The Ultimate Travel Guide to Arequipa, Peru

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Arequipa, Peru

Known by the locals as the White City, Arequipa is a beautiful place where colonial buildings, natural beauty, and a lot of Inca and Spanish history coexist. Home of the most famous Canyon in Peru, the Colca, and surrounded by volcanoes, this amazing place is a must in your itinerary. Are you ready to discover everything about this fabulous destination in Peru? Then, welcome to the ultimate travel guide to Arequipa.

Travel Guide to Arequipa: How to Arrive

backpacking peru arequipa travel guide
A local woman with her llamas, Maca Town, Colca Valley. 2019.

Arequipa is placed in the heart of the Andean region in Peru. It’s the second biggest city in the country, and it’s considered the second wealthiest city as well. It’s framed by 3 breathtaking Volcanoes, the Misty, the Chachani, and the Picchu Picchu.

Arequipa is located 1000 kilometers away from Lima, and 706 kilometers away from Ica. 560 kilometers away from Nazca, and 295 kilometers away from Puno. And from Cusco, 323 kilometers.

Of course, arriving in Arequipa is not hard at all. It’s well connected both by land and by air with all the main cities in Peru, so you can arrive virtually from anywhere.

By Plane

Arriving by plane is the best choice if you are traveling from Lima. The journey lasts 1 hour and a half, and the price is pretty similar to the bus ticket price. Especially if you buy it with plenty of time to spare.

The airport is located 4 kilometers away from the city center. Once there, you could use a taxi, Uber, or take a bus. We only recommend the last option if you arrive by day.

By bus

If you are traveling from Puno, Cusco, Ica, or Nazca, taking a bus might be the best option. Remember that, if the journey lasts more than 6 hours, a night bus it’s a better choice.

The bus terminal in Arequipa is a little far away from the city center. So, the same way as from the airport, you could take a taxi, Uber, or a public bus to arrive at your destination.

We arrived in Arequipa from Huacachina with Peru Hop. During the way, we did two nice stops. The first one, at a vineyard in Ica for a Pisco tasting. And the second one, at a lookout in Nazca to observe the famous lines. If you are interested in traveling with Peru Hop, check out their site.

Travel Guide to Arequipa: Best things to do

backpacking peru arequipa
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas, 2019.

Arequipa is a beautiful colonial city, and as it’s the second-largest in Peru, there is clearly so much to do. Besides getting to know the beautiful city, the Colca Canyon is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

So to continue with this travel guide, I gathered here some of the best things to do in Arequipa, check them out!

Arequipa’s Historic Center

I told you earlier that Arequipa is called the White City. And when visiting its historic center, you will understand why.

Most constructions are made with sillar, a typical white stone that gives the city it’s characteristic appearance. But besides the colors of the colonial buildings, it’s believed that Arequipa gained its nickname due to the Spanish conquerors. As it was one of the first cities where the Spanish settled, it’s population fastly changed from an indigenous majority to a European one.

Check out the main things to do in the Historic Center below.

Plaza de Armas

The tour of the historic center begins at the Plaza de Armas. The main square is surrounded by churches, museums, hotels, and restaurants. And, if there is not much fog, you will see the Misty volcano in the distance.

It’s one of the most beautiful main squares in Peru, along with the Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. Take a few minutes from your day and enjoy its colorful vibe, full of green plants, tourists, and street sellers.

If you are in the mood for a coffee or a beer, chose one of the many restaurants with terraces and balconies overlooking the square. They are not among the cheapest, but the view totally worth it.

Santa Maria Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santa Maria is the main church in Arequipa. And, of course, it steals all the attention at the Plaza de Armas. It has the typical colonial style of all the main buildings in the area. But inside, it’s full of European artifacts brought from Spain.

The entrance to the Cathedral is free, but there’s also a museum running at the inside. And to visit the museum, you will have to pay a small fee, approximately 2 dollars.

If you do, you will be able to see many pieces of jewelry, ornaments, and paintings. The guided tour also includes a visit to the bell tower of the Cathedral to see the city and the volcanoes from this height.

Andean Sanctuaries Museum

There are many interesting museums and monasteries you can visit during your trip to Arequipa. But there’s one museum that can’t be left out of this Arequipa’s travel guide.

