Say Peru and you think of Arequipa. The white city in the southwestern part of the country, surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes. Immensely popular among tourists and expats, and for good reason. Arequipa itself is not only very beautiful and cozy, the city is also the gateway to the verdant Colca Valley four hours away. In this article, our report of 2 days of Arequipa, including the most beautiful monastery in the world and a hotel best avoided.
Arequipa: the white city of Peru
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city after Lima, with more than a million inhabitants. Located at an altitude of 2,328 meters, it is an ideal place to get used to the altitude on the way to Puno and Cusco. Arequipa is surrounded by tall volcanoes that you can also climb. Misti (5,822 meters high), Pichu Pichu (5,664 meters high) and Chachani (6,057 meters high). The volcanoes tower high above the city, creating beautiful images. Arequipa’s climate is wonderful. As many as 300 days a year the sun shines and it rains very little. Due to its higher elevation, it rarely gets warmer than 25 degrees and cools down to about 5 degrees at night.
What is there to do in Arequipa?
A lot! In the two days we were there we were only able to visit a few things.
Museo Santuarios Andinos: the mummy of Inca girl Juanita
A real must-see in Arequipa. Although this museum is known for the frozen 12-year-old Inca girl Juanita found in the mountains, the rest of the museum is also very interesting. You will join a tour and learn about the mountaineers and what was found during the expeditions. Last you will come to Juanita, who was sacrificed to the Gods in the 1450s. Inside, you are not allowed to take pictures. Admission costs 20 soles (5.50 euros; July 2019).
Viewpoint of Yanahuara
A bit out of the city center, you have an expensive neighborhood where you walk up through cute little streets to Plaza de Yanahuara and the church with the same name. Besides being a popular place to get married and you will find the museum Del Vino y Pisco, it is especially a beautiful place for a view of the city. From where you can almost touch the volcano Misti. Eat typical cheese ice cream there (without cheese in it) and enjoy a different neighborhood and the beautiful view!
In the Plaza de Armas you will find the huge cathedral. There is not even another cathedral in Peru that takes up the entire width of a square. The cathedral originally dates from the year 1656, but was hit by a fire in 1844. After rebuilding the cathedral, much of it collapsed during the 1868 earthquake. So much of what you see now is fairly recently built. You can visit the cathedral for free during limited opening hours.
What else is there to do?
Of course the monastery in Arequipa, but you’ll find this below. There are also many more museums, squares and churches. And is simply delightful to wander the white streets. You can also take day trips to the mountains or mountain biking. All about what to do in Arequipa can be found in the Lonely Planet Peru.
The colorful monastery: Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Of course, this actually belongs under what there is to do, but this monastery is so particularly beautiful that it deserves its own spot. I have been to quite a few monasteries, but none was as special as this one.
The Monastery of Santa Catalina is also called a city within the city. And for good reason. It is not an ordinary monastery that you can get through in half an hour, but a whole complex of streets, blocks of houses and courtyards. Rightfully a village in itself. Santa Catalina was founded in 1579 and inhabited by nuns of various social classes. The monastery was completely sealed off from the outside world.
Visit the monastery
Entrance to the monastery in Arequipa costs 40 soles (11 euros, July 2019), which includes a road map explaining the monastery. You can also book a guide at the entrance, but we wandered the colorful streets at our own leisure. Visit the monastery at opening time or later in the afternoon. Soon whole groups of tourists enter, which you can therefore easily avoid.
Inside the monastery, you walk a route through the bright pink streets and bright blue squares. But not only the outside is interesting. In the rooms you will find paintings, objects and many old kitchens. Admire the extraordinary architecture and discover how the nuns lived.
Take your time for Monasterio de Santa Catalina: you need it. We spent about 3 to 4 hours there and that without a guide. Also, at the end, don’t forget to climb the little stairs for a nice view.
I cannot remember any other monastery that was as colorful as this one. Truly not to be missed in Arequipa!
