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Arequipa Travel Guide

Arequipa is famous for its delicious cuisine, distinct colonial charm, and beautiful buildings made of white volcanic stone. It is also the jumping-off point for visiting Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world.

Overview

Arequipa is a serene metropolis blessed with a pleasant climate and eternal sunshine. Among its many treasures are photogenic plazas lined by palm trees, colonial-era architecture that have earned the city its UNESCO World Heritage title, and regional dishes. As you wander the cobblestoned streets, you’ll quickly see why Arequipa is called the “White City” or “Ciudad Blanca.” Sillar is petrified ash from decades worth of volcanic eruptions. Used as the primary building material for Arequipa’s churches and mansions, it bestows the city with a radiant appearance.

 

Situated beneath the towering gaze of the Misti Volcano, and within easy reach of one of the world’s deepest canyons - Colca, home of the majestic condor - Peru’s second most populous city possesses thrills and attractions to suit all tastes. Among the urban centers of the southern Andes, Arequipa is undoubtedly the most attractive and a must-see for any traveler on a trip to Peru.

Climate & Weather

Arequipa is in a fertile valley surrounded by high-peaked mountains. But the broader region sits on the edge of the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert. A couple of hundred miles from the city, in the Cotahuasi area, altitudes range from 3,000 feet to 20,000 feet (and above) and encompass nineteen ecological zones. If you venture out to the mountains and highlands around Arequipa, expect stronger sun and winds during the day and significantly cooler temperatures at night.

In terms of weather, Arequipa has plenty of sunny days that are typical of high desert climates and temperatures moderated by the city’s 7,660 feet (2,335 meters) elevation. Daytime temperatures are usually around 65°F (18°C), rarely going below 50°F (10°C) or rising above 77°F (25°C). Nights can dip down to 45°F (7°C).

The Andean rainy season extends from December to March. In Arequipa, this means cloud cover and light showers in the evenings. The month of February is the exception, and heavy rains are frequent.

Geography & Map

  • Arequipa is situated in the middle of fertile valleys irrigated by meltwaters from the surrounding mountain peaks. Three volcanoes - Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu - stand guard over the city and remind you of the region’s seismic activity.
  • Elevation 7,660 ft (2,335 m) Population: ~1 million

Best Time to Visit

The city of Arequipa enjoys around 300 days of sunshine each year. The best time to visit Arequipa is anytime from April to November when the weather is pleasant. Conditions are sunny with blue skies, and daytime temperatures are mild. The region’s high altitude and plenty of sun produce high risk for sunburn, so stroll the streets of Arequipa wearing a hat and high SPF sunscreen.

If you plan to add Colca Canyon to your Arequipa itinerary, the best time to plan your trip is from May to November. These months are the dry season in Colca Canyon, which coincides with beautiful weather in Arequipa too. One of the highlights of visiting Colca is spotting Andean condors, and chances of seeing them outside the dry season is much lower.


History

Archeological evidence shows that 1,000 years before the arrival of the Inca civilization, the Aymara indigenous groups inhabited the Arequipa region. According to oral traditions, the settlement was known by a name meaning “summit behind the peak” in reference to the Misti Volcano. In the Aymara language, “ari” means “summit” and “quipa” means “lying behind.”

Much later, in the year 1300 AD approximately, the fourth Sapa Inca, Mayta Capac, arrived with his entourage from the kingdom of Cusco. Legend has it that the name Arequipa arose when the Inca ruler, after admiring the lush valley protected by grandiose mountain peaks, said, “ari, quepay,” which in Quechua means “yes, let us stay.”

Fountain, buildings and palm trees at night in the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa, a popular destination of the “white city”

After the arrival of European conquistadors to Peru (and the military defeat of the Inca Empire in Cusco), the Spanish settler Garcí Manuel de Carbajal re-founded the city in 1540. It is this date that is commemorated with great fanfare during the Fiestas de Arequipa in August, which consumes the entire city and attracts travelers from other parts of Peru.

