Arequipa – the gateway to the Colca Canyon

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, and without a doubt the prettiest. The UNESCO world heritage site is given the nickname cuidad blanca due to the sillar volcanic rock that has been used to construct some of the buildings. This is of additional relevancy as the city is surrounded by 4 imposing volcanoes. One of which is the Ampato volcano, reaching 6,288m above sea level.

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A great place to start when visiting is the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. It is situated in heart of the city, in the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral is beautiful inside and gives you a great view of the city from the bell tower as a bonus. The cathedral also has a museum section that contains items from colonial times.

The cathedral is free to enter between 10am – 5pm, but make sure what you’re wearing aligns with their restrictions, otherwise you won’t be let in.

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Just 5 minutes down the road you will find the Santa Catalina Monastery. This should be at the top of your list of places to visit. The area is an almost perfectly preserved 16th century convent, covering 5 acres, which is still in use today by a small group of nuns. The vibrant coloured houses and small walkways are a uniquely different experience to the busy streets of Arequipa. The monastery has a unique history, which you can learn about by hiring a guide to take you around.

Whilst we would both highly recommend a visit, at s/. 40 (£8.92/$11.38) it may not be the most budget friendly activity (bearing in mind that in many restaurants you can order a 2-3 course meal for around s/. 15). However, foreign students under 21 can get cheaper entry, providing you have identification to prove it.

Open between 9:00-17:00 Monday to Sunday (until 19:30 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).

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San Camilo market will give you a different flavour of the city. The antithesis of the covent, the food market is a lively environment selling just about every fruit and vegetable in existence (probably). Stop for lunch or a smoothie, or just explore the different wares on offer.

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Arequipa is known by most as the stepping stone towards the Colca Canyon. I booked a 1 day tour with my hostel to the canyon and it did not disappoint, well worth the 3am start. The landmark is the second largest canyon in the world* and is a great spot to see the second largest bird in the world, the Condor.

*The Cotahuasi Canyon is also in Peru and is the deepest canyon in the word. Unfortunately this canyon is inaccessible to tourists.

Whilst many tours and hikes in the Colca are 3 or 4 days long, this was only a single day route. This is recommended if you have limited time to spare or do not fancy the difficult hike. I personally wished that I had gone on a longer tour in hindsight.

The views from the Canyon are magnificent and it is a perfect spot to watch the Condors.


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After watching the Condors we had the chance to have dip in the Canyon’s hot springs.

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Back in Arequipa, Yanahuara Park is a great place to get a photo of the sunset and the city with the volcano towering over the background. The quaint square is a 20 minute walk from the city centre and has a restaurant and cafe nearby. Bear in mind that the viewing platform is often very busy, especially during sunset.

Museo Santauarios Andinos is a must if you’re at all interested in Incan history – visiting Juanita is not to be missed when in Arequipa. Her body was discovered when the ice covering her burial site melted, and she slid down the mountain. She is almost perfectly preserved, save for some damage from when lightning struck at the top of the mountain. Human sacrifice played a significant part in the culture of the Incan empire (three other mummies are in an exhibition in Salta, Argentina), and it was fascinating to learn about the significance in person.

Entry costs s/.20 per person, including a guide, however you are expected to tip at the end.

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Another must on your Arequipa bucket list is to grab a drink at one of the many rooftop bars to catch the sun set over the mountains. Watching the sky turn orange over the horizon was definitely a highlight.

Like we have experienced in many cities, a walking tour was an excellent way to discover more about the city of Arequipa. Starting at Calle San Francisco No. 227 ‘Picanter√≠a Victoria’ either at 9:30 or 14:00.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to do in this beautiful city, but if you only have a few days in Arequipa, this should keep you busy! We hope you love it as much as we did.

Have you visited the white city of Peru? Let us know in the comments

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