As the name of this blog suggests, I am usually not a big fan of doing things in a rush. If there’s time, I would rather take a couple of days (or even weeks) to explore any place, until even the tiniest town. But if you find yourself in Arequipa and like me you’d rather use your limited time to go out and explore its stunning surroundings, here’s some tips to grasp the city’s vibe in only one day.
Arequipa is the second largest city of Peru and is known for her distinguishedness. Her citizens are a self-aware bunch, proud of their city’s cleanliness, its architectural wonders and the three volcanoes (Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu) that accompany their city like three sleeping sisters. Arequipa’s colonial character is well preserved when it comes to its architecture, which shows everywhere but most clearly in the city’s churches and the beautiful Plaza the Armas. From all the cities that I know in South America, Arequipa reminded me most of Cuenca in Ecuador. It breathes the same atmosphere – colonial, relaxed, clean, sophisticated. If you have the time to stay longer, absolutely do so (I have heard that the nightlife is really worth it too), but if not, these would be my recommendations.
Marvel at endless rows with Peru’s plethora of papas on display, shudder at pig’s heads and stretched-out cuy‘s, wonder at the wide variety of grains, seeds and nuts that the earth brings forth, and deeply inhale the enchanting fumes of well-prepared food… Mainly focussed on daily necessities, the central market of Arequipa is the perfect place to start the day and introduce yourself to local habits and its people.
Like a proper colonial city is supposed to, Arequipa is loaded with churches. Big, beautiful churches. There is the remarkably huge cathedral flanking the Plaza the Armas, the pounding heart of the city, that hosts a museum about the city’s history (entrance s./10 and s./5 more if you want a guide). But there is many more to be discovered in the blocks around. Directly next to the plaza you will find the Iglesia de la Compañia for example, a Jesuit church and an outstanding example of colonial style architecture. Once inside, the church gives entrance to the Capilla San Ignacio a wildly decorated chapel that I highly recommend visiting (entrance s./5). To me, its exuberant colours and paintings of flowers and exotic birds breathed more the atmosphere of the stories of Gabriel García Márquez, than that of a sanctuary. There is not an awful lot of sacred about the chapel’s ceiling – instead of depicting the usual symbols and key-figures of Christianity, it is much rather an incredibly abundant celebration of the richness of the earth. A feast to the eye.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
This women´s monastery was founded in the 16th century and, although I did not include this in my schedule, it is meant to be gorgeous. If you hurry a bit more than I did, you can definitely squeeze in a visit. Visiting the convent is a rather pricy event (s./40 full price, or s./20 for students), but I have heard nothing but good stories. Google that for more info.
Arequipa is known for its good, good food, so you do want to go out for breakfast/lunch/dinner here. The comedores in the central market are highly recommended for a cheap breakfast and/or lunch (s./5-7), but if you prefer something slightly more fancy, there is plenty of things to choose from downtown. I decided on Arab food, since it has never ever in my life let me down. Not this time either. I sat down for the vegetarian lunch menu (lunch s./13, diner s./15) in a friendly restaurant in front of the cathedral, called “Sesam”, while reading an Isabel Allende book on afrodisiac food – several mouth orgasms guaranteed, especially over dessert. That chocolate-mousse with a heart of shredded coconut and paired with slices of apple was one of the highpoints of my life. If you wish for a second dessert after, one of Arequipa’s specialties is her delicious queso helado, that you’ll be able to purchase on almost every street corner (and at the entrance of Sesam, see photo below).
I personally had a lot of (budget) fun patio-hopping. The colonial style is characterized by including a courtyard in almost every building, and there is plenty of beautiful examples around that are publicly accessible. I simply entered everytime that I saw one. On a different note, if you happen to be a lover of vehicles, you won’t easily be bored in Arequipa. There is some remarkably old and funky cars and busses driving around, and it’s quite fun to just sit down for a couple of minutes and admire whatever automobile is faltering by. And last but not least (and this may sound a bit odd), but the cakes in this city look quite incredible. So have fun window-shopping while strolling around town (I sure had).
I stayed at the Riverhouse hostel, admittedly because that was the cheapest I could find (I paid s./15 for a dorm), but it also turned out to be really nice. Staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, spaces are clean and the shared kitchen is good value. Reception was very willing to store my backpack for me while I headed out for the Colca Canyon overnight, and I could it up without a problem the next day.
In short, I would recommend visiting Arequipa to anyone, even if it’s only for a day. After Arequipa, I made my way down to Canyon Colca for some hiking adventure. More on that (and how to get there) in a following post!