It’s not as well known as some of the major cities in Latin America, but once you arrive in Arequipa, Peru, it takes no time at all to realize why this ancient city is so special, and quickly rises to the top of travelers’ lists of “must visit” places in South America.
Conquering a volcano is something very empowering, and Central and South America offer a high number of volcanoes per surface area. With the town of Arequipa sitting at 2,335 meters above sea level, and El Misti another 3,487 meters above that, you will be challenged with the altitude but the reward of beating El Misti, and the view from the summit at 5,822 meters, is unforgettable. The high altitude is not the only thing here, that will take your breath away.
Get out of the city, for the day, a night, or a few, and enjoy the drastically changing countryside of Peru in one of the world’s deepest canyons. View giant Andean condors flying overhead, and the contrast of the lush green foliage near the bottom of the canyon, and the dry, rocky terrain near the peaks, as the elevation increases.
The historical sites
Some Peruvians regard Arequipa as the most “important” city in all of Peru, even more so than the capital of Lima, in large part due to its historical significance. With awe-inspiring museums, churches, cathedrals, and monasteries around every corner, you will need to move quickly, or be selective to see them all. We recommend you don’t miss the Catedral Basilica in the main square, the Santa Catalina Monastery and the Museo Santuarios Andinos to learn about the story of Juanita the “Inca Ice Maiden.”
It’s “real” South America
If you were limited to only being able to visit one South America location in your lifetime, Arequipa would be able to give you a well-rounded representation of all things Latin America. Even though thousands of tourists flock to Arequipa annually, it is still very untouched and authentic, and almost all the businesses, tour operators, banks, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops are located within the original architecture from centuries ago.
A solid rule among travelers is “eat where the locals eat.” When visiting a local market in Arequipa, you will be able to do not only that, but also shop where the locals shops. Get your fresh produce, unique spices, and even seafood at the San Camilo Market, and prepare yourself for the cool nights with some traditional Peruvian Alpaca clothing at the Fundo el Fierro artisan market.
Without putting other cities down, it would not be a stretch to say Arequipa could claim the title as the most architecturally beautiful city in the world. Overbearing archways, cobblestone avenues, grand cathedrals and an enchanting and perfectly-designed center square, all still in impeccable condition, make almost any corner of Arequipa postcard worthy.
The Arequipa “feel”
A characteristic very difficult to explain, but something that visitors often refer to about Arequipa, is the “feel” it has. It is easy to stay busy with a long list of things to do, but that alone will not make you fall in love with a place. The “feel” of Arequipa will do that, and you can only explain it when you have experienced it.
Looking for a release of adrenaline after a few relaxing days perusing the historical sights? Yes, Arequipa can deliver that too. Whitewater rafting down the Chili River (Rio Chili), or mountain biking down El Misti are available if you have had your historical fix and want to get the heart pumping.
Warm, dry days, cool, crisp nights. No matter if you are coming from the northern hemisphere and winter, or somewhere hot in the tropics, you will need no time to adjust to the Arequipa weather, where the average high throughout the year varies by only one degree celsius (average annual high 21–22°C, 70–72°F), and rains on average only 8mm per month.
Whatever you’re into, you will find it in Arequipa
Arequipa can function as your one-stop shop to knock a few things off your trip list. A host of museums for the history buff, adventure sports for the adrenaline junkie, restaurants for the foodie, and shopping for the shopaholic. You can even take a bus to the Islay Province, which is squished between Arequipa and the coast, to get some sun and beach time.
It will bring you to Peru!
As if you need an excuse to visit this sensational country, but making a trip to visit Arequipa and everything it has to offer will mean you will, in turn, be visiting one of the most spectacular, culturally dense, and interesting countries on the globe. It is often said to save the best for last, but forget that saying, and fly into Arequipa and work your way up. It will be the start to a long love affair with a beautiful part of the world.