Based in the southwestern part of the Peru and framed by three imposing volcanoes, Arequipa is the country's second largest city, with a population of over 800,000. However, despite its size, Arequipa is a beautiful ‘Ciudad Blanca’ (white city) with a picture perfect historical centre, vast open green spaces, awe-inspiring architecture and tantilising cuisine; it is no wonder it is often labelled as one of Peru’s ‘most beautiful cities’. The city is also ideally located for thrill seekers and adventurers, providing the perfect launch pad to explore the neighbouring Cañón del Colca (Colca Canyon).
There are two bus terminals in Arequipa, but Arequipa’s main bus terminal, Terminal Terrestre, can be found on Avenida Andres Avelino Caceres, at Avenue Arturo Ibanez, which is close to the Nuevo Terrapuerto, the newer bus station (for onward travel, please make sure you check which station your bus departs from). Arequipa is well connected with buses going to and from (not an exhaustive list):
- Lima (16 hours) travel with Cruz del Sur / Oltursa / Civa Transportes
- Puno (5 hours) travel with Cruz del Sur / Ormeno
- Cusco (11 hours) travel with Civa Transportes / Cruz del Sur
You can take a taxi from the Terminal Terrestre to the historical old town of Arequipa which is where most backpackers stay. The journey will take around 30 minutes and costs S/.25 (€7/ $8).
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Keep a close eye on your belongings. I was fine, but I did hear of some thefts on buses to and from Arequipa. Don’t put your bags overhead, keep them with you at all times. For extra safety, put your money, passport and phone in a money belt, around your waste and under your clothes.
If you are a little nervous about catching buses on your own, you can use the Peru Hop. Whilst it is more expensive than the companies mentioned above, they offer well planned itineraries where you pay a set amount, and you can 'hop on' and 'hop off' the bus whenever you like. They have a good route servicing the coast of Peru with English speaking guides and a door to door service. This is a great option for first time or solo travellers. For more details, head to their website here
The main airport in Arequipa is Rodriguez Ballon International Airport. You can catch direct national flights from Lima (1 hour travel time) and Cusco (30 minutes travel time) and an international flight from La Paz in Bolivia, which takes around 40 minutes. The airport is a 30 minute taxi ride away from the Plaza de Armas (main square) in the historical centre.
You will most likely spend your time in the historical centre which is very easy to walk around and with its gorgeous architecture and stunning surroundings, I would strongly advise exploring on foot.
If you wanted to go further and didn't fancy walking, there are plenty of taxis driving around looking for fares. Make sure they are licensed, and always ask for the meter to be put on or agree on a price before you get in.
Free walking tour:
Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, and it is known nationally as the ‘La Ciudad Blanca’ (White City), because of its beautiful white buildings constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone taken from the neighbouring volcanoes. As the city is so vast and there are so many intricate streets and hidden alleyways, Arequipa is best explored as part of a guided group. Join the free walking tour organised by Indigenous Tour Guides, which depart from Santa Catalina Street, 204, inside of the Chaqchao Choco Museo, every day at either 10am or 3pm. The guides do not where uniforms, so look for a gathering of people at the designated place and time. The tour takes 2-3 hours and the guides speak English. Cost: Free, donations welcomed.
For the rest of the day, hang out in the hipster cafes of the historical centre, or get lost in San Camilo Market, Arequipa’s largest market offering juices, ceviche, fruit and lots of fresh vegetables.
Dont miss the Museo Santuarios Andinos:
Located close to the Plaza de Armas, this small museum is home to the Ice Maiden Juanita, a young Incan girl who was sacrificed to the gods at the top of Mount Ampato in the 1400s. Discovered perfectly preserved in 1995, her body now lies in the museum. Cost: S/.15 (€4/ $5) per person.
Photo credit to: Chris Oliver. Instagram: @crysx
Head to Calle Santa Catalina 301, and get lost in the maze of winding corridors of this beautiful monastery. With its brightly coloured walls, silencing passages and bountiful greenery, you are sure to be impressed. Get the camera at the ready.
Cost: S/.40 (€10 / $12), with the additional option of having a guide.
Check out their website here.
For some, this is Arequipa’s main attraction. Only 4 hours from the historical centre, the Cañón del Colca is the world's second deepest canyon, reaching 3270 meters (10,728 ft) at its highest point; it is even deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. As well as the stunning scenery, it provides the perfect spot for seeing Condors in their natural habitat; magnificent birds with a wingspan of up to 2.80 meters (9ft)!