From the 16th and 18th centuries, under Spanish colonial rule, Arequipa flourished in the crossroads for the silver trade. The city’s architectural aesthetic began to take form during this time when white sillar stone, abundant in the Arequipa region, was used as the primary material to build the casonas of large landowners, beautiful churches, and sprawling convent complexes including Santa Catalina.


Things to Do

Plaza de Armas of Arequipa, Peru on a clear day, with its characteristic volcanic white stone architecture and palm trees

Plaza de Armas Arequipa

The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is one of the fairest in all of Peru. Local people come to socialize and read newspapers under the shade of palm trees, children throw seeds on the ground for birds, and travelers from all over the world come to gape at the towering Basilica Cathedral and make wishes at Tuturutu Fountain in the center of the square.

A historical landmark in Arequipa


Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, which has been constructed and reconstructed for 500 years due to earthquakes, illuminated

Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa

The stately Basilica Catedral (or Catedral de Arequipa in Spanish) anchors the northeast corner of the Plaza de Armas. What you see of the cathedral today is the product of nearly 500 years of construction and reconstruction resulting from a dramatic history of strong earthquakes. The restoration finished during the 1850s and many imports, such as the English clock for the clock tower, a neo-Gothic pulpit, and a Belgian organ, which remains the largest organ ever to cross the ocean to South America.

Plaza de Armas, Arequipa


Juanita the Ice Maiden at Museo Santuarios Andinos of Arequipa, a mummy buried in the snow of Mount Ampato for 500 years

Museo Santuarios Andinos

The Museum of Andean Sanctuaries is home to Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden, one of the most famous historical residents in Arequipa. Juanita is believed to have been a sacrificial offering by Inca priests to the volcano Mount Ampato, where she remained buried in snow for over 500 years. Learn about the story of Juanita and see artifacts associated with the discovery of other mummies in the Arequipa region on a museum tour.

Calle la Merced 110, Arequipa


Baroque architecture of Casa del Moral de Arequipa, or House of Mulberry Tree in English, a beautiful 18th century mansion

Casa del Moral

History and architecture buffs can quickly lose track of time at Casa Del Moral. This well-preserved 18th-century mansion is one of the oldest existing buildings from the city’s Baroque architecture period. This former private residence is named after the old mulberry tree (arbol de moras) in its courtyard. Visitors pay a small entrance fee and can explore the site independently or with a guide.

Calle Moral 318, Arequipa


A popular viewpoint through arched sillar walls of Arequipa City from the Yanahuara District, a trendy residential area

Mirador Yanahuara

You can see the historic center of Arequipa from above with a visit to this famous lookout point in the Yanahuara district. Elegant stone arches are carved with the prose and poetry of Arequipa’s many notable writers and also provide perfect frames for photos of El Misti. It is a local tradition among young lovers to go to Mirador de Yanahuara to pledge eternal love and affection with the Lord of Arequipa (Misti) as a witness.

Miguel Grau, Yanahuara, Arequipa


A popular viewpoint through arched sillar walls of Arequipa City from the Yanahuara District, a trendy residential area

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

You can see the historic center of Arequipa from above with a visit to this famous lookout point in the Yanahuara district. Elegant stone arches are carved with the prose and poetry of Arequipa’s many notable writers and also provide perfect frames for photos of El Misti. It is a local tradition among young lovers to go to Mirador de Yanahuara to pledge eternal love and affection with the Lord of Arequipa (Misti) as a witness.

Santa Catalina 301, Arequipa


Arequipa’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA) on a clear day, known for its paintings, sculptures, watercolors and cartoons

Museum of Contemporary Art in Arequipa

For a refreshing interlude between visits to historical and archeological sites, visit Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Arequipa (MACA). It is one of the few modern art museums in all of Peru with a collection that includes canvas paintings, sculptures, watercolors, and cartoons, as well as photographs by the Arequipa-born brothers Carlos and Miguel Vargas. Once you’ve gotten your art fix, relax in the garden, or have a drink and snacks in a cafe in a repurposed train car.

