Have you ever been in a city surrounded by 3 huge, active volcanoes? There are not many places like ‘the white city’ a.k.a Arequipa! The nickname for Peru’s second biggest city comes from the colour of its buildings, made from a white, volcanic ash rock. This busy, vibrant place is full of culture and surrounded by stunning nature. Sunset over the majestic Misti volcano alone, makes a trip to Arequipa more than worthwhile.
Here are my selection of tips and things you can’t miss when in Arequipa!
Transport – If you arrive by bus, the main station is around 15mins from the centre so either grab a taxi (from outside the station on the road – these are cheaper). Or you can get the colectivo bus (local bus) for 1 sol! That’s how I did it.
Arequipa is walkable so there’s no need for taxi’s or busses unless you are heading outside the city. Main streets are quite polluted, so consider a mask! It may not look cool though it’s worth it.
Vegan & Vegetarian options – Almost all restaurants have veggie options on their menus. If you’re a plant eater, your options are reduced, though don’t worry! I found the best in town, so you don’t have to do all the research:
– Omphalos – A tasty, home made daily menu served from noon to 9pm, 7 days a week. I found ourselves having lunch there most days! Cost S/15; £3.50
– El Buda Profano – Sushi lover? They specialise in tasty vegan sushi that takes you on a food journey to Japan. Cost S/40; £10
– Espacio Lagom – A cosy joint with British/Peruvian fusion, right next door to the sushi place! Cost S/30; £8
Time needed – 4/5 days in the city, more if you want to do some day trips.
Dealing with altitude – Altitude sickness can ruin your stay in the White City. Buy some chlorophyll online before you go & have some each day. Drink loads of water & coca tea, chew coca leaves and avoid alcohol.
Temperature – Warm in the day and cold at night, don’t underestimate this temperature change if you’re coming from a steady climate. Not many places have heating, so having some body thermals will come in handy.
What to do in Arequipa!? My top 12:
Chill in Plaza de Armas
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is the most beautiful square I’ve seen in Peru. It’s also the epicentre of everything happening in Arequipa: people meeting up, cultural events & celebrations, rooftop drinking & sunset watching.
The setting is simple and it’s beautiful, an impressive cathedral in the centre, a tranquil fountain in the middle, surrounded by pretty gardens with plenty of benches to sit and chill, a great vibe both day & night. All with a back drop of mountains and volcano Misti! Pretty cool right!?
San Camilo Market
A lot of travel guides don’t mention this market, probably in case of pick pockets, though I would absolutely recommend visiting! Seeing huge markets like this really gives you a buzz and sense of life in Arequipa. You’ll find the locals bartering, sellers trying many techniques to catch your attention… most work each time! Along with a mix of smells and colours hitting your senses! Make sure you stands grab a freshly made fruit juice, the tastiest and freshest ever! Cost: Market is free, juices from S./9, £3.
Watch the sunset from a rooftop
Who doesn’t love a sunset? Arequipa’s are magical! The sun sets right opposite Volcano Misti, the colours of the sky are insane – peach to orange, pink to purple, then dark blue before setting (and getting pretty chilly).
There are many spots to watch the sunset, we found a hidden gem! A rooftop in the only pre inka restaurant in the world! Sonccollay. It’s the furthest righthand corner facing away from the cathedral, look for a small sign and head up to the 2nd floor. You will feel like you’ve walked into the wrong place, make sure you check out their kitchen, expect nothing else but traditional and non-modern cooking tools. An experience itself! Cost: Price of a drink (I recommend the homemade beer), you can also eat incredible food there.
Santa Catalina Monastery
This is an absolute must do! The most beautiful monastery I’ve ever been to, it’s like a small city containing everything that the nuns still living there need. The buildings are painted in awesome red and blue colours, you’ll constantly find great insta spots! It’s a lot bigger than you’d expect, so allow yourself 3-4 hours to visit every corner and maze with no rush, this will give you time for pictures and to learn about the history. There’s also a cosy cafe, for some chill time and to admire the contemplative life. Cost: S.40; £10
The name is opposite to what you’d expect, nonetheless I still recommend a visit. It should be called Alpaca village given its size! You can meet and feed the different kinds of alpacas and lamas, along with learning how their wool is treated, dyed and woven by indigenous people. If you want to learn more about the techniques used, don’t miss the exposition downstairs, here you’ll find all the treating and loom machines for the dyeing process. Cost: free entrance with an optional donation to the weavers. Cost: S/5, £1
Colca Canyon trek
A stunning place that you should really make time in your schedule for. It’s possible to do a 2 or 3 day trek, start reading the Trip advisor reviews and you’ll see those who opted for the 2 day trek say it’s a trek from hell. I’d recommend the 3 day trek.
