Have you ever traveled to one of those rare gems of a city that seems to have it all? You know, stunning landscapes, regal architecture, flavorful food, perfect weather and plenty of interesting sites and attractions, all packed into one metropolitan area?
Arequipa, Peru is without a doubt one of the best examples of such a city.
There are so many words that come to mind when I try to decide how to describe Arequipa: historic, majestic, beautiful, remarkable, captivating, one-of-a-kind…yet no word alone can truly do this city justice.
Of all the cities I’ve seen in the world, The White City stands out as one of the most interesting and memorable of them all.
Unlike Cusco, there are no ancient Inca ruins to be found in this city, and if you’ve grown used to the colorful, traditional, melting-pot culture of Cusco, you may feel as if you’ve stepped into a new country when you arrive in Arequipa.
The White City is located in southern Peru, between the Andes and the coastline. It sits nestled between a series of volcanic mountains, including the massive Misti, Pikchu Pikchu and Chachani mountains, which form the dramatic backdrop for the city’s skyline.
The flight from Cusco to Arequipa is short–just one hour, nonstop–and around $300 round-trip.
Equally as striking as Arequipa’s landscapes is the city itself.
The White City earned its name for a good reason: many of the city’s colonial buildings were crafted from smooth, white sillar stone, giving much of the city a uniformly pearly appearance.
The strong Spanish colonial influence is unmistakable. Huge Catholic churches, regal courtyards, cobblestone streets, pretty fountains and flowering gardens are the norm.
Arequipa is an extremely walk-able city, and some of my favorite memories of my time here include casually exploring, slowly uncovering the city’s countless hidden gems and gorgeous views.
This city demands your patience and full attention; it is not to be rushed, and it is not to be skipped over.
No matter what your intentions may be when you arrive, Arequipa is a city that will lure you in with its charisma, and command you to stay a while and discover its charms slowly and thoroughly.
The Plaza de Armas is the main square of the city, and the heart of Arequipa. It’s one of the “must-sees” of the city, and it’s essentially impossible to miss.
The opalescent sillar stone of the plaza is seriously gorgeous at every hour: stately and historic by day, and absolutely magical at night.
If you’re seeking to add a bit of European charm to your Peruvian adventures, the Plaza de Armas is certainly the place to do it. It’s vibrant and lively, and when the sun sinks low in the evening sky and hits that white rock, the stone itself seems to come alive with new colors and energy.
Oh, and have I mentioned the weather?! Arequipa gets around 300 days of sunshine a year (Google it) and is typically between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit all. year. round.
It’s also got very low levels of humidity (it’s not just me that craves dry air, right? Maybe I’m just REALLY over this damn 90% relative humidity in Houston…) as well as breezy mountain air.
Am I alone in the fact that climate and weather play a big role in my attitude towards a place? If a place has great weather, it’s almost impossible for me not to fall in love with it…and what I’m trying to say here is that Arequipa has *phenomenal* weather.
…Okay, my weather freak-out is done. I think I’ve made my point.
It’s also worth noting that Arequipa is home to some of THE most perfect sunsets I have ever been fortunate enough to witness.
Be it the latitude, the atmosphere, the elevation, or some other mystical element of the city (Witchcraft? Dragon’s fire? Seriously, I need to know) but whatever it is, when evening time rolls around, Arequipa’s sky turns into perfect, fiery poetry.
Of course, there’s plenty more to do in Arequipa than standing around in flawless weather & watching picture-perfect sunsets in a charming, cultural, colonial square (though really, doesn’t this sound like all you need?!)
Things to do and see in Arequipa:
Spanish Catholic Monasteries
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is easily the biggest attraction in Arequipa. It’s essentially its own little city, complete with the cutest alleys and streets, colorfully painted walls, gorgeous courtyards and fresh flowers along every turn.
It’s near the main plaza, and worth spending a few hours looking around and soaking in the Spanish colonial vibes. We used a guide during our visit which I highly recommend (it’s easy to get turned around, and you don’t want to miss anything!) but it’s do-able on your own as well.
Peru has some of my favorite markets in the world, and Arequipa’s biggest market ranks right up there with the best. In the San Camilo market, you can shop for fresh fruits and vegetables, juices, flowers, and other fun things.
Have you ever heard of the Inca Ice Maiden? The “Juanita Mummy”, as she is also known, was a young female who was sacrificed to the Inca gods sometime around 1450, and whose very well-preserved body was discovered in 1995.
I remember this being a really, really interesting display when I visited Arequipa. If you’re beginning to get bored with touring colonial churches and cathedrals all day (to which I say, what is wrong with you?!) then this could be the perfect break.
It will transport you right back to 15th century Peru (the museum signs will even tell you that she had a vegetable-based meal several hours before her death–she’s that well preserved!), and make you really, really glad that you weren’t an 11 year old girl born into Cusco nobility in the 1400s.
Have you ever been to Arequipa? Would you like to go?