buildings, the mighty El Misti Volcano that serves as the perfect backdrop, and the gigantic Basilica Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.
At 2325m above sea level, Arequipa is the perfect place to acclimatise to the altitude before heading to Cusco to trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but it’s so much more than a stopover town, and if you want to taste the real Peru, you should aim to spend at least a couple of days here, so that you can explore some of the many treats that it has to offer.
Many travellers use Arequipa as a base for visiting the world-famous Colca Canyon, one of the few places in the world where you are virtually guaranteed to spot an Andean Condor in flight from the viewpoint Cruz del Condor. One, two, and even three-day tours are available to book in Arequipa, but if you only have time for a day trip you should book in advance, as your tour will start early, really early, at about 3am!
If you are feeling active, you could attempt to climb El Misti at 5825m above sea level (just 70m lower than Kilimanjaro), but again, you need to book in advance, and allow 2 days for your expedition. While the climb isn’t technical, you do need to be relatively fit to complete the trek and you should allow at least a few days before your climb if you are not accustomed to the altitude.
If you prefer to spend your days strolling around town, there is plenty to keep you occupied in Arequipa. The local market is a day trip in itself, and if you want to stock up on fresh fruits, snacks, and local delicacies, this is the place to shop! It’s not for the feint-hearted, and if you have a delicate stomach, you may wish to skip the meat, poultry and fish sections, but the freshly made fruit juices are simply out of this world.
When it comes to dining, Arequipa has restaurants to suit every budget and every palate, but if you want to avoid the tourist traps in the Plaza de Armas, head to Picanteria La Mundial, a real insiders tip that you simply wouldn’t find – not even with a map!
Here, a substantial daily menu will set you back less than $5 USD, and when I say ‘substantial’, I mean huge! We were served soup of the day, a humongous bowl filled with potatoes, rice, noodles, a chunk of meat, vegetables, and corn, which was followed by a choice of chicken and pasta or Rocoto Relleno, a local spicy pepper filled with meat and herbs and served with rice and cheese. Washed down with a litre bottle of local beer – it’s a real treat!
Finally, as the sun begins to set over the White City, the cathedral lights up in all its glory, and so the only thing to do is head to one of the rooftop bars in the Plaza de Armas, order a Pisco Sour, sit back, and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Arequipa.