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 (sorry Cusco).
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 two or three days hiking the Colca Canyon or crossing to/from Chile, you're bound to spend a few days here.
In our two trips to Peru, we have spent nearly two weeks exploring Arequipa. The first was part of a two-year trip through Latin America, and we actually set up a little home in the city as we needed somewhere to just hang out, drink good coffee, and unpack our backpacks for a little while. The second time, we passed through was a on a much shorter South America trip, but we found that the city hadn’t really changed too much (a good thing!) - save for a few additions to its food and drink scene, some better hostels, and a few more tourists. However, it still had the crazy afternoon log-jam traffic, pretty street scenes on every corner,, that wonderful gang of llamas (more on them later), and those unrivalled views of snowcapped volcanoes and mountains.
Here are our absolute favourite things to do in Arequipa (updated April 2019), plus recommendations on where to stay in the city, how to get around, and some of our insider tips on how to make the most of your time here in Peru’s White City.
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 (£4.5/$6) 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.
Hang Out in Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas is, as with every square in every Latin American city, the centrepiece of all that goes on and your main positioning point as you explore the historic centre of Arequipa. The wonderful porticoes, imposing cathedral, palm trees, and crowds of locals mingling with visitors make it a feast for the senses, and we never tired or walking in, around and through Plaza de Armas each day (there’s always something going on that will catch your eye) - even though it’s slowly becoming a little too focussed on serving tourists rather than those who live here.
A popular thing to do is to have a drink or meal in one of the restaurants hidden away on the second floor above the arches, which gives great views over the square and for people watching.
Tip | As you walk around Arequipa, there are several women in traditional dress (often with a baby lamb in tow) who will ask if you would like your photo with them; note that they expect payment for this. With the adults it’s fine, but we wouldn’t recommend taking or paying for photos with any children doing this. It may seem harsh, but these children should be in school; by paying them money it encourages the parents to have them on the street rather than receiving an education.
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.
Read Next | Seven Best Day Trips from Arequipa
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. Or just put ‘San Camilo Mercado’ into Google maps.
Enjoy The Best ‘Menu del Dia’ in Arequipa
We tell everyone visiting this part of the world - whether they’re on a budget or not - to bow down and respect the almuerzo and the menu del dia.
A South American institution, this set 2 or 3-course fixed lunch menu means you don’t have to eat out at fancy restaurants for lunch or cook at the hostel - instead rock up to one of the hundreds of local restaurants serving up. It usually involves a starter of soup, then a main of rice, veg, and a protein, with a fresh juice (and sometimes small dessert) all included. With prices from 7 -12 soles being the norm, it’s also an absolute bargain!
However, our top recommendation in Arequipa is Prana (109 Calle Ugarte), a wonderfully busy restaurant on Calle Ugarte offering healthy Peruvian dishes made for vegans and vegetarians. It didn’t exist on our first visit, and we ended up eating there three times on our second trip - and the fact that so many locals come here throughout the week is testament that everyone will like the food (even the staunchest carnivores).
The price of 10 soles per person (£2.3 / $3) is an absolute bargain, and the menu changes daily.
Tip | An honourable mention must also go to the AQP Burger Company (306 Calle Sucre), which serves up mammoth burgers and chips. Very tasty and with loads of vegetarian options too - if you’re hungover or a bit bored of your hostel pasta efforts, go here.
Get lost in Arequipa’s oldest neighbourhood
Dating back to 1540, San Lazaro is the first, and oldest neighbourhood in Arequipa.
It’s also, by far, it’s most beautiful. Narrow winding streets, mansions of sillar, white walls and splashes of colour; its beauty only increased by the recently completed restoration works.
How to get there | The San Lázaro neighborhood is located one kilometer from the Plaza de Armas of the city of Arequipa between the streets of Jerusalem, Puente Grau and Avenida Juan de la Torre.
have your best curry in ages
If you're long-term readers of Along Dusty Roads, 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.
