Exploring Peru’s prettiest city, Arequipa

Reading time: 8 mins

Country: Peru
Province: Caylloma
Type: Small City
Language: Spanish
Time: GMT – 6hrs
Currency: Peruvian Soles
Exchange rate: €1 = $3.71
Number of days: 2
Accommodation: Basic Hostel
Month: October
Average daily temperature: 23°C

Getting there 

We were so impressed with Cruz del Sur, the bus company we choose for our previous twenty hour journey from Mancora to Lima, that we almost looked forward to this next trip.

We took the direct service from Lima to Arequipa, in total a comfortable eighteen hours. Prepared with a variety of snacks and an onboard selection of dubbed Hollywood movies with English subtitles, we settled into our reclining armchairs for the day/night. 

We woke at 6am to perfect sunshine as we approached this new city. Already one of the three volcanoes that surround the city were making for great scenery outside the window.

Adjusting to high altitude

After experiencing debilitating altitude sickness during our stop in the Andean highlands in Ecuador, our main objective after arriving to Arequipa was to acclimatise and allow ourselves to adjust fully before we signed up for any treks. We weren’t taking any chances this time. The general advice online is:

  • Take it easy 
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Drink coffee
  • Drink coca tea
  • Chew coca leaves
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Take Soroche medication (Aspirin & Caffeine)

If you’re a coffee drinker, one of the main pieces of advice we read for adjusting to altitude is to make sure to drink your usual amount of coffee. The lighter effects of altitude sickness can be similar to those of caffeine withdrawal. Caffeine lifts your heart rate which means more oxygen is entering the blood and thus reducing the risk of altitude sickness. We decided to follow this rule vehemently. Going on a coffee shop crawl seemed a pleasant obligation and a perfect activity to build our energy levels after sleeping on a bus.

  • Puku Puku – coffee shop
  • Kaffeehaus – coffee roasters
  • Huayruro – Peruvian coffee shop
  • Prana – vegan/vegetarian restaurant
  • La Dispensa – pizza

All the spots on a Google map →

Exploring Peru’s prettiest city

Arequipa is filled with baroque buildings constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone. The city was far more beautiful than we expected, with this stone making up most of the buildings in the large colonial old town.

Its historic centre is anchored by the Plaza de Armas, a huge pedestrianised main square full of locals seemingly enjoying the passing crowds of tourists. On its north, sits the huge 17th-century neoclassical Basilica Cathedral. Europeans travelling through South America are likely to tire of churches after a short time, but there are exceptions, and this was one of them.

Every time we saw the square from an adjacent street, we would end up drifting back towards it, looking forward to approaching it from a new angle.

Discovering our love for traditional textile weaving and Alpacas

We were always going to be able to conjure up enough energy to visit Alpaca Mundo on the far side of town. ‘World’ (mundo) might have slightly exaggerated what was essentially a small petting zoo with different breeds of alpacas and llamas. However, with an interesting textile exhibit, a live weaving demonstration and a boutique for luxurious alpaca wool items, there was enough to keep us occupied for a good chunk of the afternoon.

Alongside the petting zoo, was a pre-Columbian textile museum. The museum is known as one of the most important exhibition spaces for Peruvian textile art. The museum was setup by a Japanese man named Yoshitaro Amano. In his travels throughout Peru, he came across objects that had been abandoned by tomb raiders and began to devote his time to the recovery and conservation of objects scattered across the coastal deserts of Peru. The design of the displays alone made it worth a visit.

Our first introduction to Inca culture

This theatrically presented museum is dedicated to the preserved body of a frozen mummy, called Juanita, a 12-year-old Inca girl, who was sacrificed to the gods in the 1450s and is now eerily preserved in a glass refrigerator in the museum. The compulsory guided tour provided is excellent and the museum was a great visual lesson into Inca culture. 

Exploring the Arequipa region 

Arequipa had an array of outdoor activities available for anyone looking to explore the incredible mountainous surrounds of the city. There was the option to go Rock climbing, white water rafting (level 4), downhill mountain biking, mountain climbing and hiking.

With our trek to Machu Picchu just around the corner, we opted for a 3 day hike in the nearby Colca Canyon, the fourth deepest in the world, to help prepare us for it.

Read the Colca Canyon post →

Our Colca Canyon trek dropped us back in Arequipa with just enough time to shower and grab a last beer on the square before boarding the night bus to Cusco. Our 3 day trek in the Canyon had got us really excited for our trek to Machu Picchu.