The Andean Sanctuaries Museum is definitely the main attraction. There, you will be able to see Juanita, a young girl mummy discovered in the ’90s. The historians believe she was sacrificed by its people as an offering to their gods. It’s absolutely incredible being able to see her so well conserved, and from such a close distance.

Besides Juanita, you will be able to see various pre-Inca objects. It’s an interesting place and a great opportunity to learn more about the Inca culture. You will have to pay an entrance fee that includes a guided tour in several languages. It costs around 4 dollars.

St. Catalina’s Monastery

The monastery of Santa Catalina was built in 1579. And it is still active!

To visit it, you will have to pay around 10 dollars. That price includes a guided tour, where you will learn about the cloistered nuns’ lifestyle. If you are interested in architecture and religious history, it is an almost obligatory visit.

I’ve heard that the atmosphere is mystical and captivating and that it is one of the largest convents in Peru. But to tell you the truth, we haven’t crossed it off of our list just yet. Maybe someday!

San Camilo Market

As I always do, I have to recommend you to visit the local market. In this case, I’m talking about San Camilo, the largest and oldest market in Arequipa.

It’s located in the historic center, and give you the perfect opportunity to discover Arequipa’s gastronomy culture. There, you will find many typical fruits and vegetables, but also clothes and souvenirs!

Eating at San Camilo is also a great experience. You will find extremely cheap natural fruit juices and fabulous local dishes to taste.

The most famous ones are the “Chupe de Camarones”, a dish based on shrimp with milk, eggs, and oregano; and the “Rocoto Relleno”, a plate filled with minced meat with cheese, milk, and served with potato pie.

Colca Canyon lookout
Stunning view at the Colca Canyon lookout. 2019.

Colca Canyon and Valley

Of course, the main attraction when visiting Arequipa is the world-famous Colca Canyon. It’s the second-largest canyon in the whole world.

Located in the huge Colca Valley, the Colca Canyon has an approximated deep of 3500 meters. Besides hosting amazing views, and being one of the best trekking destinations in South America, the Valley is home to the emblematic Andean condor.

There are two main ways of visiting this destination. With a tour, that can last anywhere from a full day tour to several days, or on your own.

Colca Tours

Depending on how much time you have and your personal interest, you will find different tours to the Colca Valley to choose from. In this travel guide to Arequipa, we wanted to present to you two of the most common options.

Full-day Tour

We recommend this tour if you are short on time and want to see the Colca’s highlights without major physical effort.

The most common one is the full-day tour. It’s offered in all the touristic agencies in Arequipa, or you could also hire it at your accommodation’s front desk. This tour leaves very early in the morning (around 3 am) so that you can arrive at Chivay by 7 am. The company normally will pick you up at your accommodation.

After breakfast in Chivay, the most important town in the region, they will take you to the condor lookout. If you are lucky, you will be able to see a few condors flying not far away from you. I actually took this tour twice, in different years. And sadly, the first time there was so much fog we couldn’t see any condor.

On the way back to Arequipa, there will be more stops. The first one is in the traditional Maca town, where the main attraction is a small colonial church. Before lunch, there will be a stop at La Calera, to enjoy the thermal waters. That part of the tour is optional, so you will have to pay an entrance if you want to do it. We didn’t, so we simply sat and relax in the sun.

And finally, after the lunch stop (that’s also not included in most prices), there will be a few more stops at different lookouts, including one in the National Reserve of Aguada Blanca, where you will see lovely vicuñas. You will be back at your accommodation by 6 pm.

Adventure Tour

We recommend this option if you are looking for adventurous trekking, want to experience the Colca more authentically, and have several days to spare.

All the main companies that offer the one day tour have also other options. The most adventurous tours to the Colca Canyon can last anywhere between 2 and 5 days.

As we were running short in time and were so lazy, we didn’t take this way. But if you are interested in doing it, we recommend this company called Peru Adventures Tours, where you will find several complete options.

colca canyon, maca town
Andres and his little friend, Maca, Colca Valley. 2019.

Colca on your own

Getting to explore the Colca Valley on your own is hard, but completely possible. You will need to take a few buses to arrive at your destination. So keep in mind you will need time to do it.

You can buy your bus ticket at Arequipa’s bus terminal. For your first stop, you can choose between Chivay, Yanque, or Cabanaconde. And, as the journey is pretty long, the common recommendation is that you spend your first night at one of those towns. To start the rest of the adventure, you should get to Cabanaconde, or that’s what we’ve been told.

