A real gem in southern Peru, Arequipa is a fascinating destination that deserves to be visited and experienced.
Arequipa is called the White City because of the white stone-clad buildings in its historic center. In 2000, the city was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, increasing its popularity among tourists. Beyond the beautiful city, the surrounding region is characterized by volcanoes, fertile valleys, and deep canyons.
But what attractions should you include on your itinerary? Here are the 10 best things to do in Arequipa:
1. Plaza de Armas
The most visited tourist spot in Arequipa is the Plaza de Armas in the heart of the city. On the north side of the square is the grand Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa; the cathedral has been rebuilt several times after destruction by earthquakes and fire. Beautiful granite arcades surround the square on its other three sides.
Behind the cathedral you can see the peak of Misti, a volcano that’s nearly 20,000 feet tall. The volcano is a stunning backdrop to the cathedral and square.
The best time to photograph the square is at sunset. Several terraces provide good angles for you to immortalize your visit.
2. Iglesia de la Compañía
Just off the south side of the square is the Iglesia de la Compañía (Church of the Company), a Jesuit church. Its ornately carved facade is an enchanting sight.
Construction began in 1590 but was not completed until 1698. It is one of the best examples of mestizo architecture; the decorations on the Baroque facade were influenced by both colonial and native South American styles. Stone from the quarries of Misti was used in its construction.
Close to the church are the Claustros de la Compañía (Cloisters of the Company). There is a major cloister, minor cloister, and a courtyard on-site. The 17th century cloisters have been maintained and converted into small shops, food stalls, and various business offices. The main cloister has large, decorated arches.
3. The Monastery of Santa Catalina
The monastery is like a colorful village within the city; it covers over 200,000 square feet. Like the Basilica Cathedral, it has been destroyed several times by earthquakes, but restorations have preserved much of the original architecture.
Inside you will find a labyrinth of gardens, fountains, chapels, cloisters, small rooms, and kitchens. The walls are painted in alternating blue and red, and everywhere there are bright floral embellishments.
4. Museo Santuarios Andinos
The main attraction of the museo (museum) is the exhibit of a mummified girl, “Juanita”, who was sacrificed in the 15th century. The 12-year-old girl was sacrificed to Ampato, a volcano in the Andes, and then mummified.
The Incas of Peru thought the volcanoes were gods and ritually sacrificed animals and children before them. It was an honor for the family chosen for this sacrifice. Children to be sacrificed were given chicha to drink, a naturally-fermented, corn-based drink that clouded the senses and eased the pain of death.
Juanita was killed and buried in the belly of the mountain around 1450. She was found perfectly preserved in the ice of Ampato in 1995, more than 500 years after her sacrifice, when the nearby Sabancaya volcano erupted and caused her to roll partway down the mountainside.
5. Mercado San Camilo
On a trip to Peru, a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture is to visit a city mercado (market).
Each city has at least one. At the market you can watch everyday life, learn about the local cuisine and products, and buy souvenirs to take home.
The Mercado San Camilo is located in the historic center, and inside you really can find everything–meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, and spices as well as colorful fabrics and curios. You can even taste some of the produce before purchasing.
6. Yanahuara District
The Yanahuara District is a famous district west of the historic city center on the opposite of the Rio Chili (River Chili).
Also known as the Spanish Quarter, the architecture reflects Spanish colonial influence. Narrow streets and beautiful colonial-style facades are common in the neighborhood.
The Plaza de Yanahuara, overlooked by the Church of San Juan Batista, is the main meeting point in the area and a great place to stop for a cool drink or a relaxing lunch break. The real attraction in this square is the Mirador de Yanahuara, a vantage point where you can admire panoramic views of the city and Misti beyond.
On Fridays the plaza transforms into a market. Vendors sell a wide range of fruits and vegetables and you will find many souvenir stalls.
7. Mundo Alpaca
Mundo Alpaca means the World of Alpaca. Arequipa is the world capital of the alpaca, a symbol of Peru. Opened in 2006, the center allows visitors to get up close and personal with the beautiful animals.
You will learn about the ancient methods Peruvians use to create fabrics from their fur, including the telar de cintura technique, used since the Incan Empire.
8. Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve
The region was designated a national reserve in 1979. The protected area extends over 900,000 acres at an average altitude of 14,000 feet.
It is a two-hour drive from Arequipa to reach the incredible views. There are large valleys, lagoons, snow-capped mountains, and volcanoes such as Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachani. You might spot wild animals such as vicuñas, alpacas, albino deer, and guanacos on the drive and in the preserve.
9. Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, about 99 miles northwest of Arequipa. The canyon is Peru’s third most visited tourist attraction, notable for its lush green hues and pre-colonial towns.
The first city to discover is Chivay, the main urban center in the canyon. Another stop is the Mirador Cruz del Condor, a lookout where you can admire Andean condors as they fly past the towering volcanoes.
Along the route you will come across many traditional villages and see spectacular landscapes and vistas.
10. Food and Drink
Visitors to Arequipa should try the rich and delicious local cuisine.
Why not sit down at the famous Chicha por Gaston Acurio? The Peruvian chef is ready to delight your palate with extraordinary and unforgettable dishes. All of the ingredients come from local farms. The wonderful bistro is located in a colonial-style building near the Plaza de Armas.
Another must-visit in the city is Zig Zag. The restaurant’s specialty is meat served over hot lava stones. The most famous dish includes three different cuts of alpaca, duck, and lamb, marked with colored flags and a drawing of the animal.
If you want to try the most famous drink in Peru, stop by the Museo del Pisco. This fantastic cocktail bar serves authentic pisco sours, the national drink. The pisco sour consists of grape brandy, egg white, lime juice, and sugar.
Arequipa is easily accessible by bus and plane. The city’s international airport, Rodríguez Ballón International Airport, has numerous domestic and international routes great for onward travel.
But Arequipa is one of those places that invites you to stay with its delicious cuisine, interesting history, and friendly people. Enjoy your visit!
Last Updated on March 15, 2021