Arequipa, home to three volcanoes and beautiful sillar rock architecture, the White City, is the second largest city in Peru and there are so many beautiful things to see and do. Located in the Southern Coastal region of Peru, Arequipa is different to the rest of Peru's tourist attractions in that there are no Incan ruins found here. Instead, it is a city that boasts impressive Spanish and colonial influence architecture, churches, monasteries and squares. Arequipa is also known for its food in the region, and UNESCO declared it a Human Heritage site. It gets it nickname "The White City" from the white sillar rock many of the buildings are constructed from. This white rock comes directly from the three volcanoes that are the magnificent backdrop to this beautiful city. As you will discover, I fell in love with Arequipa, Peru, it's building, and its food! You need to explore all the things to see and do in Arequipa.
Arequipa is without a doubt one of my favorite cities in Peru. Call me a romantic, but there is something truly beautiful about the white sillar rock architecture, and the delicious food. You walk through the streets and breathe in antiquity. I also had two of the most delicious meals that I had in Peru here. I spent a short 36 hours in the city with my tour group, Contiki, on the Inca Panorama tour. Here's a quick guide to some of the awesome things you can see, do and eat in the beautiful city of Arequipa.
Things to see in Arequipa
Yanahuara's Church - San Juan Bautista
Yanahuara is a suburb of Arequipa and is well known for its beautiful white sillar rock buildings. In keeping with the city's colonial and Spanish influence, the San Juan Bautista Church is well worth the visit to the district. It dates from 1750 and boasts incredibly detailed architecture around the front doors of the building, and it is really beautiful set in the volcanic white rock. The carvings include human figures, llamas, and other expressions related to life in Arequipa. It is a small church but this entire area where the church is located is worth visiting. The little square is home to the Mirador de Yanahuara and the El Tio Dario restaurant listed below.
Mirador de Yanahuara
Located next to the church is the Mirador de Yanahuarra. This is a gorgeous look out point to view the city of Arequipa and it's surrounding volcanoes. I'm pretty much obsessed with the white volcanic sillar rock, in case you couldn't tell. Many of the structures built here have phrases carved into them, and the arches themselves are made of ashlar, dating from the nineteenth century. The phrases are from various famous people of Arequipa. This is the perfect photo spot. You can see all three volcanoes from here and the arches are gorgeous.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas is the main square in the historic district of Arequipa. Like most squares in South America, this one was really busy and hustling and bustling on the Sunday afternoon. It seems the these squares are an important part of life in South American cities, as many families and friends flock to them to socialize on the weekends. Surrounding the square on three sides are many shops and restaurants, and particularly worth mentioning is the chocolate shop. Arequipa is also well known for its chocolate and I can promise you I haven't ever tasted better than the chocolate here! It is well worth your time to explore the square and its shops. The fourth side of the square hosts the Cathedral.
The Cathedral of Arequipa
The Cathedral is located on the north side of the Plaza de Armas. It is a twin-towered cathedral which has been largely rebuilt over the centuries, as a result of the earthquakes in the region. Building commenced in 1540, but was only really completed in 1656. Again, earthquakes and fires led to its rebuilding over and over. It is an impressive building overlooking the main square. I didn't get a chance to go inside, but I am sure it is well worth the visit.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina was one of my favorite things I did in Arequipa. The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a monastery of nuns located in the historic district of Arequipa. It was built in 1579 and founded by a rich widow, María de Guzmán. She also became the first resident of the monastery. Her fortune became the monastery's and soon a number of young women entered the monastery. Soon, as the history goes, a number of women with great wealth and standing entered the monastery, bringing their servants and household goods with them. The monastery continued in this way for a number of years, with the women enjoying their luxuries but outwardly projecting a life of servitude to God and living a life of poverty. Soon Pope Pius XI got wind of this, and sent a Sister to investigate. The rich dowries were sent back to Europe and the servants freed, the nuns were giving the option to leave the monastery or continue as a nun in the true sense of the word. Throughout the remainder of the years, the monastery continued in this fashion, while the rest of Arequipa modernized. It was only until 1970 that the city required the monastery to install electricity and a water system. The monastery had no way to pay for these systems, and so the decision was made to open the monastery to the public. For the first time in centuries, the public could visit the monastery, with the current residents moving to a smaller, private and off-limits section of the monastery.
What I loved about this place was not only it's rich and intriguing history, but its beautifully painted walls and architecture. Like the rest of the city the monastery is also built from sillar rock, and has been rebuilt a number of times as a result of the earthquakes. Many of the walls are painted in beautiful shades of blues and reds. The halls, passages and squares are quiet and reflective, and there is a wonderful sense of peace and meditation within the walls of the Monastery. Definitely a must-see in Arequipa.
Other places to visit in Arequipa
Museo Santuarios Andinos (Andean Sanctuaries Museum): to see the Inca girl Juanita (discovered at the foot of a mountain, the girl has been preserved in ice for more than 500 years)
Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus: another beautiful church just off the Plaza de Armas, another example of sillar rock architecture and beautiful carvings
Where to eat in Arequipa
El Tio Dario
El Tio Dario is located a short walk from the Templo de Yanahuara and the Yanahuara walk way (see above). It has a beautiful setting, and we enjoyed our lunch outside under the wooden palisades. The menu boats an impressive variety of seafood dishes, and I ordered the Rocotto de Pellano. It was exquisite. The ambience and food here is perfect, and is definitely worth the trip!
Zig Zag Restaurant
You know you are eating some of Arequipa's finest food when they boast the number two best restaurant in Arequipa on Trip Advisor. It definitely deserves its position here! The restaurant is located opposite the Plaza de San Francisco. It's menu encompasses both European influences and Peruvian cuisine, including fondue - the chef is Swiss. Here you can order Alpaca which is served on a sizzling volcanic rock plate, and you are given a giant bib to wear for protection. The food here is absolutely stunning, and we enjoyed an excellent evening in the upstairs section of the restaurant. The ambience itself is gorgeous, and we had a wonderful time. If you want to get an idea of other meals you should eat in Peru, I have a whole section on what I ate in Peru (so much!), and what you need to eat at least once while you are in Peru.
Day Trips or Things to see "Near" Arequipa
Surrounding Arequipa are numerous other things to do. Some of them require a day trip, and others are better to see on your way out of Arequipa to your next destination. The particular trip I was on drove us out of Arequipa through the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation, to the Mirador de Los Andes. We stopped over night in the town of Chivay, and then continued to Colca Canyon the following morning. You can also visit the three volcanoes located near Arequipa and trek to them. This is a popular itinerary in Arequipa. For my full itenaray in Peru, have a look at my Contiki Review of the Inca Panorama tour, as I traveled with them across Peru and to Machu Picchu.
Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation
Mirador de Los Andes
What would you be most interested in seeing in Arequipa? Have you been here before? Tell me about your experience in the comments below! What's your favorite thing to do when traveling to a new country or city?