Arequipa is Peru’s second largest metropolis and whilst it is less known internationally compared to the likes of Lima, Cusco or Machu Picchu, it’s fast evolving into a firm favourite on the Peruvian tourist trail. This beautiful city is home to an impressive collection of historical and architectural sights and boasts a picturesque natural setting, exceptional cuisine and pleasant climate year-round (with no less than 300 days of sun a year).
There are also plenty of exciting excursions and opportunities for thrilling active adventures in the surrounding countryside that ranges from towering snow-capped volcanoes to depth-defying canyons. In short, there’s enough here to keep visitors busy for weeks. Here we’ve included just some of the top things to do in Arequipa.
Arequipa is undoubtedly one of Peru’s prettiest cities and the architecture itself makes it well worth a visit, encompassing colonial houses, palaces, temples, monasteries, living museums, churches and more. Named “The White City”, Arequipa’s centre is filled with beautiful baroque-style buildings constructed out of sillar, the local white volcanic rock. The city has a distinct European feel (you could well be mistaken for feeling you’ve landed in Spain) and possesses a unique blend of colonial and indigenous architecture and cultural influences. In 2000, the city’s historical centre was named a UNESCO World Heritage site and there are an endless string of well-preserved sights to dive into.
The Plaza de Armas, which includes the city’s gigantic twin-towered cathedral, is a particularly impressive example of the area’s distinct colonial-mestizo style. Another of Arequipa’s most popular historical attractions is the Convento de Santa Catalina. Described as a “city within a city”, you can easily lose yourself here for a few hours exploring narrow cobblestone streets and flower-filled gardens and admiring vibrant coloured facades, bubbling fountains and interesting artefacts. History buffs also won’t want to miss the city’s numerous fascinating museums, particularly the Museo Santuarios Andinos. The main exhibit, known as Juanita, is a remarkably intact frozen body of a girl that was preserved in ice and discovered and excavated following a volcanic eruption.
You can’t help but notice that Arequipa is framed by a stunning backdrop of snow-capped peaks and dramatic volcanoes. So why not get out and explore beyond the city? Arequipa is surrounded by three towering volcanoes: Ampato, Chachini and El Misti. If you’re feeling energetic, arrange for a 2 or 3 day guided hike up any one of these lofty peaks for jaw-dropping views and an unbeatable sense of achievement.
For something a bit more mellow, the entire countryside surrounding Arequipa is filled with lush agricultural fields along with numerous small towns each home to yet more beautiful colonial houses, churches and monuments.
3. Get the Adrenaline Pumping
Another must-do when you’re in Arequipa is taking a trip to one of the region’s magnificent canyons for a few days of active adventure and scenic sightseeing. The star natural attraction is the Colca Canyon, stretching over 100km and regarded as one of the deepest in the world. Besides the exceptional natural beauty, visitors come here to take part in a whole host of adrenaline fuelled activities, including rafting, canoeing, hiking, climbing and mountain biking.
Arrange a multi-day trekking tour that will guide you through the canyon’s most spectacular sections, visiting picturesque villages and stopping at thermal springs for a refreshing swim along the way. If this wasn’t enough, the region is also home to several other impressive canyons, notably the remote Cotahusai Canyon, as well as several gushing rivers (which offer some of the most thrilling rafting in the world), lush valleys and forested mountains that all beg exploration.
Arequipa is home to some of the most delicious and varied food in the country and has played a pivotal role in putting Peruvian cuisine on the global gastronomic map. The city is packed full of hundreds of enticing eateries, from fine dining restaurants to traditional picanterias which are hugely popular amongst locals. Arequipa is the perfect place to sample classic dishes such as rocoto relleno (stuffed spicy red peppers), chicharron (fried pork with corn) and chupe de camarones (mouth-watering prawn chowder). Some of the city’s most prominent dining spots include Chicha, the perfect place to sample classics such as ceviche and juicy alpaca steaks. La Tradición Arequipa offers a terrific all-round immersive cultural experience, with great food, a friendly atmosphere and Peruvian music flowing throughout the venue. Alternatively, try Sol de Mayo, one of the oldest restaurants in Peru, specialising in traditional regional dishes that have been perfected over generations.
Beyond this, be sure to check out the renowned San Camilo market, widely celebrated as one of Latin America’s most exciting food markets. It’s packed to the brim with exotic fruits, olives, local cheeses and fragrant spices, along with many intriguing indigenous products. Alternatively, take part in a cooking class and learn how to make some of Arequipa’s most tantalising recipes for yourself. Sign-up for lessons with local cooks, who will share their secrets and get you preparing and enjoying some mouth-watering classic Peruvian dishes. Some cooking classes also include informative food and drink lectures, trips out to the local food markets and full-course traditional meals.
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