We arrived in Arequipa not expecting much, to us it was just somewhere to leave our bags and rest before trekking in the Colca Canyon. Therefore we were surprised when we ended up spending 2 weeks in Arequipa either side of our trek. But with it’s multitude of great restaurants, and so many beautiful old buildings to photograph and enjoy we felt super relaxed and happy. A lot of our time was spent just wandering, but here are a few of the actual things we did and would recommend if you only had a few days…
Take the free walking tour: This tour was recommended to us by a few people, it’s the only walking tour we have done in Peru so far and it was really enjoyable. It’s run by the local tourism school and the guides are multilingual, the tour breaks off into an English and a Spanish group so you don’t have to muck around with translations. Our guide was great, he made plenty of jokes and got us involved in some interesting reenactments to highlight how strange the shaman customs would have seemed to the conquistadors. He theorised that the wide eyed gargoyles were modelled from the expressions the locals saw when they encountered the Ayahuasca ceremonies upon their arrival. Arequipa is a city full of interesting history and even though it’s the second most populous city in Peru it’s really easy to cover its gorgeous UNESCO heritage listed centre on foot. The walking tour was the perfect way for us to learn a bit about how the melting pot of cultures have come together to influence the culture in Arequipa while getting our bearings and figuring out a few places we would like to come back and see in more detail.
Visit Mundo Alpaca: Alpaca World cleverly combines a beautiful shop with a fun and interactive showroom which demonstrates the process of your lovely souvenir, earflap beanie in action. Through the store is a beautiful, serine garden where they have a few live alpaca and llama just going about their daily business, they also have a bit of information to help you figure out the difference between species. From the live alpaca pen you wander into the sorting room full of alpaca fleece. The fibre is hand sorted by local people whose knowledge has been passed down generations. It’s a beautiful thought that this process will never be mechanised due to the quality of the fleece needing a decision based on human judgement and expertise. The next part of the process leads you out to the weaving room. It’s so nice to watch the ladies in traditional local dress expertly work their looms and to feel the different wools they use. This place is free to visit and if you don’t take the free walking tour I would recommend making a stop here on your own.
Mundo Alpaca: Óvalo San Lázaro, Arequipa:(054) 202525
Sample a delicious menu in a local picanteria: The picanterias are famous in Arequipa, they have been around for centuries and are credited with bringing many cultures together in gastronomy. In order to understand the picanteria properly one must understand the importance of a little drink called chicha de jora. Chicha is a drink made from corn, chicha de jora is made from fermented corn and is a fizzy pink beverage that was sacred to the Inca’s and the native people of the mountains. Consumed all through the Andes from Ecuador to Chile and everywhere in between, chicha de jora has a very important roll in the history of Peru and the story goes that the small chicherías made such a popular meeting place that they later started selling food and evolved into picanterias and were similar to modern day pubs. Nowadays the remaining picanterias in Arequipa are mostly larger scale restaurants like the one we went to, they are more modern and offer a much wider range of local dishes to satisfy most appetites. For 15 soles ($7aud) we got a HUGE bowl of adobo (a rich broth made from chicha with giant chunks of pork) and a rocoto relleno con pastel de papa (the traditional local chilli stuffed with mince and served with what I would call creamy potato bake), and of course a massive jug of frothy chicha de jora to wash it all down. Steve got a tasty milanesa de pollo (chicken shnitty) and we would both confidently recommend this place to anyone looking for a great feed in Arequipa.
El Super Adobo: Alfonso Ugarte 212, Arequipa (out of the historical centre, across the Puente Grau)
Soak up the view at the Yanajuara mirador: After lunch at El Super Adobo you can waddle up the hill to the Plaza de Yanahuara which is a lovely quiet square with a beautiful cathedral and a spectacular view of El Misty and Arequipa.
Eat queso helado. Directly translated as “Cheese Ice cream”, it may look like cheese but that’s just how it gets its name – this little treat cannot be overlooked. Only a couple of soles for a plastic cup, it’s a traditional Arequipeñan desert and tastes like frozen condensed milk! There are vendors everywhere in traditional dress ready to scoop you out a helping. We loooovved it.
Sit in the Plaza de Armas and watch the world go by: This one is a little cliche but the square in Arequipa is just so beautiful, it’s surrounded by the beautiful white volcanic stone (sillar) buildings that give Arequipa the nickname of “la ciudad blanca”.
Watch the surrounding volcano’s change colour from a rooftop: Arequipa is looked over by a group of magical volcanoes. El Misti (the gentleman) is the most famous and has had 5 recorded eruptions in the last 100 years, the most recent of which was in 1985! Chachani (the beloved) is the highest of the mountains near Arequipa and is also thought to be able to choose the gender of newborn children. Both of these volcanoes can be climbed and many tour agencies offer guided 2 or 3 day hikes to the summits. We read some reviews and decided it was nicer just to enjoy them from the rooftop of our hostel (Cazorla) with the sunset. The volcanoes in the area held special significance to the Inca and pre-Inca people, sacrifices have been found during excavations including mummified remains of human sacrifice! The most famous of which “Juanita” is housed at Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries).
Get thee to a nunnery: The most famous convent in Arequipa is by far the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, the largest and most beautiful was a mystery, with the second born daughter going in at the age of 12, but nobody ever coming out, and only the nuns ever knowing the riches beyond it’s high white walls. We didn’t actually visit this one, it’s 40 soles to get in so we decided to visit its smaller, poorer cousin on the other side of the river. La Recoleta has been functioning as a museum since 1978 and some of the exhibits are very dated and retro. Usually this would be a bad thing but for us it added to the creepy feel of the place, the “Amazonian Museums” consist of a room dedicated to the Amazonian tribes and cultures and one dedicated to the flora and fauna… All stuffed. In other words a lovely room of death, a really sad but beautiful reminder of the acceptable gifts of days past, and equally as weird as the room of old toys. There were much more serious and interesting displays such as the religious art museum which holds some scary old paintings… The Fernandez Room which is full of amazing old pre-Incan art as well as some very well preserved mummies. The library was Steve’s favourite room, the present building is only from 1962 but it holds nearly 20,000 books many of which were printed in the 16th century including the 1st Spanish to Quechuan dictionary, the old conquistador maps of South America and timelines of the history of the world from the creation of Adam and Eve. My favourite two rooms were the Superiors Cell and Novice’s Cell, the rooms have been left as an accurate depiction of what life in the convent would have been like. They still hold the furniture and possessions of the first arch bishop of Arequipa who also became president of Peru for one day in 1931. Crazy. All in all this place was a rare treat and only cost 5 soles to get in, perfect for the curious budget traveller! Although.. I do regret not visiting Santa Catalina.