Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and between it being a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s lower breathable altitude, and it’s comfortable, relatively stable climate all year, it’s a nice city to visit! There are not as many tourists as in Cusco so you may feel a little less bombarded and relaxed while exploring this city, but it is becoming more popular every year especially because of it’s close proximity to Colca Canyon. Therefore more adventures are visiting the area to explore the canyon.
La Plaza de Armas
The first place you must visit in Arequipa is its central plaza, which in Spanish is called La Plaza de Armas. Stepping out into the central part of Arequipa will allow you to see with your own eyes the reason why this historical area of the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 2000. Arequipa’s city center is a living museum and you will understand that when you have the opportunity to walk throughout this part of the city and see the white volcanic rock, called Sillar, that each of the buildings are made out of. This rock has given Arequipa its nickname, the ‘White City’ due to the white color of the rock. The colonial buildings with huge balconies are located on three sides of the plaza while the Cathedral of Arequipa makes up the fourth section of the plaza, all of which surround the water fountain located in the middle of the plaza. La Plaza de Armas is always busy so it’s a great location to sit down, take a breath and enjoy the sunshine on one of the park benches while you spend time people watching.
La Catedral de Arequipa
The cathedral is a large white building that towers over Arequipa’s main plaza and takes up the entire length of the plaza. The original structure was built in 1656, but has been replaced multiple times due to fires and earthquakes that caused the building to suffer some damage. The latest damage occurred in 2001 when one of the towers toppled over due to an earthquake. It has now been rebuilt and stands out from the rest of the colonial architecture of the plaza. This cathedral is said to have the largest organ in South America so if you are pianist, you might not want to miss seeing that. They also have a museum full of religious paintings and other artifacts. You can also pay a fee and visit the cathedral bell tower and view the surrounding city scape and the volcanoes that surround Arequipa. This is something I wish I would have done to not only see the views, but to have taken photos as well!
Santa Catalina Monastery
The Santa Catalina Monastery is another location you should have on your list of places to visit in Arequipa. It was built in 1580 and once housed 450 people, mostly nuns. The monastery is so large that it is also called, “the city within a city,” because it’s such a huge space. From the time the monastery first opened, it had been closed and shut off from the outside world until 1970 when they opened their doors to the public. The monastery now only has about 20 nuns that live within the walls. It’s a far cry from 450 people, but the majority of the space is open for tourists to view, including courtyards, living quarters and traditional kitchens. Once you pay to get inside, you can take a tour or walk around on your own without a guide. This is exactly what we decided to do and enjoyed walking around within the monastery enjoying the flower, art, architecture, and the brightly colored sky blue and bright orange walls. Walking throughout the entire labyrinth of hallways, slowly getting lost within its walls, you will see the word ‘SILENCIO’ (silence) on some of the overhead passageways allowing you to experience the meditative atmosphere of the monastery.
Mirador de Yanahuara
If you want to get away from the hussle and bussle at the center of town, you don’t have to walk far as the peaceful neighborhood of Yanahuara isn’t far and has a nice ‘mirador’ (lookout) with a beautiful view overlooking the city of Arequipa and El Misti, one of the volcanoes looming over the city. You can also visit an old church located here in the plaza that is free. While relaxing in the plaza make sure to try some ‘queso helado’ (cheese ice-cream) from one of the local vendors. It’s very tasty and even though you might be thinking it’s made from cheese, it is actually made from coconut, cinnamon and cloves. It’s a delicious afternoon delight!
Take in a Rooftop View
At the end of your day, see if you can head up to the rooftop of your hotel or hostel as most places throughout Arequipa have rooftop terraces with beautiful views of the city, along with incredible vistas of Volcan Misti. You can just spend time sunbathing on the rooftop getting your needed amount of vitamin D for the day, watch the daily life of residents on the streets below or just drink some wine while you watch the sunset. It’s a great way to relax and end your day.
For some people, Arequipa might just be a quick stop on their way to Cusco, Lima or a crossing point to La Paz in Bolivia or the northern part of Chile, but it’s one of Peru’s TREASURES OF TRAVELING you won’t want to miss!
— Luke Keeler
Check out the map below to see where Arequipa is located at!
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