There are many different options to experience the Cañón del Colca and to see the Condors in full flight. You can see both in one day with a bus tour, or you can do a multi-day hike across 2, 3 or 4 days. I did it in 2 days, with the first day spent walking down to the floor of the canyon, spending a night in a beautiful little oasis, and the second day spent walking back up to the top, climbing all 3270m (10,728ft) of it! You will also stop by the charming town of Chivay to have lunch and drive to the highest point in the region, offering unbelievable views.
Whilst the 2-day hike was great, it is tough, especially the climb back up which starts at 3.30am on the second day, giving you little time to appreciate your surroundings. If you have the time, I would suggest doing it spread over 3 days. The cost for the 2 day hike, booked through Friendly AQP hostel, was S/.110 (€29 / $33).
N.B You can also do the hike on your own, without a guide. Just pick up a map from Arequipa’s historical centre tourist office, book a bus and you are all set.
Wild Rover is the infamous party hostel chain created by the Irish. This one has a lively bar with themed nights, a nice-sized swimming pool and good facilities all round, but it is not for the faint hearted – wild party people only. For a bed in a six-bed dorm: S/.36 (€9 / $11; 10% discount with Peru Hop).
Friendly AQP is a family run hostel with great facilities, attentive staff and the perfect place to meet other travellers. They have dormitories and private rooms, a large TV/communal space, a beautiful garden and a tour operator on site, offering lots of different experience and activities around Arequipa. Their reception is open 24/7 and the breakfast included is mind blowing - homemade waffles or pancakes with bananas and chocolate sauce! Cost: S/.25 (€7 / $8).
Arequipa backpackers downtown is close to the Friendly AQP hostel, which is around a 15 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. It is not a party hostel, the vibe is very chilled but it is super sociable and a top pick for backpackers visiting Arequipa. With two movie rooms, a pool table, a lovely courtyard garden, great dormitories, a delicious breakfast included and a tour operator onsite, it is easy to understand why it attracts so many people. Cost: S/. 31 (€8 / $9) for a bed in a 6 bed mixed dormitory.
- Empanadas and don’t miss out on trying Queso Helado – an ice cream made from milk, cinnamon, coconut and spices, and try Bunuelos made from wheat flour, deep fried with sugar!
- Head to the many Picanterias in Arequipa which are traditional lunchtime restaurants serving up family dishes often centred around meat, potatoes and Peruvian peppers. If you are looking for a hearty evening meal, try Arequipa Marinade which is pork marinated in vinegar made from fermented corn (chicha). Or try Chupe de Camarones, a unique Shrimp Chowder mixed with chunky vegetables and spices. For a hangover cure order Adobo, which is only available on Sundays and consists of pork marinated in spices and vegetables.
Vegan / Vegetarian Food:
- Papas a la Ocopa is suitable for vegetarians and consists of boiled potatoes, served in a peanut sauce with fried cheese, it is actually very tasty! If you prefer salads or tasty crepes, head to Crepisimo on Santa Catalina 208.
Interested in giving back to the beautiful White City? A great way to help those in need is through HOOP! Helping Overcome Obstacles in Peru (HOOP). They are an organisation focused on bringing support through education to the under served populations in a district outside of Arequipa, Flora Tristán. Their mission as an organisation is to eventually leave the community in a self-sustaining and stronger place – for the last 6 years, volunteers and supporters from all around the world have stopped by to pitch in where they can! Most volunteers work as English teachers for the children, while social workers develop and present workshops for mothers. These workshops address prominent issues within the Flora Tristán community: financial management, domestic violence, and healthy living. In conjunction with workshops, our psychology department works closely with each mother individually to provide any assistance they might need.
Outside of our day-to-day assistance, HOOP works on fundraising and community development projects like our recycling bin initiative or local artist series. HOOP is a very involved organisation that helps on every level of the community
Staff and volunteers are made up of both Peruvian and international personnel of many different disciplines, ages, and backgrounds; all of who come together to empower the HOOP community. If you would like to learn more about how to get involved, please visit hoopperu.org.
Please follow them on Instagram and support this AMAZING cause: @hoopperu. They need YOU.
Written by: Alejandro M. Duran. Instagram: @thecubancarrot