Is Arequipa Worth Visiting?
Arequipa is well worth visiting during your time in Peru. Here’s why:
- Firstly, it’s a beautiful city that’s a joy to explore and full of activities.
- Secondly, it’s surrounded by volcanoes and mountains and you will experience some of the best sunsets in South America here.
- Finally, the biggest reason to visit Arequipa is that it’s the starting point for treks into Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world.
Those are three big reasons why Arequipa is 100% worth a visit but there’s plenty more! Keep reading for 9 more:
1. Trekking Colca Canyon
Arequipa is the starting point for hiking adventures into Colca Canyon – the second deepest canyon in the world.
The canyon reaches a depth of 3,400m at its lowest point – almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!
The popular 2-day guided trek takes you firstly to Mirador Cruz Del Condor – the viewing platform at the edge of the canyon – where you will get incredible views and truly appreciate the vastness of this natural wonder. You may even see a Condor gliding effortlessly by!
Then you’ll start your descent into the canyon. It’s tough on the knees but it really is an incredible experience. Once you reach the bottom at the end of the first day, you’ll be treated to a beautiful oasis and a hostel with a swimming pool.
Here backpackers can relax and cool down in the pool, but the best part comes when the sun goes down. The canyon will become pitch black, and you’ll have one of the best views of the night sky in the world.
Then on the second day, you trek back up and out with a few stops on the way for food and other sights before returning to Arequipa.
Multi-day guided treks are the most popular option to visit the canyon but if you don’t have the best hiking legs or suffer from altitude sickness, then there are alternative options such as single day tours. Whichever you choose the experience will be unforgettable.
2. Explore The Town On A Free Walking Tour
Arequipa is an underrated gem of a city bursting with beauty and charm. I feel that it should be on every backpacker’s list as they make their way through Peru.
With tranquil cobblestone streets, fantastic local cuisine, great rooftop bars, all surrounded with a backdrop of volcanoes, the city has so much to offer.
Arequipa is also known as the white city of Peru. When you arrive it’s obvious how it got its nickname. Almost all the buildings are made from the white volcanic mineral in the area making the city seem to shine.
Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to explore a new city and Arequipa is no exception. I try to do these on the first day I arrive as it gives me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the area and helps me to get my bearings. Furthermore, you often get let in on some of the local secrets about what else there is to do in the city.
The best walking tour in Arequipa is Inkan Milky Way who have free tours each day at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM lasting around 2-3 hours. My guide was incredibly knowledgeable and showed me many hidden gems around the city. I won’t ruin the surprises for you here – you will have to do it for yourself!
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.
Given the long list of activities, no doubt you’ve noticed Arequipa is one of my favourite cities in South America. There’s culture, unique food, scenic backdrops, and a great backpacker vibe.
It has all the benefits of a big city without the enormous amount of people usually found in them.
4. Watch The Sunset From A Rooftop Bar
Some places in the world just do sunsets better – one of those is Arequipa.
I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the backdrop of the beautiful mountain ranges and volcanoes, or maybe it’s the gorgeous white buildings and cobbled streets that are set alight as the sun goes sinks beyond the horizon.
Either way, it’s one of my favourite places to watch a sunset, and there are several places to choose from.
I would recommend Waya Lookout Bar as it’s not as busy as the other rooftop bars in town, you get a fantastic view of the square, and you can walk along the rooftop to take pictures from many different angles.
However, there are lots of places to choose from and some hotels also have fantastic rooftops where you can enjoy breakfast.
For more recommendations on the best rooftop bars and sunset viewpoints in Arequipa, head to the post below:
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‘ or ‘frozen cheese’, there’s 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, there’s no doubt you will buy more.
Arequipa is a foodie hub in Peru, and one of the best places to try some of Peru’s best dishes. For recommendations on the best places to eat in Arequipa, head to the post below:
6. 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 mountains.
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 with the orange glow of the sunset.
The Carmen Alto viewpoint is a little bit further from the San Lazaro district – around a 45-minute walk outside of the town.
You are well and truly outside of the city at this point and will only have countryside and small villages inside the valley between you and Misti. The viewpoint requires a fee to enter and closes at 5:00 PM, so it isn’t the best ‘sunset spot’, but you can get just as good views from the area without having to go in.
A visit to Arequipa is one of the many great reasons to plan a backpacking trip to Peru. For more reasons to inspire you, head to the post below:
7. 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 (referred to as Arequipeñans) believe theirs is the best.
The food I had during my week-long stay in Arequipa was incredible, and I have a host of restaurants recommendations for you guys to try.
My top picks include La Nueva Palomino which is set in the beautiful San Lazaro neighbourhood. Lunch or an early dinner at La Nueva Palomino pairs perfectly with a walk around the area and a stop at the Yannahuara viewpoint for incredible views of Volcano Misti.
My second favourite is Victoria Picanteria. This place is set inside one of the many beautiful courtyards and houses you can find in the city.
