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Arequipa is known as the “White City” as many of the buildings where built using white petrified volcanic rock. The city is bursting with charm. Little cobbled streets and beautifully preserved facades on the old white buildings. Huge cool courtyards will lure you in and in you should go, to take a peek. You’ll find banks and curios and fabulous restaurants all hiding within the thick walls.
Surrounding Arequipa are three volcanoes, the most famous of all is Misti Volcano which interestingly is the source of the Amazon River. Arequipa weather is pretty constant year round with sunny days and warm days. It’s a strange thing to be so hot, yet look up to see snow on the caps of the volcanoes.
The city of Arequipa is bursting with incredible things to do, sights to see and food to taste. We fell in love with this enchanting city!
WHAT WE DID IN AREQUIPA
If you want to learn about Alpacas, Llamas and Vicunas, then this is a great stop. And it’s free!!
On arrival, we were greeted with a huge smile and offered a free tour, which we gladly accepted. We got to feed some llamas and alpacas and did the obligatory up-close photo. Apparently, they spit when they are hungry, so we made sure to feed them before getting too close!
There are four different types of camel in South America. They are Vicunas, Guanaco, Llama and Alpacas. Vicunas and Guanaco are wild and are protected by the government, so their wool is incredibly expensive. We were told that one scarf would cost $1800! The Llamas are used as pack animals for transporting goods, while the Alpacas are farmed for their wool and their meat.
During the tour we were shown how the wool was treated and dyed and finally woven. A local tribes woman was busy weaving cloth by hand. She was part of a cultural program whereby the women took turns coming to Mundu Alpaca for a moth at a time to show their weaving skills. We were told it will take 8 hours a day, every day for a month, just to complete 2 metres of the cloth. Quite a remarkable feat in our age of instant gratification.
The shop at Mundu Alpaca had some beautiful garments in the softest alpaca wool. Jerseys, scarves, hats, gloves and ponchos.
PLAZA DE ARMAS
In the very heart of the city stands the Plaza de Armas. A tranquil garden and fountain surrounded by colonial style buildings and the majestic Cathedral of Arequipa. The cathedral was first built in 1540 when the city of Arequipa was originally founded. The cathedral has since been damaged and at times destroyed by nine earthquakes, a volcanic eruption and a fire. Each time it has been rebuilt until it stands today in all its white volcanic glory.
The best views of the sunset are from the second story restaurants ringing the square. These are super popular at sunset so its recommended that you book a table in advance. They are also a little pricier but its worth it for the spectacular view of the cathedral with the Misti Volcano in the background.
One of the best views of the Misti volcano can be seen through the arches at the Yanahuara Plaza. Sitting high up on a hill, it also offers a panoramic view over the whole city. You’ll have to be patient though as the Instagrammers tend to take their time trying to get the best pose under the arches.
MERCADO SAN CAMILO
The market was a hive of activity when we visited. It was lunchtime which meant the restaurant touts were in full force, shoving menus under our noses and trying to direct us to stools around small stall counters. Roast belly pork with potatoes and salad, stir fried beef strips and chips, fried chicken and more.
The Northern wall was home to the fruit juice vendors, where fruit of every colour, size and shape had been artfully arranged to create eye-catching designs. Peru is known for its corn and it comes in a variety of sizes and colours, including purple corn!
Tai felt the need to cover his nose in the meat and fish section, but then he likes being dramatic! He nearly tried some dog kebble until he realized at the last minute what all the tasting bowls really were. There was linen and clothing, Tupperware and spices, shoes and electronics. Whatever you need, you could probably find here.
One of the strangest things I’ve ever seen are dolls heads baked in bread! Apparently these are given at baby-showers but I think they look positively freaky!
WANDERED THE STREETS
We covered a lot of ground during our time in Arequipa and by the end we were getting around without Google Maps. Not having to constantly have your phone out is a luxury we are not often afforded while traveling as we do. The architecture in Arequipa is marvelous and we loved looking at the old houses, the white ones, the old ones and the colourful ones. Here are a few of our favourites.
COLCA CANYON TREK
The Colca Canyon is almost 3 hour drive away from Arequipa, but for some reason the place to do it from is Areqipa. You could do a 2 day or a 3 day trek. On the advice of others we decided to go for the 3 day, as it was almost the same distance as the 2 day, but we could do it at a more relaxed pace.
We were collected from our hostel at 3am in the morning! The guide told us to go back to sleep and handed us blankets to keep us warm when we went over the 4500m high pass. Our first stop was at the Condor Lookout site, but it was a bit chilly and there weren’t many thermals for the Condors to fly on, so we only saw one lowly Condor. Another stretch in the bus and then it was time to start the hike.
Day one was all downhill. Down, down, down we zigzagged from the top of the canyon to the river at the very bottom. The changes in altitude were big so we all got very busy munching on cocoa leaves, which really did help take the headache away.
We had a great guide who taught us so much about the area, the local people and their traditions. It was fascinating. We also had a fabulous group of people in the group – Dutch, French, Australian, American, German and us. Its amazing how quickly you can bond with people in situations like this.
Day two started straight up, up, up and I thought my heart was going to pop out of my chest! Then it flattened out with a little up and down and then back down to river and the oasis where we would be spending the night. We couldn’t wait to jump in the glimmering swimming pool to clean all the dust off, but oh my word it was cold!
Our accommodation both nights was basic but fine and the food was hearty home cooking. We always got soup to start and then rice or pasta. I don’t have the hugest appetite but after all the exercise I could have eaten much more. The poor guys really struggled.
