A lone vicuna, somewhere on the road to Arequipa

The colonial city of Arequipa was our final destination in our month-long Peruvian journey.

We arrived in Arequipa in the mid-afternoon after taking a 6 a.m. first-class bus from Puno. (Here’s our post about Puno and Lake Titicaca.) The bus ride itself was spectacular and scenic, taking us across the austere high country of southern Peru. And  when we say high, we mean it: one of our stops on the journey topped our entire Peru experience, at 4,560 meters (close to 15,000 feet).

We passed through a few small towns, each bustling with activity from the region’s mining industry. Since the bus was going on to Chivay, the gateway to Colca Canyon, we switched to a private taxi arranged by the bus company for the final 2-hour descent into Arequipa.  

High-country sheep and alpacas a-grazing
Gorgeous vistas
Colorful park in one of the small towns we passed through. It made me think of the Soviet Union (although we’ve never been to Russia).
A rest stop at the nosebleed elevation of almost 4,700 meters
More vicunas grazing near the highway. Sadly, this area had a lot of strewn trash.
As we descended into Arequipa, the area’s numerous volcanoes came into view.

A White City

Founded in 1540, Arequipa has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage city for its historic center, which features stunning colonial architecture made from the local volcanic rock, called sillar (this has also earned Arequipa the moniker “white city.”) The name comes from the Aymara language  and means “the place behind the peak,” said peak being the omnipresent Volcan Misti that overlooks the town. Interestingly, the volcano isn’t named for its misty presence (although it did erupt as recently as 1985). Instead, it’s a Quechua name that either means “gentleman” or “the great one,” depending on whom you talk to.

Arequipa’s beautiful Plaza de Armas, with the cathedral built of sillar and Volcan Misti looming behind
One of the other surrounding volcanoes, Chachani, at sunset

Surprisingly, Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru – but don’t let that put you off. Since we stayed in the historic district, we were able to fully experience the city’s history and charm, and it felt very approachable. And after almost two weeks at much higher elevations, it was also a treat to experience warmer weather and a more breathable altitude at 2,335 meters.

Our highlights from our three days exploring Arequipa included:

Museo Santuarios Andinos

Juanita the Ice Maiden (photo courtesy Aracari Travel, since we weren’t allowed to take our own pictures of her)

This well-done museum is home of one of the world’s most famous mummies, Juanita the “Ice Maiden.” Juanita was an Inca girl, between 12 and 15 years old, who sadly was chosen as a human sacrifice. She was found in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate, near the summit of Mt. Ampato. Of course there’s more to the story than that, and the museum does an excellent job describing Reinhard and Zárate’s journey, their surprise at finding Juanita, and their struggle to get her down the mountain.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena 

The Monastery was one of our favorite stops in Arequipa. It’s been in continuous operation since 1579, and to this day it’s still the home of a small community of Dominican nuns. The huge, walled monastery is really a “city within a city” that sprawls over a city block, and it’s a fascinating look into monastic life over four centuries.

Silence! The entryway to the monastery sets the tone.
Contemplating the monastic life
One of the bare-bones cells once occupied by a long-deceased nun
Each nun’s living area reflected her wealth and position in society, and many had their names written above their doors.
A tranquil cloister
Lots of stairs carved from sillar
The monastery’s laundry tubs
The wealthier nuns had their own kitchens and lots of servants.

The Yanahuara District

This pretty little residential neighborhood sits at a higher elevation and features a lookout point with panoramic views of Arequipa and Misti. It also has quaint cobblestone streets and colonial-era homes.

Overlook to Misti volcano
Yanahuara’s main plaza and church
La Palomino, one of Arequipa’s oldeest picanterias (lunchrooms) in Yanahuara. It was amazing!

Other Tips

  • Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, is about two hours from Arequipa. One of its claims to fame is that it is home to the giant Andean condor, and it’s a popular trekking destination. We didn’t make it on this visit, but Colca Canyon is on our list for next time.
  • We stayed at the Palla Boutique Hotel and would highly recommend it. It’s in the main historical district and an easy walk to the Plaza de Armas. Spacious rooms and a sumptuous (included) breakfast on the hotel rooftop, with panoramic views of the city.
  • We ate very well in Arequipa! Favorite restaurants:  Zig Zag, Il Fornellino (oh the pizza!), and Zingaro.

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colorful monastery entrance in Arequipa Peru

21 Comments

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Welcome to South America 🙂

  1. Susan Hays Reply

    Arequipa!! Ah…a memorable trip. We hired a car to take us from Lima ….when the car arrived, it had 4 tires strapped to the roof….later I understood why. Remember well the Monastero de Santa Catalina….one of the highlights of the stay in Arequipa. Magical skies….amazing sunsets. Thanks for the memories….!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      THAT must be a story! Hope we can hear the whole thing someday. You’re right about the skies in Arequipa – just breathtaking. Hugs to you both 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      You are so welcome – glad you enjoyed it!

  2. Lovely photos – Peru still on bucket list! Ever since I used to watch Paddington Bear who apparently came from deepest darkest Peru 😉 Safe Travels x

  3. Excellent timing guys as we’re just about to board the bus from Lake Titicaca over to Arequipa! Looking forward to some proper food after three weeks in Bolivia so can’t wait to try out your recommendations. Loved the photos of the journey from Puno – although we’ll miss all that as we’re taking the overnight bus!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Ha – a bit late to the punch on replying to your comment. Glad you enjoyed Arequipa and some of our fave restaurants 🙂

  4. Arequipa looks amazing with that beautiful Plaza de Armas and …. volcanoes! Living in a country with the most volcanoes in the world made me grow an affinity toward these fiery titans. If only Peru was much closer to Indonesia! Great photos and interesting story, John and Susan!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Bama! Arequipa was really special. We always seem to gravitate to volcanoes ourselves – we just moved from living on the slopes of a big one in Panama.

  5. Beautifully captured! I love the contemplation shot 🙂 What an amazing journey. Arequipa is definitely a beautiful place.

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