Standing under the shadow of the colossal Misti Volcano, the ‘White City’ of Arequipa is one of Peru’s most photogenic places. Whether you’re into architecture, scenery, history, cuisine, wildlife or adventure, you will find it in this city. We’ve compiled the best things to do in Arequipa to inspire your trip.
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Things to do in Arequipa: sightseeing
1. Photograph the white sillar architecture
The first thing we thought when we arrived in Arequipa was “wow – this place looks different to anywhere we’ve been before”! And in a good way.
Arequipa is known as the ‘White City’ because many of the buildings around its historic centre are made from sillar, a pale volcanic stone. This gives the city its distinctive look, and all that white architecture has quite a calming effect – you’ll see what we mean!
Take your camera for a spin around these streets, with mountaintops peering over in the background, and you can expect to get some of your best travel photos.
2. Take a city tour
Whenever we visit a city for the first time, the first thing we do is to take a guided tour. There’s no better way to get to know a place than being shown it by a local expert.
One option is a city and countryside tour in Arequipa. The tour features all of the city’s highlights as well as a drive out to see the views of the Chili Valley, and the volcanoes of Misti and Chachani. It’s the perfect introduction to Arequipa, and you can cancel for free up to 24 hours before the tour.
3. Hang out at Peru’s most beautiful city square
Most cities in Peru have a ‘Plaza de Armas’ main square, but none are quite as attractive as the one at the heart of Arequipa’s historic centre. This part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the centrepoint of activity.
The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is lined with arched white buildings around its perimeter, and punctuated by the majestic Basilica Cathedral, one of Peru’s most famous colonial buildings. Gardens, pools and fountains decorate the middle of the square. It’s the ideal starting point to explore by foot, or just relax and watch city life go by.
4. Discover inside the Basilica Cathedral
The Basilica Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas dates back to the early 17th century and is one of the city’s most important and unusual landmarks. Built from volcanic stone, it blends neoclassical, renaissance and gothic styles.
For an entrance fee of 10 soles (3 US dollars) you can explore the interior of the cathedral. A museum inside displays jewels, ornaments and paintings hailing from the colonial era.
5. Explore Santa Catalina Monastery
The Monastery of Santa Catalina is a unique historic site and one of the major tourist attractions in Arequipa. Spanning some 20,000 square metres and surrounded by high walls, it is a ‘city within a city’ that has only been open to the public since the 1970s. For four centuries before this it was home to a community of nuns, and the public knew very little about what went on inside.
You can gain access into Santa Catalina Monastery for 40 soles (12 US dollars), and a guided tour will cost around a further 20 soles (6 US dollars). On Tuesdays and Thursdays the monastery stays open in the evenings, and you can explore it by candlelight.
6. See Juanita at Museo Santuarios Andinos
This one-of-a-kind museum pays homage to Juanita, a 12-year-old Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods in the 15th century. Museo Santuarios Andinos was created after the girl’s remains were discovered almost perfectly preserved within a melting glacier in 1995.
The museum explores the darker side of the Inca Empire. On a guided tour you can learn about the practice of human sacrifice and see artefacts that were buried with Juanita. Finally, in an eerie chilled room, you will see Juanita’s frozen and mummified remains.
7. Stroll around the old San Lázaro neighbourhood
About five blocks and a ten-minute walk north of the Plaza de Armas is one of the most historic quarters of Arequipa: San Lázaro. Here you will find the city’s most quaint and picturesque streets.
Walking between the crumbling stone walls and hanging baskets on the neighbourhood’s narrow cobbled alleyways is like taking a step back in time. Take a stroll here at sunset to see the streets in a beautiful shimmering light.
8. Meet the cute animals at Mundo Alpaca
While in San Lázaro, be sure to make a stop at Mundo Alpaca (Alpaca World). Entry is free of charge, and you can meet some of the area’s cutest creatures – llamas and alpacas! There’s also the chance to see local weavers in action and admire their work (bring a tip for them).
At the gift shop you can even see examples of vicuña wool weaving. This rare, smaller cousin of the llama and alpaca lives at high altitude, and its fur comes at an astronomical price. On our visit we were shown a scarf being sold for 3,000 US dollars! Beyond our budget of course, but they did let us have a feel of the silky smooth texture.
9. Check out the Yanahuara district
If you want to see a different side to Arequipa and escape the historic centre for a while, the Yanahuara district is a great place to bask in Arequipa history in a little more peace and quiet. It’s about a 30–40 minute walk to the west of the Plaza de Armas, across the Chili River.
Yanahuara is adorned with the city’s trademark white sillar architecture and churches dating from the Spanish colonial era. There’s also one of Arequipa’s most iconic viewpoints, where you can look out from pale stone arches across the city and surrounding peaks.
10. Witness Misti Volcano
It’s impossible to visit Arequipa without noticing the ominous shape of Misti Volcano in the background. This active volcano towers at 5,822 metres above sea level and is the defining feature of the landscape surrounding the city.
The Yanahuara district offers one of the best views of the volcano. We also found that the bridge crossing the Chili River a few minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas is a good vantage point.
It’s even possible to hike to the peak of Misti, in fact it is one of the world’s highest points that can be reached without mountaineering equipment. It’s no easy feat though, with an elevation gain of about 3,500 metres over a two-day hike. If you’re around in November, you can go a step further and take part in the Misti SkyRace – a race from the city to the summit and back. Not one for us!
Things to do in Arequipa: food
11. Eat a rooftop breakfast
On our first visit to Arequipa we arrived in the early morning on an overnight bus. Tired and with a few hours to kill, our trip began with a relaxing rooftop breakfast on the Plaza de Armas. You should treat yourself to one of these at least once during your stay.
