Arequipa, known as the white city of Peru is becoming yet another go-to destination in this amazing country. It has plenty to offer and in a far more relaxed environment than the tourist hotspots of Lima and Cusco. You could think of Arequipa as the quiet sibling of these other cities. There are far more things to do in Arequipa than you might expect. After spending six weeks there I have come up with six things to do in Arequipa and its surrounding countryside. It might not have made the list of best things to do in South America, but it still warrants its own piece.
Everything is centred around the Plaza de Armas one of the most beautiful in South America. Here you can find the best accommodation and book many of the excursions I am about to mention.
Six things to do in Arequipa
Plaza De Armas:
Let’s start with the easy and obvious, a visit to the Plaza de Armas. If you are like me and have travelled around South America, you too might be bored with the endless number of Plazas. I understand, but this one is a little different and is worth a visit.
The use of white volcanic stone for which the city is famous for, is very evident here, especially in the huge church which has its pride of place. The park is a great place to people watch and see some of the cities street performers. While here you can visit some of the many stores and restaurants, the best you will find in the city. Expect to pay a little extra for the luxury of eating around the Plaza.
For more practical uses there are plenty of ATMs and general stores near the plaza, so you don’t have to wander too far to find what you are looking for.
Probably the main reason for most people to visit Arequipa is the opportunity to hike Colca Canyon. The so-called Grand Canyon of South America is impressive to see. I will share the positives first and then share my experience and why I didn’t generally like the hiking aspect of my trip to the Canyon.
The view of the Canyon is quite impressive and even more, so is seeing the enormous condors which come out to hunt in the early morning. You will get a chance to glimpse these amazing birds once you catch an early morning bus to the Canyon and perhaps later in the day if you are lucky.
Condors are the second largest flying bird after the Albatross with a wingspan that can spread up to six meters. The float rather than fly as they use wind currents to stay afloat and manoeuvre around the sky.
Around the top of the Canyon, there are a few little villages inhabited by indigenous communities. I think a day trip to the region and looking around the villages and the Canyon itself would be a much better way to spend your time rather than wasting it on a two-day hike.
Possibly it was just my luck with the tour, but I didn’t enjoy the hike and it seemed like a waste of time as the best views are from the top of the Canyon. When you’re in the Canyon basin there really isn’t much to see that makes the effort worth it. I believe that a few extra days hiking further into the Canyon would possibly make the excursion worth it.
If you are set on going it is very easy to do without a tour. Go by public bus from the city and bring food and cash for lodgings which you will find throughout the Canyon, Maps.me or a paper map is essential though to make sure you don’t get lost.
Although only the rapids were only two and three when I was there, a day rafting is a fun way to spend a day in Arequipa and quite cheap in comparison to other places I have rafted. The tour in total only took around five hours giving you plenty of time in the evening to chill out and maybe go on another excursion.
You get some amazing views of Misty mountain and other ranges in the region. The rafting itself is quite relaxing if you have done it before. The guides are quite knowledgeable and pointed out wildlife along the water and showed us some of the best spots to go cliff jumping and to get a little more action from the rapids. You will find plenty of tour operators giving you the chance to go, try not to spend over 80 soles though as that is the max I would have paid.
Check out Mundo Alpaca:
If you have been unlucky enough not to encounter one of South America’s best group of animals, then a trip to Mundo Alpaca is in order. Here you can encounter some very friendly llamas, alpacas and quinoas. It’s great for a photo opportunity and to get up close to the animals which are next to impossible in the wild.
You can also purchase some super expensive gifts if you have the budget for it and see how the fabric was weaved in times gone by. There is no entrance fee and the shop/park is just a short walk from the central plaza through some beautiful winding streets. These will remind you of being in Spain.
Enjoy a night on the town:
Although the sleepy sibling of Lima and Cusco this does not mean that Arequipa lacks a nightlife, far from it. I probably had some of my best nights partying in this beautiful little city and as everything is located close together you don’t have to worry about needing a taxi or walking too far.
Along Av. San Francisco there are a few nightclubs and bars definitely worth a visit, especially on the weekend. You can find a variety of music styles from your classic Latin American, to house and techno which was a very welcome break after a few months venturing around the Americas.
If partying isn’t your thing then maybe some of the amazing restaurants which surround the central plaza is a better option.
- Try eating Cuy the famous Peruvian Guinea pig dish.
- Climb Misty mountain-A large volcano which acts as a beautiful backdrop to the city.
- Visit the Monasteries and churches and admire their architecture.
- Visit the remains of an Incan human sacrifice unearthed in the area close to Misti mountain.
The few things I jotted down here is just a small taste of the things to do in Arequipa. Realistically I should have done far more in my time there, but I was having fun and enjoying my time poolside. Let me know if this ever comes in handy for you guys.