Indian food is a rare 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. Perfect if you’ve had a little bit too much of rice and beans, or need to indulge after a few days trekking.
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 it 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. On our second visit, there were also some new taco and sushi places around which looked pretty good.
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).
Very important 2019 update: we went back and Colin is still there! We bloody love it when you guys message us that you’ve also met Colin, so do say hello from us when you meet him please.
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 very busy road on your left hand side, cross this (careful, it’s pretty brutal) and you'll see the entrance for Mundo Alpaca.
Visit Monasterio de Santa Catalina (or not)
One of the biggest tourist attractions 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. It’s considered a masterpiece of colonial architecture and a photographer’s dream with its blue and red arches. Our friends told us it was a beautiful place too.
So you’d have thought that at least once during our two trips, we’d have visited, wouldn’t you?
Well, that would be a big no. Even with a slightly increased budget the second time round, we still baulked at paying 40 soles (£9 / $12) each. We know, we can hear some of you judging right now, and whilst we may well learn to regret it, it just seemed too much.
Foreign students under 21 can get a cheaper entry of 20 soles, providing you have the right ID.
How to get there | On Santa Catalina 301, it’s three blocks from Plaza de Armas and you’ll likely pass it several times as you explore Arequipa.
Opening times | Monday - Sunday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (until 7.30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesday).
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. As so many backpackers are based here for a few nights to explore the city, or recover from treks, there’s definitely a lively social scene most nights.
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 - not the best place to stay if you want a quiet night though) and then you can take your chances from there; the main night spots were all dotted on and around Calle Ugarte.
Take A Walk Across The River to Yanahuara
After two trips to Arequipa, this remains one of our favourite areas of the city.
Buildings made of white volcanic rock and streets dotted with quaint colonial churches, this middle-class residential neighbourhood is a delight to photograph, and its much calmer streets provide a little respite from the crazy traffic present in the rest of the city.
It’s also the place to visit for one of Arequipa’s best views: Mirador de Yanahuara. Panoramic vistas of the city below, and Volcan Misti in the distance; it’s particularly spectacular around golden hour, and makes a wonderful sunset spot (especially if you combine it with a beer on the terrace of El Charrua).
Should you time your visit earlier in the day, take some time to enjoy the peace of the little park that sits directly behind the mirador (Andrew had a birthday picnic here back in 2015) or enjoy one a queso helado from one of the woman-and-cart stalls that dot the parks perimeter. (Yes, that does mean cheese ice-cream, but don’t worry - it’s actually an artisanal ice cream invented in Arequipa which actually contains zero cheese. Instead, its got coconut, condensed milk, egg, vanilla and cinnamon)
Prepare for the Colca Canyon
If you want to visit one of the world’s deepest canyons on a tour or multiday trek, then all roads lead to (and start from) Arequipa.
We didn’t do this famous trek on our first trip to Peru for a variety of reasons (namely a wee bit of travel fatigue and saving money for other experiences), and so our second visit to Arequipa was all about using the city as a base for researching, preparing, and recovering from our three-day trek without a guide.
We’ve shared all the essential information to help you plan, pack, and prepare in this Colca Canyon Trek blog post, whilst this post outlines the two best ways to get from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon with public transport.
If you are not able to hike but still want to see the condors and Canyon, then we actually don’t recommend that people do a day tour (see sample itinerary) - instead you should opt for the two-day, one night tour which is around the same price and at a more relaxed pace. We have outlined further details on the important differences between Colca Canyon tours and Colca Canyon ‘trek’ tours in this post.
It’s recommended that you leave your backpacks at the free luggage storage various hostels and hotels offer in the city, and we’ve included recommendations on where to stay in Arequipa later in this post (World Backpacker’s and MB Hostel are two good options though). And remember, you’re likely going to spend one more day in Arequipa on the day you come back from your trek (getting a night bus wouldn’t be much fun straight after the long journey back from the Canyon).
