Peru’s second largest city is often quickly passed through by people on their way to the great Colca Canyon, thinking that it is just another city that does not have much to offer. While obviously the Colca Canyon is the main drawcard of this region, a day or two to check out this city is definitely recommended. The grand buildings in the old city centre dazzle white in the sun, due to being made by local volcanic rock called “sillar”. These old colonial buildings are beautiful to see, especially with the nearby volcanic mountains of El Misti and Chachani looming in the background.
Our time in Arequipa was a perfect chance to acclimatise gently before continuing on to the much higher Cusco. (Arequipa is located at 2350 metres above sea level). I am so glad we spent 2 days here before doing a tour through the Colca Canyon, and then onto Cusco, and the Inca Trail. It was a great chance to slowly get used to the higher altitude and thinner air. Our hotel was located right on the main plaza, and we would often sit on the balcony overlooking the plaza de armas and watching the local people go about their daily lives. We were most fortunate to witness a big street festival in the square as well, it was great watching the colorful costumes and families out enjoying themselves.
We also got to check out some of the main points of interest in Arequipa as well. Of course, from the main square, we got to see the beautiful Cathedral. Its not hard to miss! Nearby is also the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which I have posted about before on this blog. Another really interesting place to visit is the Museo Santury. This museum is famous for housing the rather creepy looking mummified young girl “Juanita”. She was a young Incan girl found frozen on top of the Nevado Ampato, a sacrifice to the Incan gods 500 years ago. While quite freaky, it is amazing to see this young girl of around 12 preserved in the state that she died. The museum also houses some other ‘ice maidens’ that were found and also various Incan artifacts found around the area. A really interesting if not somewhat morbid experience!
As mentioned, Arequipa is a great base to further explore the region. There are numerous agencies that will take you on tours to climb the 5822 metre El Misti. Tours also go further afield, to explore the small towns and settlements of the Colca Canyon, and to see the famous condors of the canyon. I would definitely recommend a day or twp to explore Arequipa before going further afield, you wont regret it!