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THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN AREQUIPA, PERU

The white city of Peru, Arequipa, got its nickname due to spectacular colonial-era style buildings made from the volcanic mineral in the area. An underrated gem of a city bursting with beauty and charm, it should be on every backpacker’s list as they make their way through Peru. With tranquil cobblestone streets, fantastic local cuisine and rooftop bars, all surrounded with a backdrop of volcanoes, the city has much to offer. On top of this, this will be your starting point for adventures and trekking into Colca Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world, double the depth of the Grand Canyon.

THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN AREQUIPA

Whether it’s sticking to the city and enjoying the colonial-era style architecture or escaping out beyond its walls to explore the Colca Canyon or Misti Volcano, there’s something for every type of backpacker to do in Arequipa.

 

Here’s our list of the best things to do whilst you are there:

1. Visit Colca Canyon

Visiting the second deepest canyon in the world is top of the list for most backpackers visiting Arequipa.

 

There are several options available to visit this wonder with the most common being multi-day hikes or single day trips. Whichever you choose the experience will be unforgettable.

 

We’ve gone into more details about the different options to visit here:

 

2. Explore The Town On A Free Walking Tour

Walking tours are one of our favourite ways to explore a new city.

 

We often do these the first day we arrive as it adds context to the town, gives you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the area and helps you get your bearings. Furthermore, you often get told about the best places to eat and what else there is to do in the city.

 

We went with Inkan Milky Way who have free tours each day at 10AM and 3PM lasting around 2.5 to 3 hours. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and showed us many hidden gems around the city. I won’t ruin the surprises for you here – you will have to do it for yourself!

 

The meeting spot is – Santa Catalina Street 204, inside the Choco Museo.

3. People Watch In Plaza De Armas

You will find yourself walking through this Plaza multiple times during your time in Arequipa.

 

It’s the focal point of the city, and there’s always something going on from street shows to vendors selling the local ice cream – Queso Helado – which is a must-try!

 

Find a park bench during the day, sit back and watch all the goings-on as time and people pass you by.

 

Make sure you come back during the evening as it’s an entirely different experience. At night all the white buildings are lit up and the relaxed hustle and bustle of the day is replaced with backpackers and locals heading out to bars to enjoy the sunset and the night beyond.

4. Try Queso Helado

Queso Helado is local speciality, similar to ice cream, that can only be found in Arequipa.

 

While the name translates to cheese ice-cream, it has nothing cheesy about it. The tasty treat is made from vanilla, coconut, milk, and cinnamon, and you will find vendors selling it everywhere on the street.

 

They will give you a taste for free, and once you try it, you will be buying it. It’s more try then buy, rather than try before you buy.

5. Find a Viewpoint To Get A Great Shot Of Misti Volcano

You will be able to see the impressive Volcano Misti from almost anywhere in town, but some places are better than others.

 

You can head to the Yannahuara viewpoint in the picturesque San Lazaro neighbourhood for a great view of the mountain. The neighbourhood itself is beautiful and much quieter compared to Plaza de Armas with some excellent picantarias to eat at. From here you will get an unobstructed view of Misti, and if you head there in the evening, you can watch it be illuminated by the orange glow of sunset.

 

Or you can find a good rooftop bar, we’ve covered the best sunset spots in the city here.

6. Try Arequipeñan Cuisine

In each of Peru’s provinces, you can find a micro-culture which has its own specific cuisine and cultural practices. And like all of them, the people of Arequipa (Arequipeñans) believe theirs is the best.

 

We will let you try it first and decide, but they may be right. The food we had during our week-long stay in Arequipa was incredible, and we have a host of restaurants for you guys to try.

 

Our two favourites were:

 

7. See The Alpaca's At Mundo Alpaca

If you haven’t caught a glimpse of an alpaca up close and personal, then now’s the time.

 

Mundo Alpaca is a shop/alpaca farm where you can go to learn more about alpaca wool, how it is knitted into clothing and to see the animals themselves. Just be careful, they have a habit of spitting.

8. Go And See An Ice Mummy

A museum in Arequipa is home to the mummy of a young girl, known as Juanita, who was sacrificed to the Incan gods over 500 years ago.

 

She was found after the mountain ice where she was buried melted and exposed her remains.

 

Her well-preserved body is on permanent display at the Museo Santuarios Andinos, on Calle Alvarez Thomas, and is one of the only ice mummies on display in South America – the others being found in the Northern Argentinian city of Salta.

 

Slightly macabre but if you’re into that sort of thing, then it’s a fascinating experience.

HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN AREQUIPA

Arequipa is the starting point for visiting Colca Canyon. That’s not all it has to offer though, and this vibrant colonial-era city has more than enough to keep you entertained for a few days.

 

If you aren’t planning on visiting Colca Canyon, then you could happily spend 2 days here and see most of what the city has to offer before moving on. However, if Colca is in your plans (either visiting via day tour or doing a multi-day trek) then you will need to factor in an extra day or two.

 

Here is a simple itinerary with Colca included:

 

  • Day 1 – Arrival and city day (walking tour, ice mummy musuem and mundo alpaca)
  • Day 2-3 – Guided Colca Canyon Trek
  • Day 4 – Leave or plan in an extra city day

We’ve planned out three different itineraries (with and without Colca Canyon) so you can get a better idea of which one works for you. 

WHERE TO STAY IN AREQUIPA

The town of Arequipa is centred around the central square –  Plaza de Armas. While it’s a big city, everything you need is located in the centre, and the hostels are no more than a 10-minute walk away.

 

There are tonnes of backpacker hostels in Arequipa which all differ in their level of comfort, amenities and sociality. Here are our top three picks:

 

 

  • Wild Roverthe wild rover hostels are a chain that runs through Peru and Bolivia. Set up by an Irish backpacker years ago, they are known as the places to stay if you are looking for a party. With a swimming pool, bar and daily social events (usually involving drinking games), you stay at wild rover if you want to meet other backpackers looking for a good time. If you are looking for a quieter time, then maybe avoid staying there. We tend to book somewhere close by with a more laid-back vibe and then turn up to wild rover in the evenings – best of both worlds!

 

  • Selinathe amenities at Selina hostels are incredible. Fantastic co-working spaces for digital nomads, daily yoga classes and a tour company on site – it has a lot going for it. The one in Arequipa has a huge outside area with beanbags, swings and a swimming pool to enjoy. As always, the dorms are clean, comfortable, and the bunks are designed with travellers in mind as they have curtains, lockboxes, and plugs. This is the perfect choice for those of you who want great chill-out spaces and reliable internet.

 

  • Econunay cosy and quiet hostel that offers more than just an average backpacker experience. The rooms are bright, colourful and breakfast is included.

HOW TO GET TO AREQUIPA

The bus companies in Peru are numerous and easy to navigate. You can book your bus online or turn up on the day.

 

  • Red Bus – specifically for Peru – the app works well, and there’s no need for physical tickets
  • Bus Bud – an international company that we used a lot travelling around South America.

We were coming from Huacachina so took an overnight bus which took around 9 hours. If you are coming from Cusco, then this is also a long journey so you will need to catch an overnight bus.

 

This is the same for Cusco, with an overnight bus being your best option. Overnight buses advertised on Busbud take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours.

Where’s your next stop in Peru? If your heading north then check out our Lima guide or you could stop off at the desert oasis of Huacachina or Parcas National Reserve. 

 

If you are working your way round in the classic Peru loop, then why not stop off at Lake Titicaca to break up the journey before Cusco?