Tip | Arequipa is located at 2,335 metres above sea-level, and it is essential that you appreciate the impact that high altitude can have on your health and travel plans. If you’ve arrived from Cusco or Bolivia, then there’s a good chance that you’ll have already acclimatised to the altitude - if not, then it’s important to pace yourself and let your body acclimatise to the altitude in Arequipa before starting your Colca Canyon Trek (the canyon is above 3,000 metres at various points).
If you aren’t going to do the Colca Canyon trek, but still want to get a little activity, then you can opt to spend the morning rafting down the Rio Chilli or scale one of the two volcanoes which dominate the Arequipa skyline (this brings you above 5,000 metres). For more information on these, and other things to do around the city, check out our post on the best day trips and tours from Arequipa.
Coffee, Chocolate & Craft Beer
Now we have your attention.
Relative to many other cities in Peru and South America, Arequipa really does have the sense of being a developed and relatively wealthy city (of course this is concentrated in the historical centre and it isn’t difficult to find exceptions). This means that it doesn’t really feel like a destination where you should bum about like a backpacker at the beach in your boardies and flip-flops. Instead, it’s got aspects of European city break to it - where your time can be spent hanging out, exploring at your leisure, and enjoying being somewhere new rather than struggling to navigate your way around an intimidating foreign city (Arequipa is very safe by the way).
And so, loosening your backpacker budget a little and indulging or having a lazy afternoon at some of the best cafes in Arequipa is a good idea:
Chaqchao + Arequipa Beer Club | Delicious organic hanmemade Peruvian chocolate in the chocolate shop downstairs, craft beers + cocktails, and nice hangout spaces at the Arequipa Beer Club upstairs (204 Santa Catalina)
Puku Puku | A relatively new place, its got great coffee, great Peruvian craft beers, and a great roof terrace for sunny days (124 Santa Catalina)
Huayruro Peruvian Coffee Shop | Hipster to the core, serving good coffee, good food, and providing a nice atmosphere if you’re having a planning / chill out day (Esquina con Jerusalén, Calle Puente Grau 100)
Cafe Tostaduria Kaffeehaus | A nice outdoor garden area in the sunshine, with good locally sourced coffee too.
Palacios Coffee | We weren’t able to make it here, but a follower on Instagram told us it was the place for people who really appreciate coffee. Roasted in the shop, with knowledgable staff and supporting many local growers (Av. Lima 201).
Inkari | Not specifically a recommendation for this place, but more for this quiet pretty street near Plaza de Armas which has a collection of small cafes and bars (some with nice rooftops) (Pje. de la Catedral 113).
Find a rooftop for those stunning Arequipa sunsets
Every single hostel we’ve stayed at in Arequipa (that’s four in total) has had a rooftop terrace 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 cold bottle bottle of Ariquipeña, gaze upon Volcan Misti or just watch life on the streets unfold below as the sun burns orange light across the pearl white city, and contemplate upon another successful day of sating your wanderlust here in Peru.
Where to Stay in Arequipa
If you rock up and don’t have any particular requirements or standards, then you’ll be able to find no shortage of cheap, small locally run hostels in the centre.
However, if you want a nicer hostel experience, good cooking facilities, social backpacker vibe, a nice rooftop, or secure luggage storage, then it’s recommended to do a bit of research before you arrive. Over the course two weeks in Arequipa, we have spent far too long breathlessly roaming the streets in our backpacks to find the right hostel. There are however dozens of hostels in Arequipa (some definitely better than many), and it’s essential to book ahead at the most popular ones as they often sell out.
Best Hostels in Arequipa
Here are our personal recommendations:
World Backpacker’s Hostel | Andrew spent an hour visiting nearly every hostel in the city trying to find somewhere which offered lockers as well as luggage storage. As we carry more technology than most travellers, we need these security lockers to store any valuables or camera equipment we aren’t taking on our multiday hikes. World Backpacker’s was the only hostel which did this* and ticked all the other boxes for us - and we’d highly recommend it if you’re not looking for a party hostel in Arequipa. Set in a quiet residential street an 8-minute walk from Plaza de Armas, it has large doubles and really good dorms plus free breakfast, kitchen, great wifi, and a brilliant rooftop terrace. Check availability here.
