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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
- 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.