On a sunny day, Arequipa shimmers. The chalky white buildings which dominate the historical centre, built from volcanic rock, are of a distinctly European flavour and, if you can block out the constant din from chugging exhausts on delapidated collectivos, one could be forgiven for thinking you've taken the wrong turn and ended up in Spain; it is undoubtedly the prettiest of Peru's cities.
It also happens to form a central part of every visitor's travel itinerary. Due to its proximity to Cusco and its status as the departure or recuperation point for anyone planning a few days hiking the Colca Canyon or crossing to/from Chile, you're bound to spend a few days here.
Here's a few things we'd recommend you check out.
Top Things to do in Arequipa
#1 go face to face with juanita
A tragic tale of how beliefs can make the brutal appear justifiable, a visit to little Juanita's new resting place will shock and awe.
Juanita was only discovered when a melting glacier stripped away the top layers of a centuries old tomb, thereby allowing her frozen body to slide down the mountain face. Near perfectly preserved, she was the key to revealing how human sacrifice played a significant role in the age of the Incan empire. Thought to have been killed to appease the Gods in the 15th century, her body and the various objects that laid alongside her in an icy grave are now housed in a museum just off Arequipa's main square.
Following a short film describing her discovery in 1995, a multi-lingual guide will accompany you through various exhibits showing pristine Incan artefacts buried alongside her high in the mountains - shoes, statues, tools and clothing. You will then be led into a darkened and permanently chilled room to pay respects, or just gaze at in a state of awe, at the tiny body of a mummified teenage girl who represents another age of human thought entirely.
how much does it cost? Entry is 20s (£4/$6.5) per person and includes a compulsory guide who will take you around the exhibit. There are secure lockers at the reception where you have to leave your bags. Photography is strictly forbidden and you are expected to tip your guide (we gave 10s for the two of us).
how to get there: The Museo Santuarios Andinos is located less than a minute's walk from Arequipa's main square. Exit the square by taking the street named 'La Merced' and the museum is on your left hand side. Expect to spend 90 minutes to 2 hours at the museum.
#2 visit san camilo market
On our two year trip through Latin America, we've visited a countless number of local markets. Although they often all start to look a little similar, every now and again we'll encounter one which reinforces just how fascinating these places can be; San Camilo was exactly that.
Rows of ladies blending together juices and smoothies from a cornucopia of exotic fruits, mummified llama foetuses hanging off stalls, butchers hacking away and selling every usable piece of animal and little black dolls displayed on certain stalls (purportedly to show who has the best produce). We spent about two hours here wandering through the aisles, marvelling at the remarkable array of cheap, fresh produce grown in Peru, from barrels of fat black olives to more variations on the humble potato than one thought possible.
We'd highly recommend a visit here to everyone - grab some lunch or a smoothie, chat with the sellers and make your tastebuds tingle with some cheap, fresh produce. It's also very photogenic; check out our photo journal here.
how much does it cost? It won't cost you a penny to visit however to try to support the sellers by having lunch or buying your dinner ingredients.
how to get there: From the Plaza de Armas, it's about eight minutes walking distance. Exit the main square via Calle San Francisco then take a left on Consuelo. After walking along this street for two and a half blocks, you'll see one of several market entrances.
#3 have your best curry in ages
If you're long-term fans of this site, you'll know that we don't just want to bring you a re-hashed version of what every other blog or guidebook is promoting. So, in spite of there being several excellent (and some very expensive) restaurants offering up traditional or modern fusion Peruvian fare, we're not going to recommend them. Instead, your tastebuds will thank you for the blast of heat and flavours from a curry at Indian Cuisine.
Good Indian food has been difficult to find in Latin America, excellent Indian food practically unheard of. So, we were ecstatic to find out about Indian Cuisine. This little restaurant packs a punch with excellent freshly made curries, perfect naan bread and ice-cold beers to wash it all down.
how much does it cost? It's not that cheap, with our beers, two cheaper main dishes, a shared rice and a couple naan breads costing 76 soles (£15, $26) but was definitely worth the splurge.
how to get there: Located at 502 Calle Bolivar, Indian Cuisine is about a ten minute walk from Plaza de Armas. Make your way to Calle Puente Grau and walk in the direction of the river and you'll find Calle Bolivar on the right. The restaurant is on the right hand side just after you turn into the street.
