Updated February 3rd, 2020.
Small whitewashed buildings lie under the ominous snow-capped volcano of El Misti, welcome to Arequipa, one of Peru’s most beautiful and sophisticated cities. (Arequipa is nicknamed the ‘White City’.)
With a city centre built of volcanic rock, Arequipa is not only one of Peru’s most stunning cities it is also it’s second largest, after Lima of course.
Peruvians call it a small city, even a little town, but with more than one million inhabitants, three volcanoes watching over her and two of the deepest canyons of the world this place is anything but a blip on the map…
For adventure-seekers, Arequipa is conveniently located right next to the Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon, and is home to some spectacular scenery and awesome trekking opportunities.
Most backpackers spend a couple of nights in the city using it as a jumping off place for organised treks and homestays into the valley. The city itself is a place to enjoy fine food, sip a café in the plaza while you watch the world go by, and simply wander through its labyrinth-like streets. This is a city for dreamers, romantics, and for any backpacker who is looking to slow down for a day or two and simply enjoy life’s finer things.
Lifestyle and Climate Arequipa
With a pleasant year-round climate, Arequipa is eternally sunny and warm, palm trees lining its grand plaza, cactuses decorate it’s surrounding area, and days of clear blue sky are the norm.
Arequipeneans are people used to a blue sky with an intense sun; there is a clear sky 95% of all mornings and summer afternoon rains come as a special treat! It never gets too hot, or too cold, meaning that outdoor activities can be enjoyed all your round. This is what makes the White City a perfect place to rest, chill out, and let the weary side of your backpacking adventures melt with the sun.
The best part of the city has got to be the lovely mix of locals and foreigners that gather here! Arequipa is somewhere in between Cusco and Lima; meaning it is both urban and used to backpackers pouring through (however much less than Cusco). In Arequipa, you will find all the elements of a developed city, without the stress and noise of a capital, you will also find the diversity that nomads and expats bring to the culture.
Head to our Peru Travel Guide to learn more about planning a backpacking trip across the country.
Where to stay in Arequipa
Arequipa has loads of accommodation options to suit everyone from the budget backpacker to the well-heeled tourist. Here are a few of our favourite budget options…
Top Pick! – Limbo Jump Hostel
At just 30 soles per night, this cosy hostel is popular with backpackers, largely on account of its super friendly owners, Mino and Sabrina. The decor is made largely from recycled materials which give the hostel a really quirky look. Limbo Jump is clean, the beds are super comfy, you get a good breakfast and the showers are hot – what more could a backpacker ask for? Read our full review of Limbo Jump Hostel here!
Offering an incredibly central location and situated inside a beautiful, old colonial building, Le Foyer is a great place for travellers. The hostel is clean and comfortable with room options to suit all budgets. A bed in a mixed dorm starts at 33 soles and a twin comes in at 100 soles per night. They also have a rooftop bar and restaurant which is a fantastic place to watch the sunset with a beer!
This backpacker favourite is bright, cheery, and offers one of the best social scenes in the city. With free tea 24/7, a book exchange, and a patio with hammocks this is a decent option to fulfil your backpacker needs. From just 25 soles per night, it’s a bargain!
This charming little hostel feels more like a hotel but is still relatively affordable. A terrace welcomes you into this little sunny slice of comfort. Bedrooms are spacious, well lit, and modern. Upstairs is a rooftop area where breakfast is served daily and couches abound for the perfect afternoon place to curl up with a good book. From 110 soles per night for a single room, 140 soles for a double.
This basic but cute hostel is a good option for travellers looking to meet other people. The staff are extra friendly and can make good recommendations of what to do in the area. Beds are comfortable and there is even a kitchen to prepare meals. A great budget option, dorm beds start at just 20 soles.
Top Things to do in Arequipa!
1. Hike the Colca Canyon
Two of the world deepest canyons reside just outside the city of Arequipa (three hours drive by local transport), both are more than 3km deep at their deepest part! The Colca Canyon is the most visited of the two.
Tours to the Colca Canyon can be either one or two nights and include basic accommodation (bungalows) and three simple meal per day. The tours are surprisingly cheap and can be booked from many travel agencies or hostels in the city. All tours bring you around to the main viewing stops where you will get to see condors soar above the craggy cliffs and llamas graze in the highlands surrounding the valley. Our top recommendation is the Colca Canyon trek by Arequipa tour.
Check out our article here on tours to Colca Canyon.
The trek itself is a moderate undertaking, day one is around six hours of downhill descent into the depths of the canyon. Day two, however, will see you rising before the sun and undertaking a difficult three-hour uphill slog, leaving you mighty ready for a hearty breakfast when you reach the top!
Visiting Colca Canyon Independently without a guide: It is possible to visit the canyon on your own without a tour group and guide, although it takes more time, and the chances of getting lost increase slightly (so bring a map!). Chivay, the main town near to the canyon, is the principal point to start all treks; it has a lot of cheap hotels and some rough public transportation to the canyon. If you’re thinking of doing it yourself, read our article about how to get to Colca Canyon on a DIY Adventure via the town of Chivay.
2. Don’t Forget the Cotahuasi Canyon!
About ten hours away from Arequipa is less-visited Cotahuasi Canyon. Due to less demand, most tour agencies arrange only private tours here, and it will take you at least three days to explore the canyon and get there and back from Arequipa. Although it takes more time and effort to reach this canyon, it can be a more rewarding adventure than visiting the Colca Canyon – which is on every traveller’s Peru bucket list.