It’s a moderate level trek, decending from the top, to the bottom of the canyon, and back up again! Though it is completely worth it! You don’t have to be an expert trekker at all, just a moderate fitness level and ready to take on the challenge!
Check my insta story for pictures, they speak for themselves, it’s absolutely stunning! I’d definitely recommend the 3 day trek, it gives you time to socialise with your group & make new friends, as well as allowing your body a recovery day in between and giving you time to truly take in the beauty of where you are. Cost: S/170; £43
Another unforgettable thing to do! Seeing these huge, majestic birds, soar at the same level as you is just incredible, it makes you feel very connected to them.
You can incorporate this as part of a trip to Colca Canyon (most companies do, just make sure), or you can do it as a day trip. A lot of companies give you 30-40 minutes at the Canyon.
It can be hit or miss whether the Condor’s fly close to you, though if you arrive between 9-11 there is a high chance as the sun has warmed everything up. In 40 minutes I was lucky to see them fly right above me, though this happened after 30 mins of waiting! So more time gives you a much better chance, plus you want to enjoy the moment!
At around 4900m above sea level, it was were the altitude hit me for the first time, so expect to feel dizzy and out of breath after a few uphill steps!
Capilla de San Ignacio (Compañía Church)
This is a little gem! Similar to most of the colonial cities in south America, Arequipa is full of religious buildings: cathedral, churches, convents… This is one you won’t want to miss.
It’s decoration and architecture is out of this world, you need to go inside the church and look for the little chapel, it has the most stunning and unique dome we have ever seen. The walls are painted in true Sistine style, though depicting the amazon. Your jaw will drop and you’ll find yourself lost in its paintings. Well worth the small entrance fee. Cost: S/5; £1.
Ruta del Sillar
Arequipa is also known as ‘the white city’ and you realise why pretty soon. Mostly all buildings are built with a white, volcanic stone called ashlar stone (sillar in Spanish). All these stones are bought from three nearby quarries that have supplied the city for centuries.
Do you want to know the good news? You can visit the active quarries on a route that will leave feeling like Indiana Jones in the last crusade! You can even see the workers brake and mould those blocks, it gives you a real sense of how the city is built and just how hard the quarry miners work. This is an experience you shouldn’t pass when in Arequipa. Cost: S/35; £10 (Bargain prices with local agencies or visit the official tourist information point on the Plaza de Armas for the best price).
Arequipa is surrounded by 16 volcanoes. Can you believe it?! 3 of them are very close to the city: Chachani, Misti and Picchu Picchu. No wonder Arequipa has around 11 earthquakes per day! Don’t worry though, most of them are very subtle and you can’t even feel them. If spotting them isn’t enough, you can join a tour to the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Agua Blanca, here you can will spot some of the active, smoking volcanoes and endangered vicuñas (cousin of the Alpaca), in a natural park 4000m above sea level.
I managed to do this a different way, the active volcano spotting was included in the Colca Canyon trek – there is nothing quite like it! It’s something I have always wanted to see and I was in absolute ore watching it. You will be too.
For the endangered vicuñas, I booked with a bus company called 4M Express whilst travelling from Arequipa to Puno. This is a definite goer! A really comfy bus, stopping 4/5 times on the way for you to see different sights, helping to break up the trip & allowing you to see some stunning places!
Did you know there are mummies outside of Egypt? In Museo Santuarios Andinos you can learn more about the story of Andine culture and meet Juanita, the young girl who was sacrificed and offered to the Inca gods around 1450. She was completely frozen, so her body is well preserved, helping scientists and anthropologists to discover more about the Incas and Andinde traditions. The visits are all guided and I recommend you to take a jumper, it’s quite chilly inside to help protect poor Juanita! Cost: S./20; £5
Chill in a cosy bar
It can seem hard to actually find one! For anyone that knows me, they will know I need a comfy seat! I also want to be in places like this when I write blogs, so hopefully my search will help you out! I’d recommend the following 3:
Crepisimo Creperie – the name kind of gives it away! Though it’s a cosy bar with a huge range of delicious creps & board games, (look for a place upstairs).
Espacio Lagom – a cosy joint with sofa’s to chill and really nice food to nibble on!
Munanqui – if you are a tea lover this place is for you! A nice, small set up with so many herbal tea’s on the menu!
I hope you get the chance to visit Arequipa, it’s a city that I fell in love with. Its setting, preserved buildings and charm makes it one of my favourite places in Peru and South America.
If you want to know any more or are thinking of visiting, just message me or comment below and I’ll help you out!