If a curry isn't to your fancy, then the next place we'd recommend would be Caffetteria Gourmet Italiana. Run by an old Italian guy who could quite easily be an extra in the Sopranos, it was excellent value for authentic Italian fare. We took advantage of their lunch / dinner deal which gave us two large glasses of very good red wine, a starter of bruschetta and a delicious thin-crust pizza to share for only 35 soles (£7 / $11.5). You'll find them at 307 Calle Jerusalen.
#4 make some furry friends
There are lots of informative exhibits and things at Mundo Alpaca (Alpaca World), plus an extremely pricey gift shop, but we'd by lying if we said we spent much time on those.
Instead, we spent about 30 minutes getting to know the gang of llamas and alpacas who stay there. If you visit (and why wouldn't you!?), please say a big hello to the one we named 'Colin' (he's the little brown one, second from the left).
how much does it cost? Nada, entry is free!
how to get there: Exit the Plaza de Armas on Calle Santa Catalina and walk this road for five blocks. You'll come to a busy road on your left hand side, cross this and you'll see the entrance for Mundo Alpaca.
#5 cross the river for the afternoon
A big tourist attraction in Arequipa is Monasterio de Santa Catalina. This still operational nunnery, set over 5-acres, was effectively a city within a city for centuries until much needed repairs and maintenance in the 1970s necessitated greater interaction with those outside its walls. Our friends told us it was a beautiful place, but we balked at paying 35s each to visit.
Instead, we took a lovely walk down to the Rio Chili and wandered through the beautiful and quiet streets which led us to the 'Mirador de Yanahuara'. From underneath the arches, you can get a pretty nice view of the city and the volcanoes which encircle it and there is a tiny old church next door which you can visit for free.
Away from most of the tourists, why not chill out in the little park here, sample some of the 'helado de queso' (you read that right, cheese ice-cream!) or have a cheap almuerzo in one of the many cheap cantinas on the surrounding streets.
#6 party on calle ugarte
On our first night in one hostel, we were awoken at 2 a.m. by the thumping bass from the bar below; as we would discover each of the following nights there, Arequipa is a city that isn't ashamed to party on a weekend.
If you just want unashamed gringo fun, then a visit to Wild Rover hostel is your best bet (think beer pong, pub quizzes and the like) and then you can take your chances from there; the main night spots were all dotted on and around Calle Ugarte.
#7 get high
All the hostels we stayed at had rooftop terraces from which we could enjoy some incredible views over the city at sunset; and it was clear from the amount of people on other roofs this was the most popular thing to do at around 6 p.m.
Grab a bottle of Ariquipeña, gaze upon Volcan Misti or just watch life on the streets unfold below as the sun sets on another successful day of sating your wanderlust.
Where to stay in arequipa
Where We Stayed
Le Foyer | On Calle Ugarte, Le Foyer is highly recommend for travellers who aren't watching every penny. Roof terrace, sunny patio, excellent breakfast, large, comfortable rooms and very secure. We can highly recommend it. Find out more here, and here.
Kuraka | A little further from the centre (but still entirely walkable), Kuraka is a fantastic option for budget travellers. Pleasant staff (only Spanish speaking at the time of our stay), a small but perfectly functional kitchen and a wonderful roof terrace with fantastic views. Find out more here.
Wild Rover | Not really our cup of tea, but if you're looking for a fun time, Wild Rover is the party hostel in Arequipa. Pool parties, fancy dress nights, raucous bar, drinks offers and killer cocktails. Rooms are only adequate - but then you don't come to this hostel to sleep. Find out more here.
La Casa de Ana | A highly rated family-run guest house, a little out of the centre of town. Fantastic breakfast, sunny terrace, large clean rooms and staff that can't do enough to help you. Check availability on Hostelworld or Booking.com
MUST KNOW TRAVEL TIPS FOR AREQUIPA
Areuipa is easily navigable on foot and it's a pretty city to discover that way. If you've just arrived and want to get to grips quickly, maybe take one of the free walking tours (tips encouraged, no booking necessary) which leave from the Plaza de Armas at 10 a.m and 3 p.m.
In Plaza de Armas, on the side facing the Cathedral, you will also find a government tourist office (English spoken) which is an excellent and no-strings attached source for advice on activities in the city and how to get to the Colca Cañon without a tour. There is also an excellent city map available at every hostel for orientation, which includes some of the spots we've recommended above.
Onward travel connections to Cusco, Lima or to Tacna, for the Chile border crossing, are plentiful and easily done with public transport. However, if you're visiting in high season, it's advisable to book a few days ahead along these busy tourist routes.
For our guide on crossing the border to Chile from Arequipa, click here.