Arequipa: The Most Relaxed City in Peru
The white city of Arequipa has some of the most beautiful architecture in Peru. Its colorful monastery is unmissable and the city serves as the gateway to hiking in the world’s second deepest canyon. Arequipa is home to delicious regional cuisine that you won’t find in the rest of Peru, and there are rooftop bars where you can take in the sunsets with the mountains in the background. The white city is a delightful place with a relaxed vibe that’s certainly worth a few days of your time.
How to Get There
You can reach Arequipa by bus or plane from most of the top destinations in Peru. It’s 10 hours from Cusco by bus, 13 hours from Huacachina, and 18 hours from Lima. Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
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What to Do
Santa Catalina Monastery – Arequipa’s best attraction is a monastery that has been home to cloistered nuns since the 16th century. The walled monastery feels like a city within a city and the red walls make for great photo opportunities. It opens at 9 AM and it’s best to go early for optimal lighting to appreciate the colors. The entrance is 40 soles (S/), and I recommend taking the guided tour for an extra S/10-20 per person, depending on the size of the group.
Colca Canyon – The world’s second deepest canyon is great for hiking and spotting condors. It’s a 4-hour drive from Arequipa and there are three ways to visit. A day tour is least recommended because you will spend most of the day driving and only get to see viewpoints. You can do a 2-3 day guided hike or a 3-day unguided hike which is very budget-friendly.
Museo Santuarios Andinos – At this museum, you can learn about the Andean tradition of sacrificing young children on top of mountains. Astoundingly, the body of a child who was sacrificed in the 16th century is still preserved here. The entry is S/25 and a tip-based guided tour is mandatory.
Mundo Alpaca – A fun and free place where you can feed alpacas, learn about the life of an alpaca, and do some shopping. If you’re looking for real alpaca wool clothing, this is the place to go.
Free Walking Tour – Learn about the history of Arequipa and how volcanoes and earthquakes influenced the city’s architecture. Free Tour Downtown Arequipa gives a fantastic tour!
Cathedral of Arequipa – A 16th-century cathedral made of volcanic rock with a museum as well. The entrance is S/10, or you can visit for free during the open prayer hour. The hour changes, so you’ll want to check with your hostel, but it was 5-6 PM as of 2022. You must wear pants to enter the cathedral.
Watch the sunset from a rooftop – Arequipa Suites Plaza Hotel is the perfect place to have a drink and watch the sunset. The rooftop bar has sweeping views of the plaza and nearby mountains.
Monasterio y Museo de la Recoleta – Arequipa’s other monastery is worth a visit for the variety of things you can see for S/10. Here you’ll find cloisters, Inca artifacts, a church with a bell tower you can climb, a 17th-century library, an art collection, and strangely an exhibit on Amazonian birds. It’s open from 9 AM-12 PM and 3-5 PM.
Yanahuara Scenic Lookout – The best place for views of Volcán Misti. The surrounding neighborhood is very picturesque and you’ll find nice restaurants around here.
Where to Eat
Picanterías, which is the name for daytime restaurants serving regional dishes, have kept their traditions and close at 5 or 6 PM. The best ones are in Yanahuara which is a 25-minute walk from the center. The service is slow at most restaurants, but that’s just how life moves here.
La Nueva Palomino – A traditional restaurant that serves a fantastic ricoto relleno.
El Tío Darío – Delicious regional dishes and seafood at surprisingly affordable prices. They offer a menu of the day which is a great way to sample regional food.
Kao Thai and Peruvian Cuisine – A fantastic fusion restaurant near the city center.
Zig Zag – I had high expectations when I found out they have the same owners as El Tio Darío, and the alpaca steak served on a volcanic rock does not disappoint. The steak is best enjoyed before seeing the precious alpacas at Mundo Alpaca. You can’t leave without trying the dessert truffles!
Queso Helado Doña Rosa – Queso helado is a regional ice cream and the best in town can be found on the second floor of the San Camilo Market.
El Fuego de San Antonio – A gastropub serving traditional Peruvian dishes with a twist, like lomo saltado with alpaca meat.
Xarzamora – An affordable and centrally located lunch option.
Where to Grab Drinks
A majority of the bars are north of the Plaza de Armas on Calle San Francisco. Here, you’ll find both lively bars and cozy rooftop terraces.
Where to Stay
Friendly AQP – A very clean mom-and-pop hostel near the plaza with a nice rooftop breakfast.
Arequipay Backpackers Downtown – A relaxed hostel where you can chill out in a hammock and take part in daily yoga classes.
How Long to Stay
I recommend spending 2-3 days in Arequipa, plus a few days to hike in the Colca Canyon, before heading elsewhere in Peru.
Where to Next
Colca Canyon (6 hours by bus) – A 3-day hike in the world’s second deepest canyon.
Puno (7 hours) – Spend a night with a local family on one of Lake Titicaca’s islands.
Cusco (10 hours) – One of the continent’s gems is a hiker’s paradise full of incredible Inca ruins.
Huacachina (13 hours) – A desert oasis with the country’s coolest adventure activity and wine tastings.
Lima (18 hours) – The best food city in South America is home to 3rd-century ruins and a chaotic Chinatown.