The west flank of the plaza is occupied by a row of restaurants, each of which has its own rooftop space with a view over the square. Here, from about 7am, you can expect to be bombarded by restaurateurs offering you a breakfast deal. Take your time and have a good walk up and down before making your choice.
Tip: if you have your rooftop breakfast on a Sunday, you can see traditional dancing and music at the weekly ceremonial parade of the flags in the plaza.
12. Shop and eat and San Camilo Market
San Camilo is a bustling local market in a large hall building a couple of blocks south of Plaza de Armas. Throughout the day this place is a hive of activity, with markets stalls selling fresh food produce as well as souvenirs and craftwork.
Don’t miss the upstairs section in the market. Here, you will find a row of mini street-food restaurant stalls. At lunchtime you can buy classic local dishes here for very cheap prices. We tried adobo, which is pork meat marinated in spices and cooked with onions – yum! This place is an absolute gem if you’re travelling on a tight budget.
13. Try a set-lunch menú restaurant
Another great way to eat on a budget in Arequipa while experiencing the local dining culture is to check out a local ‘menú’ restaurant at lunchtime. You will find these places packed out with locals and typically open from midday until about 4pm.
In a set-lunch menú restaurant you can get a two- or three-course meal with a soft drink for a surprisingly small amount of money. The cheapest we found in Arequipa was for 7 just soles (2 US dollars) on Calle la Merced, south of the Plaza de Armas.
14. Eat in a restaurant with a view
Mirador Misti is a cosy rooftop restaurant hidden just behind the Basilica Cathedral on Pasaje de la Catedral (a small passageway that runs parallel to the north side of the Plaza de Armas).
‘Mirador’ translates to ‘viewpoint’ or ‘lookout’, which is a fitting description for this place, as it has a fantastic elevated view of the city and surrounding scenery. Stop by here in the afternoon for a leisurely drink, or come along in the evening for a tasty local meal.
We ate at Mirador Misti after completing our Colca Canyon trek. After two days of hard physical exertion it was a very welcome treat!
15. Take a cooking class
Peru has a vibrant and diverse culinary scene combining old traditions with influences from around the world. Arequipa is a hotspot for Peruvian food, and has many of its own regional classic dishes.
In the city you can taking a cooking class to learn about these traditions and prepare a local meal of your own. Peruvian Cooking Experience runs a two-hour workshop called Hands On. It is designed to be interactive and sociable, and you will cook your own three-course meal.
Things to do in Arequipa: tours and day trips
16. Trek in the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is the main draw for many travellers visiting Arequipa. Three hours’ drive from the city, it is the world’s second-deepest canyon and features some of the most spectacular scenery you will see in Peru.
Trekking in and out of the canyon can be very tough, as we discovered, and a good level of fitness is required. Check out our Colca Canyon trek review and guide to preparation before booking.
17. See the flight of the condors
The Andean condor is the world’s largest flying bird and is native to the Andes mountains. At dawn, in the vicinity of the Colca Canyon, you can witness these huge beasts soaring and swooping, with wingspans reaching over three metres in length.
A trip to Mirador Cruz Del Condor to see the birds in action is included in most Colca Canyon treks and tours.
18. Trek in the Cotahuasi Canyon
A little further afield, the Cotahuasi Canyon provides an array of beautiful trekking options from day hikes to multi-day treks. You can expect to find mesmerising rock faces, high waterfalls, hanging bridges and Inca ruins… and far fewer tourists to share the experience with. It’s pretty much a dream for hikers who like to get away from the beaten path.
You can take guided trekking tours into the Cotahuasi Canyon from Arequipa. This involves overnight transport there and back, so you will need to set aside a few days for it.
19. Go white water rafting
A riveting way to see the vistas of Arequipa’s Chili Valley and the towering Misti Volcano is to go white water rafting.
You can book a white water rafting trip on the Chili River from Arequipa. It features 90 minutes of rafting between the volcanoes of Misti and Chachani, and a chance to jump in for a swim at the end. Transfers, guide and safety gear are included, and you can cancel for free until 24 hours before.
20. Take a trip to Lake Titicaca
Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest large lake, straddles the border of Peru and Bolivia. It’s about a five-hour drive from Arequipa to Puno, a city perched on the shore of the Peruvian side of the lake.
Puno is a an ideal launchpad for exploring the lake. You can take boat rides, sample fresh fish, enjoy the views and visit the floating islands of Uros, made from reeds by an indigenous community.
You can book direct bus transfers between Arequipa and Puno with GetYourGuide.
How to get to Arequipa
Arequipa is a popular destination located along the typical tourist route through Peru. It has very good connections with all other major cities and attractions in the country.
Flying is the most convenient way to reach Arequipa. The city has an international airport, Rodríguez Ballón Airport, which has daily flights to and from Lima and Cusco. Check Skyscanner to compare the best prices.
Tip: if you can be flexible with dates, select ‘whole month’ and ‘cheapest month’ for your depart and return dates in Skyscanner to find the best prices.
Travelling by bus is an excellent budget-friendly option for getting to Arequipa. Long-distance buses in Peru are generally very good quality, and an overnighter will save you on accommodation too. Various operators run departures every day from Arequipa to destinations including Lima, Cusco, Puno and Nazca.
You can check bus routes in Peru and compare prices on Busbud.
Where to stay in Arequipa
Arequipa has a wide selection of places to stay ranging from budget hostels to luxury hotels. If you’re travelling on a budget, take a look at our picks of the best hostels in Arequipa. For more accommodation options in Arequipa, see booking.com.
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