Los Cristales 146, Arequipa


Mundo Alpaca in Arequipa, where you can find alpaca scarves, sweaters, and gloves for sale and meet the fluffy residents

Mundo Alpaca

Everywhere you go in Peru, you’ll see alpaca scarves, sweaters, and gloves for sale. In Arequipa, go to Mundo Alpaca where you can learn about the origins of these products, from the shearing of alpacas and vicunas, to spinning yarn, to weaving using centuries-old methods. At the end, you can tell the difference between our alpaca products and those made with synthetic material.

Alameda San Lázaro 101, Arequipa


Wild Vicunas Grazing with Volcano Misti, an amazing landscape that hikers see on the popular volcano trek in Arequipa

Volcano Trek

Arequipa is located directly over one of the tectonic fractures that have created the Andes over millennia. Between the city and Colca Canyon, there’s no shortage of volcanoes to climb.

Many trekking providers organize one to three day climbs to nearby volcanoes, including the iconic Misti. Summiting the 19,101-foot (5,822-meter) peak of El Misti is not technically challenging, but the extreme elevation and sandy footing along the way make it hard. The best time for mountain climbing near Arequipa is from July to September.

The volcanoes are within the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve. Drive times to each volcano vary, but Misti, for example, is approximately two hours away by car.


The countryside of Arequipa, or Peru’s famed White City, with the soaring, snow-capped Volcano Misti crowning the land

Take a Trip to the Countryside

During the colonial period, wealthy landowning families had grand casonas in the city center and sprawling haciendas out in the countryside. You can see what life was like for the Arequipa elite when you venture into the countryside, 15 to 20 minutes outside of the city. Key sites include Molino de Sabandia, an old water mill, and the restored La Mansion del Fundador which belonged to Arequipa’s founder Don Garci Manuel de Carvajal.

Key attractions within a few miles of the historic center of Arequipa.


Vicuna looking upon the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, a stunning natural area with volcanoes, lagoons, and unique plants

Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca

The road from Arequipa to Colca Canyon travels through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve (or, La Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca in Spanish in Spanish. It is one of the region’s underrated, yet spectacular destinations, providing vistas of volcanoes, lagoons, wetlands, and unique flora and fauna that thrive in the extremely high altitude environment.

Departing from Arequipa, tours to Colca Canyon begin with a drive northeast through the reserve towards the volcanoes Chachani and Misti. After about two hours, stop at Pampa Cañahuas to observe wild vicuñas and later snap photos from the outlook of Patapampa (4,820 meters) before beginning the descent into the Colca Valley.

The national reserve extends over an area of 367,000 hectares. The drive from Arequipa to Chivay in the Colca Valley takes about 3 hours by car.


Tourists taking photos of Andean Condors in Colca Canyon at the Mirador Cruz del Condor, a popular Arequipa destination

Colca Canyon

Leave the streets of Arequipa behind and venture to Colca, the second deepest canyon in the world. (The deepest canyon is nearby Cotahuasi). Plummeting valleys shadowed by volcanic peaks, thermal hot springs, and quaint communities are all part of Colca’s charm. Mirador Cruz del Condor is a viewing platform where you can spot flying condors with an 8-foot wingspan and the ultimate highlight of a Colca Canyon tour. Check out all of our preferred hotels in Colca Canyon.

Colca Canyon is approximately 100 mi (160 km) from Arequipa.


Sweeping views of beautiful Cotahuasi Canyon, the deepest canyon in the world, with blue skies and white fluffy clouds

Cotahuasi Canyon

Explore Cotahuasi, the world’s deepest canyon. At its deepest point, the canyon cuts roughly 11,003 ft (3,354 m) into the earth - only slightly deeper than the nearby Colca Canyon - and it extends for 63 mi (100 km). Two peaks, Coropuna and Solimana, rise to 20,000 ft (6,100 m).