The area is much less developed than the area around Chivay and the Colca Canyon. Here you will witness the real life of the Andes people, who are much less accustomed to travellers. The trekking is superb and the views stunning, but don’t expect to find fancy restaurants and five-star hotels!
3. Visit the Santa Catalina Monastery
Built in 1579 this 20,000 square meter Monastery once housed over 450 nuns. Today, only 20 nuns still reside at Santa Catalina meaning that the rest of the impressive establishment is open for tours. You can easily spend an afternoon meandering through the buildings windy walkways and elegant squares taking in the history and art of the place.
4. Enjoy a Coffee in La Plaza de Armas
The main Plaza de Armas is surrounded by quaint balconies perfect for an afternoon chat with new friends. Grab a coffee and watch as the life of the city swirls on around you.
5. Hike in Volcano Valley
Six hours away from Arequipa, about 350 km northwest of the city, lies Volcano Valley, with more than 80 volcanic cones to see! Close to the city are two of the most popular hikes into the volcanic valley: Misti Volcano and Chachani Volcano.
6. Climb Misti Volcano
This active volcano looms behind the Arequipa and is visible from many places in the city. Not for the faint of heart, summiting this 5,822-meter mountain will for sure leave you short of breath. However, the exertion is worth it – if the weather is clear, you can see views all the way to the ocean! There are many tour operators around town that will outfit you and guide you on your ascent up the volcano, which will take two days/one-night.
7. Hike Chachani Volcano
This volcano is one of the easiest to climb, especially if you want to get higher than the six thousand meter high line with as little effort as possible. It only takes around 14 hours to reach the top; as a car can take you up to five thousand meters high! However, for this hike, you will need to rent more technical equipment, so it will be more expensive than climbing Misti.
8. Check out a Free Walking Tour
There are plenty of free walking tours which leave from all over the city. Based solely on tips, these will take you round the main sights and give some background on the city. We went with Free Tour Downtown Arequipa who even included a visit to Mundo Alpaca on their tour!
9. Do a Chocolate Making Workshop with Chaqchao
An amazing experience and a good way to recover from a few days hiking, Chaqchao offers Arequipa’s only organic chocolate making workshop! Learn about the origins and ingredients needed to make chocolate before trying it out yourself! There is a delicious blind taste test included and you’re able to take the fruits of your labour with you. Does it sound like heaven? That’s because it is! Read our full review of the chocolate workshop here.
10. Salinas Salt Lagoon and Aguada Blanca National Reserve
Probably Arequipa’s best-kept secret, the Aguada Blanca National Reserve is home to an incredible salt lagoon full of wildlife. A great choice for those who don’t have time to squeeze Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia into their South America trip, a visit to Salinas Salt Lagoon can be done in a day from Arequipa. It is a stunning year-round destination which either showcases white salt flats in the dry season or snow-topped volcanoes with a beautiful lagoon in the rainy season. You can book your own trip to the Salinas Salt Lagoon here!
Here you can see flamingos (rainy season only), vicunas, alpacas and more! Massively undiscovered on the traveller scene, it is impossible to get here without a tour as there are no public transport links. Check it out while it is still pristine and untouched!
11. Go Rafting
Half day adrenaline pumping trips on Arequipa’s nearby Chili River. Trips will take you down class II to III rapids for some serious heart-pumping fun. The best time to go is between April and November when the rapids are more manageable (due to less rain).
Food and Restaurants in Arequipa
Arequipa is full of amazing places to eat for a fraction of the cost that they would be back home.
For something you’re craving…
We all know how hard it is to find a damn good curry in South America but luckily, these guys are on hand to fulfil all of your cravings! The food is tasty and spicy without being too greasy, not to mention a welcome change from the traditional South American favourites!
Primer Puerto Cevicheria
A little off the tourist track, head to Primer Puerto for great seafood and ceviche! All of the food is prepared fresh and if you can’t choose between the options, there are triple plates which allow you to try everything. Don’t be deceived by this unassuming restaurant’s appearance, it’s small but the locals love it and the food is fabulous!
For veggies, vegans and gluten-free…
A firm favourite with travellers and expats, Las Gringas offers western food that caters to all dietary requirements. This hipster restaurant come bar serves favourites such as pizza and gnocchi as well as craft beer. Be warned though, the alcohol is a little on the pricey side, albeit very tasty!
For traditional Peruvian…
Picantería La Capitana
Packed to the brim with locals as soon as it opens, La Capitana is the place to go for traditional Peruvian cuisine. All of the tables are shared, which encourages conversation and makes for a great atmosphere. Ask for some Rocoto Relleno with Pastel de Papa and forget everything else!
Also in town is the restaurant of the famous Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurrio. It’s called CHICHA and it offers innovative Nuevo Andino cuisine for a steal of a price.
Getting to Arequipa
From Lima – From the capital, Lima, the journey will take a staggering 20 hours, where you will traverse a never-ending desert landscape.
From Cusco – To reach Arequipa from Cusco, the bus ride takes a mere seven hours (that’s nothing for Peru!), though the ride is not for the faint-hearted, as the route crosses the Andes mountains out of the city.
Where to Head Next:
- Puno: Peru’s lakefront town sits right on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Six hours from Arequipa head here to explore the world’s highest navigable lake and it’s enchanting islands. From here, you can cross into Bolivia.
- Lima: Not particularly close by any means, but many backpackers make their way from the capital city to Arequipa. We were told the journey would take fourteen hours when in reality it took twenty. Bring a good book and some snacks!
- Cusco: This city of colourful textiles, mystical valleys, shamans, and expeditions to nearby Machu Picchu is the perfect next stop from Arequipa, only seven hours away.