Since we didn’t live this experience, we can’t tell you much about it. But if you are planning on doing it, check out this complete post about hiking the Colca on your own from Tales from the Lens.

Nightlife in Arequipa

Arequipa is a really big city, but it doesn’t have such an animated nightlife. However, there’s always something to do and somewhere to go at night, if you know where to look.

We had a lot of night fun during our two weeks in Arequipa. Partly, because we were at a great party hostel, the Wild Rover Arequipa. And also, because we found the street where most bars and nightclubs concentrate, just a few meters away from our accommodation.

Most bars and clubs are located on San Francisco Street and its surroundings. The ones we enjoyed the most are La Cachina and Deja Vu, but there is at least one place for every musical taste.

That neighborhood is also a great place to grab something to eat before -or after- going out. And if you want to get in touch with more travelers, we recommend you to start your night with a few beer pong games at the Wild Rover.

Travel Guide to Arequipa Basics:

Where to eat in Arequipa

We already recommended you have a typical lunch at San Camilo Market, and we hold that statement. The daily menus are not only tasty but also authentic and cheap.

But if you are looking for some more good places to eat, we definitely have to talk to you about Pasta Canteen. My partner Andres discovered this little restaurant when he was walking by at the Puente Grau Street. And, of course, being as Italian as he is, he had to try it.

It’s a charming little place where you can choose among several types of pasta and salsas, and you also get a side salad and a bread basket, for less than 20 soles. The pasta is fresh, the atmosphere is nice, and the attention is great. We went twice on a two weeks stay, and we would go back again right now if we could. You have to try it!

For an amazing pizza, try Da Giancarlo Pizzeria Italiana. I assure you the pizzas are delicious, the atmosphere is relaxed and the attention is also great.

And, finally, if you are in the mood for sushi, El Buda Profano is the place to go. What’s the big news about it? Well, for starters, is vegan! But it’s also a cool place with a great vibe, and the prices are fair.

Where to stay in Arequipa

arequipa city
Amazing Arequipa’s architecture. 2019.

The best neighborhood for finding good accommodation in Arequipa is the historic center. There is where you will find most hotels, hostels, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs are located.

We had 3 different accommodations during our time in Arequipa. And two of them deserved a special mention in this travel guide.

If you are looking for some fun place, with a cool bar, a nice swimming pool, and an international vibe, we highly recommend the Wild Rover Hostel. They have different options on shared dorms and private rooms. And it’s always a great experience staying at one of the many Wild Rovers in South America.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a quieter, but still comfortable and well-located place, we can recommend the Flying Dog Hostel. It has nice clean rooms, an easygoing vibe, and a great breakfast.

Check out this link to see all the options available in Arequipa.

Travel Guide to Arequipa: Backpacking Tips

We are coming to the end of this Arequipa travel guide. To sum up, we wanted to leave you with some basic tips you should know before arriving at your destination. Check them out:

Careful with Altitude sickness

Arequipa is located at 2,335 meters over the sea level. So, at least during the firsts days, try to take it easy. Let your body get used to the altitude. If you experience any discomfort, be sure to ask for pills for “soroche” or “Mal de Alturas”. Coca leaves are very good to improve the symptoms.

Remember we also recommend you to hire a travel insurance company before traveling abroad. Check out this post if you want to discover how to choose the best travel insurance.

Pack winter clothes!

The city of Arequipa has a moderate climate. Its average temperature varies from 10 ° C to 20 ° C. So, basically, pack at least one coat. Sunny days are warm, but nights are usually quite cold.

Also, consider that Arequipa has basically two seasons: the dry, from April to November, and the rainy, from December to March.

How many days should you stay in Arequipa?

That depends on what are you planning to do. If you want to see the Colca Canyon, and you should, consider what kind of tour or trek you will do. Our recommendation is that, independently of how long you will stay at the Colca, spend at least 2 days in Arequipa’s city.

Consider plenty of time to do any extra activities, like trekking to a nearby volcano or practicing rafting at the Quilqa River.

Colca and Arequipa travel guide
On the way back from the Colca Canyon. Arequipa, 2019.

We hope you had found our article useful. As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Have a great adventure!

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