Just this last week I spent a couple of days in Arequipa. It’s been a while since I was last there. Probably over 2 years ago. For many working in tourism is a job where you get to travel around a lot and see lots of great places, but it would seem that I actually spend more time tied to my desk than actually getting out and about. So it was a nice change to get away from Cusco and take my own Peru vacation for once!
Recently, quite a few good friends that have lived in Cusco have moved to Arequipa, and I have heard many good things about it. In fact, I too am considering moving there in the New Year.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest country, and has a growing population of over 1 million residents. The city has prospered in the last 10 years, with the opening of several large mines, like the Cerro Verde Mine (about 25 miles south of the city) which annually exports hundreds of tons of copper and molybdenum. Although most mining projects in Peru are controversial, it is obvious that in Arequipa, that the local economy is booming and the city is developing a quite a rapid pace.
Arequipa is also the gateway to the natural wonders of the Colca Canyon, and spending a few days in the moderate altitude of the city will help you get acclimatized for the high mountain passes that you encounter en-route to the Canyon. Using Arequipa as a stepping stone is usual, but I definitely think that a few days of leisure in this wonderful city is well worth considering and very rewarding.
I noticed whilst in Arequipa that there were quite a large number of tourists meandering around, and in my rough estimations I would say that they were mainly Europeans, and not so many North Americans. Although Peru is always on my mind, I am aware that it’s not such a well know vacation spot and not a lot of people have actually heard of Machu Picchu. So discussing Arequipa, an even lesser known place will not be of much interest to most. But I am here to inform and educate!
Here are my top 5 reasons why you should include Arequipa on your Peru vacation.
Arequipa receives an all-year-round temperate climate. During the daytime it is bright and sunny (average temperatures of 23 deg C / 75 deg F) and at night-time it is cool but not chilly. During the months of December, January and February in Peru’s wet season there is a chance of sporadic showers, but for the rest of the year you a free to enjoy Arequipa’s glorious climate. Being British the weather plays and important part of my Peru vacation, and sitting around reading a book under the shade of a parasol with a cold beer to my side is for me, what dreams are made of.
I am a lover of great food, and living in Cusco eating in the same old restaurants week in week out is starting to get boring. Going to Arequipa was like Christmas had come early, and all my gifts were mouth-wateringly tasty plates of traditional Arequipe�an food. Each region of Peru has its own traditional food, and Peruvians are proud to tell you that the food which comes from their region is the best. I personally think that Arequipe�an food is just delicious, far better than that found in the highlands or the Jungle regions. Adobo (soup made from chicha and pork knuckles), ricoto relleno (spicy stuffed pepper), chicharron (fried pork) and chupe de camerones (shrimp soup) are all traditional local dishes which are tasty and not too far off-the-wall that you don’t recognize the ingredients, and wouldn’t want to get stuck in. Also you need to know that Arequipa is just a few hours from the coast, and therefore every day the city receives plentiful stocks of fresh fish and seafood. For my ideal Peru vacation, taking an afternoon to sit in one of Arequipa’s many outdoor ceviche restaurants with a group of friends has to be one of life’s pleasures. Check out El Cebillano in Yanahuara district, for the best seafood in Arequipa.
The Colonial City
Known as the ‘White City’ Arequipa is built largely from a white porous rock called sillar. The heart of Arequipa which spreads out from the main square – Plaza de Armas is full of ornate Spanish colonial-era buildings, including a large cathedral, many churches and several monasteries. I know that for me a half day of visiting religious buildings is not high on my list of things to do. But a walking tour with a great local guide is a fantastic way to get to know the city, and really quite rewarding. Plus it builds up a great appetite before a lazy Arequipe�an lunch!
The Santa Catalina Monastery
Just a few blocks from Arequipa’s main square is the large monastery of Santa Catalina. Built in 1580 and enlarged in the 17th century, the complex was home to over 450 nuns and servants of the Domincan Second Order. The monastery was limited to only the very elite, and the dowry expected to be paid nuns entering was equivalent to US$ 150,000 in today’s money. The site is vast in size, and is a city within a city. In the 1960’s the Monastery was opened to the public. Nowadays there are only approximately 20 nuns still living there. A relaxed guided tour through the Santa Catalina Monestry will take approximately 90 minutes, and will give you an interesting if not enlightening look in to the lives of the hundreds of nuns that once lived there. Make sure you have your camera ready, as incredible photographic opportunities await at every corner.
In 1995 anthropologist Johan Reinhard took the scientific world by storm when he and his climbing partner Miguel Z�rate found the well-preserved body of a young Inca girl who was killed as an offering to the gods. The sacrifice was thought to have taken place between 1450 and 1480. The body was found on Mount Ampato not far from Arequipa and had been preserved for hundreds of years, frozen by the cold climate. Mummy Juanita is on display at the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, and is a wonderful and educational addition to your Peru vacation.
Peru really is a vast country that offers more than just Inca archaeological sites. Arequipa is an easy add-on to any Peru vacation and is a great destination in its own right. Use the city as a gateway to the Colca Canyon, but don’t overlook it, take your time and fully enjoy everything that Arequipa has to offer.
This article was written by a Peru travel expert at Totally Latin America who specializes in helping people like you create Peru Machu Picchu vacations. Totally Latin America know what it takes to create a great vacation to Peru, and our quality personalized service coupled with high standard is what sets us apart from the rest.