10 reasons why you should explore Arequipa Peru


When you think of Peru, you think of the fantastic culture of the ancient Inca and their architectural achievement, Machu Picchu. You are probably familiar with Lima, the largest city, and Cusco the town where you go to continue your journey on to Machu Picchu. But just a short hop and skip by bus or plane is Peru’s second largest city called El Cuidad Blanca, or The White City.

Why you should explore Arequipa
Why you should explore Arequipa?

Arequipa is often used as a gateway for trekking and tours to the Colca Canyon or a stop-over for travelers coming from Chile on their way to Cusco. However, the city has more to offer than just a stopover. Here are the top 10 reasons why you should explore Arequipa and spend some time there:

The Plaza de Armas Arequipa is one of the most beautiful buildings in Peru. It boasts an impressive twin-towered Cathedral that was founded in 1612 and is made of sillar. Sillar is a white volcanic rock formed hundreds of years ago from deep inside a volcano that exists in Peru. The city itself is made mostly of this material, hence earning its nickname the White City. There are many restaurants, handicrafts, shops, and hostels right at the plaza. The Plaza de Armas is also the center for fiestas and other activities, and the whole center is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Controlled chaos. That is what describes the transportation system in Arequipa. Combine this with your lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, and you will have something that can be best described as anarchy. Just hop on a Combi and find out for yourself. You can discover new locations or get lost for cheap.

They are minivans converted to buses. They are hard to miss, so when one hurtles towards you, you will notice a fare collector yelling his or her lungs out, “Sube Sube Sube!” But do not fear. Grab a seat in the back if you can, and let the Combi run its course as far as you can. The fare collector will probably notice and kick you out somewhere.

Combi drive in Peru
How Combis look like in Peru (Image source: Flickr)

Here is where the adventure begins because you have to find your way back to the place you were staying at.
You must get creative on how you go about this. Do you walk the 4 to 10 miles back? Will you try your luck at another Combi while hoping you can decode some of the different directions? Or chicken out and take a Taxi back? Either way, it is exciting. You will never know what you will discover. Arequipa is safe, but as always, keep common sense.

Arequipa is surrounded by tall mountains and massive volcanoes. For the brave, you can scale the active Volcano Misti, which has an altitude of 19111 feet (5825 meters). You can climb, Chachani, the tallest mountain in the area at 19,872 ft. (6057 meters), or the extinct volcano Pichupichu. If the possibility of edema or mountain sickness is not your cup of tea, try hikes in the Chilina Valley just outside of Yanahuara.

El Misti Volcano
Volcano Misti in Peru

Arequipa has some of the best street food scenes in Peru. Here is where you can try the infamous traditional Cuy dish. The Cuy (Guinea Pig) is barbecued or baked and served with fries and salad. Not your cup of tea? Another dish you should try here is the ceviche! Since Arequipa is only 2 hours from the ocean, the fish is fresh (unlike Cusco). Check out the Manta restaurant and try their Ceviche sampler. Arequipa is host to quite a few Picanterias. Picanterias are traditional local eateries offering daily menus from soups called “chupes.”  On Mondays, you can have Chaque de tripas (tripe), on Tuesday Chairo (stew), on Wednesday Chochoca (beef) on Thursday Chuño, and so on.

Mummies aren’t just found in Egypt. You can find one in Arequipa! Displayed in Museo Santuarios Andinos, the Inca Ice Maiden or Mummy Juanita is one of Time Magazine’s top 10 discoveries. The body is almost frozen, making it a significant archeological find. Juanita was 12 years of age when she sacrificed to appease the gods of Mount Ampato at around 1440 A.D. It was common for the Inca to select a child at birth to be offered as a sacrifice to their gods.

Sachaca is only about a 20-minute taxi ride from the Plaza de Armas (8 soles). There is an observation tower about five stories high. It offers the best 360 views of the entire city. Here you can see how awesome Arequipa truly is, surrounded by massive volcanoes, endless mountains, and an adventure beyond the horizon. Sunsets here are worth a thousand words. Just check out the photos below!

On the road that has the same name as the convent, just two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, you will find Santa Catalina, a fine example of Peru’s close affiliation with the Catholic Church. It is a fully functioning convent open to the public from 8 AM to 8 PM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The rest of the week, the convent is open from 9 AM to 5 PM. For a nominal fee, you can tour the monastery with a guide or explore it yourself with a map.

Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina in Peru

Constructed in 1785, the Sabandia Mill represents the typical use of Sillar stone as the main construction material. Located just 4 miles southeast of the city, its Arequipa’s first ever stone mill. Views of Misti Volcano dominate the landscape outside.

I have met a lot of travelers in South America who are there to learn Spanish. The majority of the money goes to Sucre, Bolivia. Bolivia is a lot cheaper than Peru. However, I would pick Peru over Bolivia for a long-term stay. The reason? Number 4 above, the food is way better than what is in Bolivia. Arequipa is cheaper than Cusco or Lima, making it an ideal place to stay and learn Española.

While not the best view of Arequipa, Carmen Alto also provides a great view of the Chilina Valley. You can also see Volcano Misti and Cachani up close. You won’t see much information about this place in English so if you know a local ask them to take you there. It is about a 30-40 minute drive from town.

  • The fastest way to get to Arequipa is by plane, landing at Rodríguez Ballón airport. LATAM flies from Lima and Cuzco, and Avianca and Peruvian airlines are from Lima.
  • There are buses from Lima, Cusco, and Puno that go to Arequipa. Be sure to pick a reputable bus company, as some of them can be dodgy.
  • Use combis to get around in the city, it’s cool but exercise common sense. While it may not seem as bad as Lima, it can still be pretty dodgy in certain parts.

Besides these 10 reasons, you should explore Arequipa because it is a unique and authentic experience that will not cost you much. To understand Peru better, it is advisable to check some places that are crowded with tourists, and Arequipa is the best example of that.