Le Foyer | On Calle Ugarte, Le Foyer is highly recommend for travellers who aren't watching every penny. The roof terrace, sunny patio, excellent breakfast, large, comfortable rooms and very secure. We can highly recommend it. Check availability or making a booking here.
MB Hostel | A popular option, which also delivered on our security locker requirement. It’s based on the main shopping street of Arequipa, so incredibly central. With its large rooftop and dorms, it’s a great shout for solo backpackers or groups - check prices 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. A very popular alternative is the nearby Flying Dog Hostel.
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
* The only other two hostels which also offered security lockers to people storing their luggage whilst away trekking the Colca Canyon were MB Backpackers (a decent, very central option) and Econunay which was cheap but a little grungy.
Airbnbs in Arequipa
We use Airbnb a lot on the road, and it’s becoming a more popular and affordable option in South America too. Click here to view all the Airbnb apartments in Arequipa, or start with these three great options we’ve found in the city:
| Bright, Light + Airy studio apartment for a solo traveller or couple, ten blocks from Plaza de Armas - check availability here.
| Stunning Historical Studio right in the historical centre of Arequipa - check availability.
| Large modern apartment four blocks from Plaza de Armas - best for a family or group. Check availability here.
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, then you can sign up via this link and receive up to £25 of your first booking.
Arequipa Travel Tips
Arequipa is safe, 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. Or opt for a private one.
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 (although they did give us the complete wrong bus times for the Colca Canyon!). There is also an excellent city map for travellers available at every hostel for orientation, which includes some of the spots we've recommended above.
There are a bunch of ATMs around the city, and many businesses accept payment by card.
Unless you’ve been travelling in the region for a good few months, it’s not recommended to drink the tap water in Arequipa. However, to save money and plastic, you should buy a travel filter water bottle for your Peru trip which means you can access safe drinking water instantly from any source. We used these bottles on our last 4.5 month trip in South America and they’re brilliant.
When not stocking up on fruit and veg at the markets, our go-to supermarket was El Súper in Plaza de Armas. It’s pretty big and has everything you’ll need for hostel meals and trekking snacks.
If you’re arriving in Arequipa and don’t have any trekking / outdoors gear, there are several shops in the city offering pretty good quality brands and kit.
You’ll see ceviche (Peru’s most famous dish) offered at lots of restaurants - just remember that this raw fish dish is obviously best eaten where you can find the freshest fish (i.e. by the sea in Lima, Paracas, or Mancora).
Bus Stations in Arequipa
There are two bus terminals in Arequipa, which are conveniently right next to each other: the Terminal Terrestre (local and regional buses) and Terrapuerto (major intercity routes i.e. to Lima and Cusco). If you arrive at the wrong one, then don’t panic as the other is a minute’s walk away. There is a ‘tasa’ at Terrapuerto of 3 soles per person, and you need to pay this at the kiosk before you board (a man will likely check and stamp).
You should only go / from the bus station to your hostel with a taxi; taxis to Plaza de Armas from the bus station are maximum 10 soles (we got it for 7 soles with an Uber when we were leaving the city). Uber does work here, but it isn’t too common yet and so you will likely have 5-10 minutes for it to arrive (and perhaps have a cancellation or two). Note that the traffic in the city becomes an absolute nightmare every day from about 4.30. p.m. to 7 p.m., so plan accordingly if you are travelling to/from the bus stations at this time.
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 - especially if you want to get a good night bus. For our guide on crossing the border to Chile from Arequipa, click here.
Where To Next?
We’ve written a lot to help travellers like us have the best adventure in Peru. If you’re done planning for Arequipa, then why not check out: