This often-overlooked travel destination is equally attractive to those who are searching for a quiet, peaceful South American experience, and those adrenaline-junkies who seek adventure travel.
As Peru’s second largest city, Arequipa is accessible by air from Lima for $45-$95 round trip on LAN airlines, but unless you are a documented resident of Peru, you’ll pay an extra charge per ticket of $177. For budget travelers without Peruvian residency, Cruz del Sur buses are available from Lima (16 hours) or Cuzco (10 hours). Prices are $23-$57 (from Lima) and $15-$48 (from Cuzco), for a one-way trip. I highly recommend paying for the first-class seats.
Within a short walk from the main plaza, a number of lodging options are available, and it’s one of the few places where tourist prices are actually cheaper, since non-Peruvians are exempt from the 18% lodging tax. Casa Andina (Private Collection) is on the higher end at $152-$189/night, but for those backpackers who travel on a shoestring, there are several hostels in the area, for as little as $5-$10 (Reservations are not required for backpacking hostels). My family and I decided on Las Torres de Ugarte, which offers clean rooms with private baths, hot water, and a full breakfast, coming in at $83 for four people. Staff are courteous, and will happily call a cab or recommend food and entertainment options. As an added bonus, a giant tortoise lives in the interior courtyard, but be careful, he bites!
For the tranquil traveler, a walk around Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas can be relaxing. The beautiful main cathedral overlooks the plaza, which is surrounded by tour services, restaurants, and shopping. The 400-year old Monastery of Santa Catalina is nearby (admission: $8) and a half dozen beautiful churches, most still in use, are nearby.
For those more interested in adventure, the local guide services offer white-water rafting excursions, hiking, and for the incredibly bold, two-day guided hikes to the top of El Misti, the active volcano that towers above Arequipa at just over 19,000 feet above sea level. My family and I gave it a valiant attempt, but cold weather and too few hours in the gym left us about 3,000 feet short of the summit.
Food in Arequipa, like throughout Peru, has a regional flavor, often a mixture of international fare, like the crepes at Crepisimo. Vegetarians are accommodated (perhaps tolerated), but platters with five or six meat dishes are common to share in most places. Travelers can expect to pay about $10 for a very nice meal with full service and cloth napkins, but street food is considerably cheaper for the more adventurous.
A few hours away from Arequipa by bus lies the famous Colca Canyon, which offers breathtaking views of a gorge more than a mile deeper than the Grand Canyon, and covered with lush greenery and ancient pre-Inca terraces. If you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the Andean Condor, the largest flighted bird in the world. Guided day-trips are available by tour bus, but staying in one of the towns nearby is worth it if you have the time. The cost of a one-way bus ticket is about $4, but I recommend lodging arrangements in advance, or daylight arrival, unless you are fluent in Spanish or carrying your own tent!
Travelers should certainly prepare for all types of weather, especially during the rainy season, where a light jacket day can quickly turn into shorts and flip-flops, followed by torrential downpours.
Arequipa, while a tourist destination, lacks the tourist feel of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, while bringing out the true flavor and personality of Peru’s mountain culture.
Lima City Tour by Bus
Temple of the Sun Tour
La Rosa Nautica