The majestic Cotahuasi Canyon provides a compelling alternative for travelers who wish to avoid the big tour groups that flood Peru’s more famous destinations. It takes some effort to get here, which perhaps accounts for the low visitor numbers. Travelers should be prepared for basic services and facilities in the tiny towns and villages that dot the canyon. In exchange, you’ll get to see places of surreal beauty.

The Cotahuasi Canyon is about 216 mi (349 km) from Arequipa in the heart of the Southern Andes.


Hotels

Most hotels in Arequipa are in the historic center and surrounded by plenty of choices in restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, banks, and any other services you might need. The following are our Top Pick Hotels in Arequipa.

Costa del Sol Wyndham Arequipa

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Plaza Bolivar (no number), Selva Alegre, Arequipa

Swimming Pool
Free WiFi
Restaurant
Gym
Laundry
Room Service








See all Arequipa Hotels


Restaurants

In a country widely lauded for its culinary diversity, the city of Arequipa stands out for its unique offer of regional food specialties. Arequipeñan dishes are generally characterized by flavors that are rich, complex, and addictive. The following recommended restaurants serve local dishes from Arequipa.

Interior of Zig Zag Restaurant, a popular Arequipa restaurant known for its creative Peruvian menu with European influence
Photo by Zig Zag Restaurant.

Casta Fior

The menu here serves a blend of national Peruvian and international cuisine.
Avenida Francisco Bolognesi 106, Yanahuara, Arequipa | website

Chicha Arequipa

Classic Peruvian dishes with a modern twist by celebrity chef Gaston Acurio.
Santa Catalina 210, Arequipa | website

Sol de Mayo Restaurant

A longstanding restaurant in Peru that serves traditional cuisine from Arequipa.
Jerusalen 207, Yanahuara, Arequipa website

La Nueva Palomino Picanteria

Try authentic comida Arequipeña dishes like adobo, chupe de camarones, and pastel de papa (cheesy potatoes).
Pasaje Leoncio Prado 122, Yanahuara, Arequipa website

La Plaza Bar & Grill

A restaurant right on the city’s plaza with a menu of Arequipeñan and Peruvian cuisine.
Portal de Flores 116, Arequipa website

Zig Zag Restaurant

Try “Alpandina” food featuring a combination of alpine cuisine and Andean flavors.
Calle Zela 210, Arequipa | website website


Tour Packages

#6 Discover Peru

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, Amazon, Lima, Paracas, Arequipa & Colca
16 Days / from $4039

#5 Capture Historical Peru

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lima, Arequipa & Colca, Paracas
11 Days / from $2699

#4 Cross the Andes to the Amazon

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon, Arequipa, Colca
12 Days / from $2559

#3 Uncover the Magical Andes

Machu Picchu, Cusco, Titicaca, Puno, Arequipa, Colca
10 Days / from $2169

See All Tour Packages


Travel Tips

What to Pack

As with any of Peru’s high altitude destinations, the key to packing for Arequipa is to plan to dress in layers. Mornings are cold, and you’ll want to start the day with outer layers that you can remove as the day warms up. Remember to wear sunscreen, as Arequipa experiences intense high solar radiation as a result of high altitude. If you venture out to the mountains and highlands around Arequipa, expect stronger sun and winds during the day and significantly cooler temperatures at night.

How to Get to Arequipa

By plane: Arequipa’s Manuel Ballon International Airport (airport code: AQP) has regular connecting flights to/from:

  • Lima to Arequipa - nonstop 1 hour 30 minute flight
  • Arequipa to Cusco - nonstop 1 hour flight

By bus: Arequipa has two major bus stations, Terminal Terrestre and Terminal Terrapuerto, which are adjacent to one other and 2.5 mi (4 km) from the Plaza de Armas. For long-distance travel between Arequipa and Cusco, Puno, or Lima, the best and safest option is to look for non-stop overnight routes with companies such as Cruz del Sur, Oltursa, or Exclusiva.

Getting from Arequipa to Colca Canyon

The 100-mile (160-km) drive from Arequipa to Chivay, the gateway to Colca Canyon, takes about three hours in private transport and longer by public bus. Booking a Colca Canyon Tour with roundtrip van transport from Arequipa is convenient and a nice option for visiting top attractions in the canyon. The paved road connecting Arequipa with Colca Canyon passes through La Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve , a protected high altitude environment with volcanoes, lagoons, and herds of wild vicuna.


FAQ

Tell anyone that you traveled to Arequipa, and the first thing people will ask is, “did you try the food?” Don’t miss your chance to sample what many consider to be the best local dishes in all of Peru at one of the best restaurants in Arequipa. While walking around the city, don’t miss the historic Santa Catalina Monastery, spend time in the beautiful central plaza, and learn about Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden, at Museo Santuarios Andinos.

The city of Arequipa is located in the department of Arequipa in the south of Peru, sharing borders with the departments of Ica, Ayacucho, Cusco, Apurímac, Puno, and Moquegua. Its longest border is with the Pacific Ocean.

For Arequipa city, one or two days should be enough to cover the city highlights, but you can easily spend a week or more here visiting museums, eating great food, and venturing out to explore the countryside. To visit Colca Canyon, you’ll need an additional one to three days.

Arequipa is at 7,660 ft (2,335 m) above sea level - about 3,280 ft (1,000 m) less than Cusco or Puno - and few travelers ever experience altitude sickness here. However, the road between Arequipa and Colca Canyon reaches altitudes of 13,100 ft (4,000 m). You’ll notice the difference if you get out of the car and try any strenuous activity, such as climbing or sprinting. Gladly, these activities are not part of a standard tour of Colca Canyon. Stick to the comfort of your car, bus, or van, and you should have no problem.

The city and suburbs of Arequipa constitute the second-largest metropolitan area in Peru, after Lima, with a population of just over 1 million people.

The following are popular inbound bus routes to Arequipa:

  • Bus from Lima to Arequipa: 16 to 18 hours total
  • Bus from Cusco to Arequipa: 10 hours total

The following are popular outbound bus routes from Arequipa

May to November is the high season for tourism to Colca Canyon. The weather is warm during the day and cold at night. Be sure to make reservations for accommodation in advance. The end of the rainy season (April and May) is also a great time to visit because the terraces will be brilliantly green with crops and flowering plant life.

Many towns of Colca Canyon are higher in elevation than Arequipa (2,335 m or 7,661 ft) and about the same as Cusco (3,400 m or 11,150 ft). Take the same precautions as you would in Cusco – stay hydrated, avoid heavy meals or alcohol on your first days at altitude, and drink the local remedy coca leaf tea. Take a few days to acclimate before attempting any strenuous activity.

The average distance from the peaks of the mountains to the river below is 10,200 feet (3,109 meters). This distance makes Colca one of the world’s deepest canyons. Nearby Cotahuasi Canyon is a few hundred meters deeper.

For a taste of high altitude Andean trekking, many travelers choose a Colca Canyon trek as a less expensive, less crowded alternative to the Inca Trail. The most popular route departs from Cabanaconde descends to the oasis resort town Sangalle. It’s an unrelenting slope whether you are going up or down - usually 3 hours for the descent and 5 hours for the ascent. Mules are available for hire from any of the lodges in Sangalle.

Choices for dining in Colca Canyon are limited but adequate for one or two nights. Most Colca Canyon hotel offer on-site restaurants serving a la carte or buffet-style meals. Towns such as Chivay and Yanque offer a greater selection.

From within Peru, direct flights to Arequipa are offered to and from Lima, the capital of Peru, and Cusco city.

  • Lima to Arequipa flights: 1.5 hours non-stop
  • Cusco to Arequipa flights: 1 hour non-stop

 
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