The night before the third day, I barely slept. I was beside myself with worry about making the big trek up out of the canyon. The tour touts had sold this as an easy hike. Trust me, it is the furthest thing from easy! On day three, the hike started at 5am and entailed a climb of 1100m in under 3 hours! The path was rocky in sections, while other sections had huge boulders to step up. You could hire a mule to carry you to the top, but I came to hike, so that’s what I was going to do!
It was tough! Boy it was tough! But everyone took it at their own pace, offering encouragement, water, coco leaves and walking sticks. I was nearly three-quarters of the way up when a delightful man from Warsaw in Poland, handed me one of his walking poles. A pole from a Pole – lol! It was a complete lifesaver to be able to use my upper body to climb the huge steps.
And we I made it!!! We made it! Actually, Tai was incredible. He decided to follow in our guides steps and that meant taking shortcuts, which essentially were just much much steeper paths, straight up the side of the mountain. He was like a mountain goat flying up the mountain!
At the top of the dry, dusty canyon where terraces of green rice paddies and the town of Cabanaconde where we were to have our much deserved breakfast.
Next stop – hot springs – to soak our very weary muscles! These were natural hot springs alongside a river. There were about 6 pools to choose from, all with varying degrees of warmth. The last 2 were so hot that you couldn’t even put your toes in! I could have lolled in the water for hours but we only had an hour before being herded back into the bus.
A delicious banquet buffet lunch was waiting for us in the town of Chivay. There must have been nearly 250 people – all tour groups who probably weren’t fed enough either on their hikes, as people were piling their plates like they hadn’t seen food in a while! We ate ourselves silly and the food was delicious.
The last stop was at the top of the highest road in Peru – 4800m. This is usually the best viewpoint for Volcano Misti, but we were unlucky and cloud covered the famous Volcano.
It was an incredible three days, full of sweat, coco leaves, laughter, newfound friends, incredible nature, stunning sights and sore legs. I’d do it all over again tomorrow!
THE UNIVERSALITY OF UNO
The game UNO must be one of the wonders of the world. No matter what country, what the language or what the age – all kids can play. Tai has played UNO in Serbia, Bosnia, Morocco, Thailand and now it was Peru’s turn. There were 2 kids at the hostel. Despite the Spanish / English language barrier, Tai had had a ball with these kids for the few days we’d been at the hostel. He taught them to play Uno and the happy shrieks were a delight to hear.
We were pretty stationery this week, staying in the driveway at the hostel. I love the living space in Thor. It’s the perfect size and everything works, which is such a nice change from our old campervan Miles.
THINGS I’VE LEARNT
- Just because it’s called a highway doesn’t mean there is an existing road. The Pan American highway from Lima to Paracas is almost non-existent with potholes and gravel for vast stretches. From Ica to Arequipa the road was definitely better.
- Rice paddies can be found in the middle of the desert!
- We have an infestation of ticks in the van. Not sure where they’ve come from? I’ve googled “how long can ticks survive without a host” but am not getting any answers.
- In Peru, if a house is not completed then you don’t have to pay tax. This means that 99% of the houses are unfinished. It’s a pity as it makes everything look untidy.
- You cannot buy large band aid plasters in Peru. They only sell the small little strip ones. Go figure!
- Cheese costs a fortune!
WHERE WE STAYED IN AREQUIPA
Lion AQP Hostel – On arrival it looked dusty and tired with shady characters, but as with lots of things in life, first impressions can be deceiving. We ended loving the people here. The managers bent over backwards to help and make our stay as pleasant as possible.
There is a driveway behind locked gates and we parked Thor here. There is space for about 4-5 cars. It costs 10 Soles for the van and 5 soles per person to use the hot showers, kitchen and bathrooms. The communal area is chilled and a nice place to hang.
We were based in Arequipa for most of the week, but did do the trip to Colca Canyon.
I will be providing our basic travel costs per week, so that you get an indication of what a trip like this entails. Bear in mind that we are budget travelers, so your budget could vary depending on your lifestyle choices. For example, we always opt for the cheapest and often, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and only require very basic accommodation.
For us, the experiences are where it is all at, so we’d rather spend money on activities.
The costs below are for the full 7 days that we stayed in Arequipa.
The costs below are shown in Peruvian Sol. R4.50 = S/1 or USD $1 = S/3.40
- Fuel = S/ 0
- Parking = S/0
- AQP Lion Hostel = parking in driveway x 7 nights = S/150
- Colca Canyon = S/ 300
- Entrance to Colca Canyon Reserve = S/140
- Hot Spings = S/40
- Restaurant = S/633
- Supermarket = S/90.25
- Coffee = S/
Van supplies and living
- Laundry = S/54
- SOAT Vehicle Insurance for Peru = S/28
- MERCOSUR Vehicle Insurance (LATAM Countries) = USD $515
TOTAL = S/ 1435.25 ($424) + $515 (insurance)
WHERE TO NEXT
Goodbye Peru…. Hello Chile! For our next adventure, we’re heading across the border.
The idea was to go just across the border to Arica and then head North to Bolivia. From there we would follow the Bolivia-Chile border down through the Uyuni Salt Flats and then back into Chile at San Pedro de Atacama, thereby missing the boring desert of Northern Chile. Alas, the political situation in Bolivia has taken a very bad turn for the worse and all the borders are closed for the moment. We will have to try our luck with Bolivia when we circle back up this way in a few months time.