Machu Picchu, the grand Incan architectural wonder, might be the first place that comes to mind when you think about Peru. But this Latin American gem has much more to offer than the popular tourist magnets. If you want to get the taste of authentic Peru, you are never going to find that by only visiting the popular sites.

Arequipa is such a hidden gem. Despite being the second-largest city in Peru and adorned with mountains, lakes, volcanoes, rich history, and architecture, Arequipa somewhat falls under the tourist radar and this might be a blessing in disguise for your next Peruvian tour. As you may not want to get right in the throes of tourists because of the pandemic, traveling to Arequipa might be the best way to explore authentic Peru in peace. Let’s read on to learn why Arequipa, Peru is a must-visit for you.

A Little Glimpse of Arequipa

Arequipa is a colonial-era Peruvian city located in the southeastern part of Peru, just near the border of Chile and Bolivia. The high altitude of Arequipa (2335 m) makes the lifestyle of local people all the more fascinating. Being close to the pacific makes it a perfect surfing place for surfers. The city is mostly built with white stone – a substance called sillar which is derived from the local volcano and makes this city stand apart from all other Latin American cities. 

Arequipa is the proud owner of several volcanoes, the famous of them all is – El Misti which last erupted not more than 35 years ago. Sillar is an exceptional building material with its sparkly quality and earthquake resistance. This exceptional feature of white stone-made structures is where Arequipa has derived its second name El Cuidad Blanca – the white city.

Besides the natural adornments, Arequipa is a nice historic city. From the cobblestone alleys, plazas to the public building you can trace the colonial-era history in every corner of this city. Perhaps the most captivating feature that draws tourists to Arequipa is not nature, valley, or volcanos, but the laid-back traditional lifestyle of its locals. Arequipa in itself can give you the wholesome experience of Latin America.

Why You Should Visit Arequipa

Whether you are a history buff, architecture aficionado, a food lover, or an adrenaline junkie, Arequipa has everything to offer you. This historic city surrounded by mountains, and volcanoes will tell you an enchanted story of nature, humans, and survival. Besides, it will be a breath of fresh air when you get away from all the tourist-packed sites of Peru. Here are the reasons you should include Arequipa in your next visit to Peru.

To Behold the Magnificent El Misti

Arequipa is surrounded by three volcanoes and El Misti is the dominant of all. Despite being dormant, this 5822 m high volcano is the most notable landmark of Arequipa. In fact, it is the first thing you will notice when setting your feet in the central plaza of Arequipa. 

And if you love hiking, conquering this towering volcano must be on your checklist. While the hike itself can be grueling and quite challenging (especially the top, it is speckled with sulfur-filled treacherous craters) the magnificent view of Arequipa from the peak of El Misti will be absolutely worth it.

arequipa peru el misti volcano

Photo: MonikaP via Pixabay

To Hike Colca Canyon

While the entire Peruvian landscape is ringed with mountains, canyons, and jungles, Arequipa itself is enough to provide you with wholesome hiking opportunities. And the trail towards the Colca Canyon is one that you don’t want to miss. The diversity of this majestic landscape is even more prominent in your hike to Colca canyon. 

This 3400 m deep crack which covers over 100 km, slices the mighty Andes in two ridges creating a gaping yawning expression on the Andes. In addition to the grand scale and depth of this canyon the gradual change in landscape, from the lush greenery near the foot and the harsh dry, rocky surface near the top, along the passage will bring a dramatic shift in your mood that is beyond anticipation.

Go back in time

Arequipa is regarded as the most historical city in Peru. After its inception in 1540 by the Spanish, Arequipa has undergone many geopolitical transitions. And because it is located in a seismic zone, Arequipa had to withstand several major earthquakes. All these have made quite interesting turns of events in the history of Arequipa.

After Lima, Arequipa has the most famous museum in Peru. And you will find all the glorious history of Peru and Arequipa displayed there. You can also explore the city by taking a guided walking tour covering all the historic sites.

To Explore Latin America in All Its Authentic Glory

Out of all Peruvian cities, only Arequipa dares to call itself almost an independent country, Arequipa can even provide you with an Arequipan passport, albeit just as a souvenir! 

It will provide you a similar Peruvian feeling to Cusco, but the ruckus of tourists is all muted here, you will get to explore the culture, lifestyle of Peruvian locals in a peaceful atmosphere.

To Bask In 300 Days of Sunshine

Whether you are from the warm tropics or cold Northern Hemisphere the moderate weather of Arequipa will suit you just perfectly. And there is plenty of space for you to bask in that golden sunshine. For instance, you can spend an afternoon exploring the Plaza de Armas and its surrounding historic sites all the while enjoying the glorious warmth.

arequipa peru

Photo: locoterrolr via Pixabay

To Explore the Majestic Architecture

From its cobblestoned alleys to the giant arched cathedral and grand plazas, Arequipa is undoubtedly the most architecturally adorned city in Latin America. Arequipa has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its history and architecture. 

Despite being struck by earthquakes the structures still bear the same appeal as they did in the Spanish era, due to their careful restoration. The Spanish-style structures with great arches, columns sit contrastingly with the indigenous backdrop. Yet this contextual dichotomy creates a mesmerizing harmony.  

You should start off your exploration with Plaza de Armas, which is the central plaza of the city. The main cathedral of Arequipa is situated here. Built back in 1656, this neo-renaissance and Gothic architectural specimen still stands in all its glory. 

Among other notable structures, the Santa Catalina convent, Santa Teresa convent church of San Francisco are worth paying a visit. Besides, these stunning Spanish-style architectures are located in Arequipa’s historic center, making it easier to visit them all.  

To Indulge In Local Authentic Cuisine

If you have tasted Peruvian cuisine in Lima, be prepared for your taste buds to get blown away by Arequipa cuisine. Some popular Peruvian dishes like Ocopa, or Rocoto Relleno were first originated right here in Arequipa.  

Despite being located in the same geographical boundary, foods in Lima and Arequipa have some major but subtle differences. And to find out those subtle differences you have to visit Arequipa. Explore the street side picanterias and order some Ceviche to judge for yourself.

To Get Your Adrenaline Pumping With River Rafting, Biking

Arequipa won’t disappoint adrenaline junkies. With its high-quality rapids, you might find that river rafting in the Chile river of Arequipa is more thrilling than backpacking through Europe. And mountain bikers should also be ready for the adventure that awaits at the ridges of El Misti.

And finally…

The exceptional combination of the history, architecture, local cuisine, giant volcano, and the trekking opportunity in one of the deepest canyons of the world, might be enough to seal the deal for you to visit Arequipa. Besides, you don’t have to make any detour to visit Arequipa, it is near the other popular sites – the sacred valley, Cusco, Lake Titicaca. Being close to the Bolivian border makes it all the more convenient to visit Arequipa. Keep in mind that the high altitude of Arequipa which is almost closer to La Paz might take you a while to get acclimated. Now prepare your itinerary and pack your bags. And while you are at it don’t forget to brush up your Spanish. Buen Viaje!

Also Read:

Puno, Peru: A Hidden Gem on the Banks of Lake Titicaca

How To see Glaciers in Patagonia: A Boat Tour to Remember in Chile