Bienvenido a Arequipa! This charming city is located in the southwest of Peru at an elevation of 2,325 meters above sea level. It is guarded by three massive volcanoes, including the beautiful “El Misti“, which provided the white volcanic stone used to build most of the city’s buildings. That’s why Arequipa is sometimes called “Ciudad Blanca” or the White City of Peru, a beautiful name for an equally beautiful city. In addition, the weather here is lovely all year round. Thanks to the cold desert climate, the sun is almost always shining. Nights can be chilly, but the daytime temperatures are always in the 20s. So grab your sunglasses and start exploring! We’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in Arequipa below.
- In this article
- 1. Plaza de Armas
- 2. Monasterio de Santa Catalina
- 3. The El Misti volcano
- 4. Mercado San Camilo
- 5. Mummy Juanita
- 6. Delicious food at Zig Zag
- How to get to Arequipa?
- Where to Stay in Arequipa?
1. Plaza de Armas
This central square is the heart of the city and rightly considered the most beautiful Plaza de Armas in all of Peru. It is surrounded by stunning buildings such as the Episcopal Palace and the Cathedral of Arequipa. You can stroll under the colonnades or sit on a bench under the palm trees and watch the children play and observe the daily passers-by (a guilty pleasure of all of us, right?). The entire area around the square is car-free, and you’ll find many charming cafes and rooftop bars. Be sure to walk through the narrow street just behind the cathedral, Pasaje de la Catedral. Here you can order Peru’s national drink, pisco sour. Did you know that the Museo del Pisco is also just around the corner?
2. Monasterio de Santa Catalina
This monastery, founded in 1579, is perhaps the most important tourist attraction in Arequipa. It seems like a neighborhood within the city, a labyrinth of colorful alleys, courtyards and flower-filled rooms. One of the largest monasteries in the world, it housed at least 400 nuns at one time. The entrance fee is 40 soles and you can easily spend more than an hour wandering around on your own. You can also take a guide who will tell you all about how the nuns lived, cooked, washed and traded their handmade products. A must if you’re in Arequipa!
3. The El Misti volcano
This famous volcano in Peru stands at an impressive height of 5,822 meters and watches over the city like a towering guardian. A quick visit to Wikipedia taught us that El Misti is more than 12,000 years old, and its last major eruption dates back to the 15th century. The best viewpoint to admire it is in Yanahuara, a slightly higher neighborhood that can be easily reached from downtown Arequipa by Uber or even on foot.
If you have more time and a sense of adventure, you can also climb Mister Misti! In Arequipa, you’ll find several organizations that offer a two-day trek to the summit. On the first day, you’ll hike to the base camp at 4,800 meters to pitch your tent. On the second day, you’ll start the final ascent to the summit before dawn. How cool is that? For more information, visit the Pablo Tour website.
4. Mercado San Camilo
Like any self-respecting city in Peru, Arequipa has a large indoor market where the aromas and colors overwhelm you from afar. San Camilo is one of these typical, lively markets. The fruit is piled high and looks incredibly delicious. They’ve perfected the art of squeezing fruit juice, so treat yourself to a healthy cup. You’ll also find all kinds of other food, crafts, souvenirs, hats, textiles, and more. Open from 6am to 6pm.
5. Mummy Juanita
Unbelievable but true! More than 500 years ago, an unfortunate Inca girl was “chosen” as one of the most beautiful and intelligent children in the entire Inca Empire. She must have been only 12 to 15 years old, yet she was sacrificed to the gods and left all alone on the top of a 6,000 meter high volcano, Ampato. The altitude and cold preserved her in perfect condition, and when she was discovered in 1995, even her muscles, blood, and organs were intact. You can see this unique mummy, named Juanita, at the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa, near the Plaza de Armas. The entrance fee is 25 soles. Please note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Sundays at 2pm.
6. Delicious food at Zig Zag
In Arequipa, you’ll find many cool bars and restaurants. Our personal favorite is Zig Zag at Plaza San Francisco. Here we enjoyed the most upscale, exclusive meal of our trip through Peru, but paid only a fraction of the price. The restaurant is beautifully decorated, including a fireplace and a spiral staircase designed by Gustave Eiffel! It was in this unique setting that we tried alpaca meat for the first time and it was delicious. You can order either a real steak or rolled alpaca balls. It’s really delicious, even for those who aren’t big meat fans. Plus, we were treated like royalty…which is nice once in a while, right?
How to get to Arequipa?
Most people arrive at the main bus station, “Terrapuerto“, which is about four kilometers from the Plaza de Armas. They usually come from Cusco, which is about 10 hours away, or Ica (Huacachina), which is at least 12 hours away. Arequipa is also a common stop for those heading to the Colca Canyon. To get there, you can take a bus from “Terrapuerto” to Cabanaconde, which is about a 6 hour drive. From there we started a beautiful three day hike!
Bus transportation in Peru is often well organized and the buses are usually very luxurious! We booked all our bus trips quickly and easily through busbud.com. Cruz del Sur and Civa (Excluciva) are, in our opinion, the most reliable and comfortable transportation companies.
Where to Stay in Arequipa?
In addition to many hip bars and restaurants, Arequipa also spoils tourists with very cool accommodations. We stayed at Le Foyer and especially enjoyed breakfast on the roof terrace. On one side we had a view of the cathedral and on the other side we admired the volcanoes. Discover these and other hostels and hotels within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas!
Very central location with nice rooftop bar and delicious breakfast. Nice rooms with good bed and shower.
Hostel with beautiful garden and pool close to the center. Good restaurant. They organize free walking tours.