Arequipa & the Colca Canyon

The White City – another stunningly unbelievable location in the south of Peru. Full of the most beautiful architecture and natural landscapes, Arequipa needs to be on your list of cities to visit while in Peru. Sitting at 2,335 metres above sea level, it’s the perfect place to take a (slight) break from the higher-altitude cities, like Cusco, Aguas Calientes and Puno.

Arequipa is nestled amongst three towering volcanoes – El Misti, Mount Chachani and Pichu Pichu Peak. El Misti, meaning “The Gentleman” in Quechua, is by far the most well-known. You can hike Misti to acquire some breathtaking views at the summit, which takes two days and sits at 5, 825 metres above sea level.

Accommodations:

As Arequipa is a fairly large city, there are a number of different places to stay while visiting. I stayed at Yes! Arequipa Hostel which has it’s pros and cons.

Pros – The hostel had a few different options for bedrooms. You could stay in dorms, or private rooms. I opted for a private room, which I don’t typically do, but sometimes you need to treat yo ‘self. The room was spacious and clean. There were a few large private bathrooms nearby which were nice to have. The hostel also had a pretty good (free) breakfast available as well. The workers helped me book a tour to Canyon del Colca, and they stored my bags while I was on the tour.

Cons – It was about a 10 minute walk from the main square. I didn’t mind this so much, but if you want to be in the middle of the action, I would suggest a different accommodation. I found it difficult to socialize and meet people at this particular hostel.

If you are looking for a different experience, the following are a list of hostels to check out, depending on your preferences:

  • Positive Hostel – A GORGEOUS colonial mansion with bright-coloured walls and dorm rooms. Three blocks from the main square with views of the mountains.
  • Bothy Hostel – Three blocks from the main square, a chill hostel during the week and more partyish vibes on the weekend. It has a number of fun activities to take part in, such as ping pong and a pool table.
  • Way Kap Hostel – A chill hostel with some great common space areas to hang out in and meet like-minded travellers. Located in the historic centre and close to the main square.
  • Arequipay Backpackers Downtown – If you are an active yogi, check out this clean and friendly hostel. They offer a gym on-site, yoga classes, ping-pong, a pool table and many other services.

Food:

Tradicion Arequipena – If you are looking for a traditional meal at a decent price, try Tradicion Arequipena. You can sit in the garden, eat with a view and listen to traditional Peruvian music.

Zingaro Restaurant – Another traditional Peruvian restaurant nestled inside a building with the cutest decor and rustic appeal. Enjoy common dishes, such as Rocoto Relleno (stuffed peppers), quinoa soups, cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca.

El Buda Profano – If you are looking for something different, try this Japanese joint that serves up vegan sushi. Fun, delicious and a change when needed!

Capriccio – In need of something sweet? Check out this pastry shop, cafeteria and ice cream parlor! They serve up cakes, alfajores, profiteroles, and more delicious treats. The perfect mid-day snack.

Things to do:

Walk around. Seriously, this city is so beautiful and sometimes the greatest adventures are getting lost in the streets of a city you don’t know. Similar to Cusco, the streets of Arequipa were breathtaking. Whether you are hanging out in the main square or crossing the river to the Yanahuara Viewpoint, you won’t be disappointed with the views.

The Plaza de Armas (main square) in Arequipa is a stunning vision. Cathedrals, shops and balconies made from sillar (white volcanic rock), give this place it’s nickname, “The White City.” Visit the basilica cathedral while you are there – it is an impressive feat that spans the length of the plaza and is the subject of beautiful photos.

The historic centre of Arequipa has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so naturally, there is a lot of eye-candy happening when you arrive. The main plaza is bustling with locals of all ages. Walk around, or find a spot on a bench to watch the exchanges and embrace the culture.

From the plaza, head north to see the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a stunning convent that fuses both Spanish and Native architecture.

After checking out the monasterio, head northwest to the Yanahuara Viewpoint. Cross the Rio Chili to arrive at an arched platform that looks out onto the city below. Views of Mt. Misti are worth the 25-30 minute walk to get here.

Canyon del Colca – This is a MUST if you are staying in Arequipa. You will likely be able to book a tour to the canyon from your accommodation, and if not, hit up one of the tourist shops around the city to help you out. This was one of my favourite excursions in Peru. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world and is carved out by the Colca River.

I decided to do the 2-day trek, which was both challenging and extremely rewarding. It was a reasonable price for what was included. Upon arrival (after a lengthy bus ride from my hostel in Arequipa), we spent the entire first day hiking down the canyon to the very bottom. The descent was long and after a while, it took a toll on your knees, but we survived! At the bottom of the canyon, we crossed the river and enjoyed a local lunch before climbing back up part of the other side to an oasis, where we stayed overnight. The oasis was a very basic accommodation with a pool and a small restaurant that served up some yummy (and well-earned) spaghetti for dinner.

The rooms at the oasis were nothing special. There was no electricity and the toilets were outside and shared by all of the guests. Checking your bed for critters, including little scorpions, is a good idea. We only stayed here for one night, so the experience wasn’t too bad.

The next day, we started hiking back up the canyon at 5:00 a.m. Headlamps are needed for this hike to see where you are going. I won’t lie – the uphill hike was extremely challenging. The winding path upwards was met by a number of large stones that required a lot of effort when nearing the top. My leg muscles were bangin’ after this hike. The tour guides give you three hours to get up, and if you don’t think you will make it in that time, you can rent a horse/donkey to take you the rest of the way (or from the beginning). I climbed it in just under two hours, so it is completely doable if you are an active person who hits the gym every once in a while.

At the top of the canyon, there are a few lookout points where you will likely stop on your first day. The view is gorgeous. The canyon is home to the Andean Condor – which has an impressive 3-metre wingspan. They fly up from their nests every so often, so keep an eye out when you are at the top!

Like I stated earlier, this hike was well worth it. You will take in views you’ve never seen before and get in a respectable workout. Our crew went out on the night we finished the hike and all of us downed our own extra-large pizza with ease. We likely could have eaten two, with the calories burned over the last few days. Best. Hike. Ever.

Different from any city I’ve ever been to, Arequipa is well worth the trip from Lima or Cusco. Set aside 5-7 days to roam, hike, eat and take in the views of this amazing “White City!”

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