Victoria has lots of character and provides a comfortable atmosphere for dining. Open from 12:00 PM-10:30 PM, it’s the only picantería open late and great for a dinner option.
They have a small menu, focussing more on meat dishes such as alpaca and rack of lamb, which are all delicious, along with traditional favourites such as quinoa and purple corn.
8. Go And See An Ice Mummy
Arequipa has many great museums but there’s one in particular that is unique and a little strange.
Museo Santuarios Andinos is home to the mummy of a young girl, known as Juanita, who was sacrificed to the Incan gods over 500 years ago.
After the mountain ice melted, her exposed remains were found and her well-preserved body is now on permanent display at the museum. This is one of the only ice mummies on display in South America – the other 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.
Where to next after Arequipa? If you are looking to do an extended South America tour and include more countries then be sure to check out these expertly crafted itineraries below:
9. 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 and alpaca farm where you can go to learn more about alpaca wool and see how it is knitted into clothing. This is the place to go if you want to buy yourself a souvenir from Peru and to ensure you are buying authentic items.
Then out the back, you can go and meet some Alpacas yourself. Just be careful, they have a habit of spitting!
10. Party At One Of The Many Great Backpacker Hostels
Whilst Arequipa may not be the most well-known city amongst backpackers around the world, it is slowly starting to establish itself on the backpacker trail in Peru.
All the great backpacker chains have started setting up hostels there and you now have two great places to stay to suit every backpacker: Wild Rover and Selina
The 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, indoor bar, and daily social events (usually involving drinking games), stay at wild rover if you want to meet other backpackers looking for a good time.
August 2022 Update: Wild Rover Arequipa is temporarily closed, possible due to the downturn in travellers due to the covid pandemic. But knowing the popularity of these hostels, it will be open again soon once world travel picks up again.
Selina caters more towards digital nomads but any backpacker can stay here and they are usually the cleanest and most comfortable hostels.
The Arequipa hostel has fantastic co-working spaces for digital nomads, daily yoga classes and a tour company on site. My favourite part of this hostel is the 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.
Wild Rover and Selina hostels always make it into my top hostel lists for South America. If you want to see more of the best hostels South America has to offer, head to the post below:
11. Climb Volcan Misti
Colca Canyon is an accessible trek that most backpackers with a normal level of fitness can attempt. However, Arequipa is surrounded by several mountains and volcanoes that are also perfect for some more advanced hiking.
Misti Volcano is the most popular and well know. Sitting just outside the city, the symmetrical cone provides the epic backdrop and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city.
At 5825m it is perfect for intermediate or experienced hikers.
You’ll begin at 3:00 AM and take 4×4 jeeps out into the countryside to reach the base of the mountain. From there you begin your ascent to base camp at 4600m.
The next day you’ll make the final ascent to the peak at 5,822 meters above sea level, and you’ll be treated to sweeping 360 views of Arequipa and all the other mountains and volcanoes in the region.
If you are looking to book, then some companies to check out include Peru Adventure Tours ($150 per person) or Colca Trek Adventure Tours.
If you already love hiking or you’re a beginner that simply wants to experience more of it, Peru is one of the best places. Each town or city has several great hikes that are accessible to beginners or experienced hikers.
For more great hikes in Peru that you should definitely check out, head to the posts below:
12. Enjoy Peruvian Coffee At One Of The Many Great Cafes
The 19th-century buildings and courtyards of Arequipa have been repurposed over the years with artisan cafes and coffee shops.
I spent two weeks in the city on a two-week Spanish course and made many of these cafes my homes in the afternoon whilst working.
The laid-back atmosphere of the city and the beautiful architecture are best enjoyed from one of these spots whilst enjoying a freshly brewed coffee made from locally grown beans.
My favourite place is La Despensa. They have freshly made bread every morning, quality coffee and a great menu with lots of breakfast and brunch options or bigger meals for lunch. This was my go-to work café for my two weeks in Arequipa.
Gud Café is another great spot with lots of healthy options for breakfast and lunch. They have a choice of two breakfasts on the set menu, with muesli/fruit or eggs/bread, which are both substantial and filling. Grab a spot next to the window so you can watch people walk by in the beautiful streets.
Or if you are looking for more of a treat then try Crepisimo Creperie.
This is the best breakfast spot in Arequipa with an extensive menu covering your standard American breakfasts to sweet and savoury crepes with every kind of filling. With two floors, there’s lots of space, and again, the big open windows are the perfect spots to sit by, and people watch.
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 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 in Arequipa 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 3 days minimum.
Here is a simple Arequipa itinerary with a visit Colca Canyon included:
- Day 1 – Day exploring the city
- Day 2-3 – Guided Colca Canyon trek
- Day 4 – Final city day
To work out how many days you might need, check out the three perfectly curated Arequipa itineraries in the post below:
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.
Travelling other countries in South America apart from Peru? See how you can cross the border into Bolivia from Cusco to turn your journey into an extended multi-country South America backpacking trip:
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?