Not far from a few of the world’s deepest canyons, a couple of active volcanoes, and a vast desert, you might not expect to find that gorgeous white cathedral in the picture above.
But if you miss the city of Arequipa while traveling in southern Peru, you might regret skipping it.
The city boasts some amazing cuisine, arguably one of the best plazas in South America, and is mere steps from amazing natural and archaeological sites. Needless to say, we were stoked to be there, and loved our time in Arequipa.
If you haven’t already, check out my Peru master post, with my itinerary, packing list, budget, and links to all the other posts about this trip!
The city of Arequipa is beautiful city to walk through. You can walk from most of the main hostels to the Plaza, and from there to all the major attractions.
We had three day in Arequipa, and spent one in the Colca Canyon, while the other two were whittled away wandering the city, eating our fill, and exploring the historical sites.
Plaza de Armas
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas has been touted as one of the most spectacular in South America by plenty of guidebooks and online forums. I have to admit, I’ve only seen a few, but I was definitely impressed with Arequipa. Standing in the middle, you’re surrounded by white stone balconies on three sides, and an expansive cathedral on the fourth. The cathedral is just as beautiful from the inside, so be sure to explore.
Santa Catalina Monastery
The Santa Catalina monastery takes up a whole block within the city of Arequipa. Please, please take some time to explore the monastery. It’s one of the most well known sites in Arequipa, and you can spend a solid couple of hours wandering through its halls and gardens. Walking along the corridors, you’re hidden from the rest of the city by the monastery walls. You get a feel for what life was like , secluded in the monastery from the rest of the world.
We spent the better part of an afternoon wandering through the gardens and enjoying the calm atmosphere. When you step through the monastery’s gates, you step away from the city, and into a slow, peaceful world. We didn’t spend the extra money on a guide, but if you’re interested in the history (or don’t read English or Spanish) it may be worth having a guide.
Potatoes. Lots o’ potatoes. Hatunpa is in the restaurant area just north of the plaza, and specializes in, you guessed it, potatoes. Almost every dish at Hatunpa is some kind of deconstructed meal served atop a bed of local potatoes. We went there twice because the food was delicious. They have a neat (albeit touristy) atmosphere, and a handful of Peruvian beers too.
This is a great spot for a nice dinner that doesn’t break the bank. You can get a three course meal for cheap, and the atmosphere is still nice enough for date night. It’s about a block and a half north of the plaza , in the same area as Zig Zag, Zingaro, Chicha, and other top-notch establishments.
The Colca Canyon
The Rio Colca carves one of the world’s deepest canyons through the Arequipa region, about 3 hours north of the city itself. We got to see the canyon on one of our days in Arequipa, through a tour we booked with Peru Hop. The Colca Valley and Colca Canyon were absolutely beautiful, and if you’re lucky, you can get a good glimpse of the Andean Condors.
The day we were at the Colca, it wasn’t very windy, so it was harder to see the condors. Andean Condors glide through the canyon on the winds, barely flapping their wings. They’re huge birds, and the massive wing span, combined with the effortless gliding, makes for a truly majestic sight. Be prepared for a huge tourist crowd at the condor viewing points, though.
Tips & Tricks for Arequipa
- Spend at least a few days in Arequipa. We spent two, but I think you’d be better of to stay for three or four, there’s plenty to do.
- Eat lots of food. Even if you’re not planning on spending much of your budget on restaurants, this is the city to do it. Arequipa has some great places to eat, and some great cuisine.
- If you’re seeing the Colca Canyon, plan an extra day or two. I’d even recommend making your homebase for the canyon something closer, like Chivay or Yanque. Stay overnight in the canyon itself if you can, I heard only great things about that experience.
- Unless you’re a professional photographer, d0n’t try so hard to take pictures of the condors. Find a good spot, take one or two, then enjoy the view and the animals with your own eyes, not through a lens. After you’ve had your fill, move back and let someone else have a front row seat.