Vegetarian food in Arequipa
As in Lima, you can eat vegetarian and vegan food very well in Arequipa. On the website of Happy Cow you will find several downtown restaurants for vegetarians. We ate several times at vegan restaurant Prana. A cozy place with a courtyard to sit outside, and it is also nice inside. They have lots of meat substitutes and vegetables there, and the cakes are delicious as well. There is wifi and a clean toilet. Highly recommended!
How to get to Arequipa?
Like everything else in Peru, Arequipa is easily reached by bus (or plane). We traveled from Huacachina (Ica) by night bus to Arequipa. But you can also get there from Puno, Cusco or directly from Lima. Or any other place on that route. The night bus we arranged at Cruz del Sur and we chose the deluxe version where the seats could be completely flat. We bought our bus ticket 2 days earlier when we were in Paracas.
Further travel through Peru from Arequipa
From Arequipa you can go to the Colca Canyon and from there directly to Puno. You can also, as we did, return to Arequipa and continue your journey from there. Direct buses go to such places as Ica, Paracas, Lima, Puno and Cusco. We skipped Lake Titicaca and took the night bus directly to Cusco.
How much time do you need for the city?
You can already see a lot in 1 or 2 days, although the monastery takes quite some time. We found two whole days to be perfect, but as I always say, you don’t really get to know a city until you’re there longer. There is much to do both in and around Arequipa, so you will certainly have a great time for a week or more. For example, we missed a lot of museums and also a hike to the nearby volcanoes seems pretty cool.
Staying in Arequipa: avoid this hotel
A day before we traveled to Arequipa, I wanted to book the hotel we actually wanted through Booking. But for some reason that didn’t work out. So we thought: we’ll just go to that hotel on the spot. Of course it was full, so with backpacks to the next one. That one was also full, so on to the next one. Five hostels later, we were completely fed up and looked for another hotel in the Lonely Planet. Namely Hotel La Posada del Cacique.
There were quite a few positive things about the hotel:
- It was centrally located in Arequipa.
- The owner was very helpful.
- There was a rooftop terrace (which, by the way, was being expanded) with a nice view.
- The beds were quite comfortable so we slept fine.
- Although the kitchen was great misery, at least there was a kitchen.
- You can leave your bags there if you go on tour to the Colca Canyon (though in the smoke, see below).
But mostly you can expect this:
- There was wifi, but it only did it in the living room.
- Now that’s not a big deal, but the living room was flooded with smoke. Both the owner and the other people who live there (it is not clear who they are) smoked all day in the living room (where the reception is also). Too gross and not a nice place to enjoy checking your mail.
- We asked in advance if there was a hot shower (because yes icy cold at night in Arequipa) and there was. At least that’s what the owner said. In reality, the shower was freezing cold and I had to shower in the shared bathroom to get any hot water from the tap.
- So there was a kitchen, but that’s all there was to it. The kitchen was super dirty. The family living there also cooked there and all the pots and pans were full of food or dirty. We did cook, but beforehand we washed everything we were going to use. The refrigerator, by the way, was even worse. A day later it was slightly cleaner, so I guess there is almost never a tourist cooking there so when they saw us they quickly cleaned a bit.
- The owner had suddenly disappeared on the last day. The gentleman who also lives there but does not do anything with tourists told me that he had already left in the morning to drink. It was late afternoon by then. Not a very responsible type for having a hotel.
In the end, we stayed there quite okay by just adjusting, but if you have the opportunity better find another hostel in Arequipa.
So which hotel or hostel in Arequipa to choose?
Actually, we had one of these three hotels in mind:
Arequipa, however, has many more choices of hotels. From backpacker hostels to meet other travelers to more quiet spots in historic buildings. Find your hotel here:
Arequipa or Cusco: which city is more fun?
A common question I have noticed. Which city is more fun: Arequipa or Cusco? Although Arequipa is great, as far as I am concerned, nothing can match Cusco. Both are great cities, but if I have to choose, the choice is easy: Cusco is really fantastic. Both in and around the city. By the way, in Cusco we were 1.5 weeks, in Arequipa only 2 days.
Cozy terraces, a wonderful climate, good food, interesting museums and, of course, the colorful monastery. That’s Arequipa! Click here for all articles about our trip through Peru.
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