Planning a trip to Peru? You should consider adding Arequipa to your Peru itinerary. Arequipa is the second-largest city of Peru after Lima and is located in the south of Peru. Arequipa is popular amongst tourists for it is not only one of the largest city of Peru but also the getaway to Colca Canyon, a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. In this 4 days in Arequipa itinerary, you can find the top things to do in Arequipa in 2 days, combined with a 2 day Colca Canyon tour.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Introduction to Arequipa
- 2 What to do in Arequipa?! Best things to do and places to see in Arequipa during two days
- 3 2 day Colca Canyon tour from Arequipa
- 4 How to get to Arequipa?
- 5 Where to stay in Arequipa?
- 6 What are the best places to eat in Arequipa and the must-try food?
- 7 How to handle the altitude in Arequipa?
Introduction to Arequipa
Arequipa is known as the white city or ‘Ciudad Blanca’ for many of its buildings and houses are made of Sillar, a white volcanic stone. El Misti, the volcano which has been the source of most of the volcanic stone, towers over the grand city. You can see El Misti from all parts of Arequipa making the entire experience pretty surreal.
Though Arequipa is a modern city with new-age restaurants and fancy stores, Spanish architecture is still embedded in the city’s older buildings. While passing through the Plaza de Armas, the main square, or admiring the gorgeous 17th-century Basilica Cathedral located at the square you would see the impressions of the colonial architecture. The baroque square is even a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Plaza de Armas is a great hangout place in Arequipa, very much like in the other Peruvian cities Cusco and Puno, apart from the fact that the travel agencies located at the square would be a bit too excited to take you to the Colca Canyon that is merely a 5-6 hour drive from the city.
But before heading to Cañón del Colca, you might want to explore Arequipa for there is a lot more to see in the city itself. You can do it on your own, but there are also great Arequipa tours.
After exploring the plaza, you can acquaint yourself with the living style of nuns in the ancient Monastery of Santa Catalina, gape at the popular Juanita mummy in the Museo Santuarios Andinos, buy souvenirs at Fundo el Fierro, dance in the city’s many thriving clubs, and I haven’t yet mentioned the food.
Arequipa is a heaven for foodies for the city is full of Peruvian restaurants, chocolate cafes, and coffee shops. The Spanish architecture and the modern cafes sometimes even make you forget that you are in Peru and not in a cobbled Paris street. But then colorful papayas, pink chirimoyas, huge avocados, and rainbows of potatoes staring at you from the many thriving markets spread around the city remind you that you are in the nation of fruits.
The imposing volcanoes, the nearby Peruvian countryside, the baroque architecture, the fusion of a modern and indigenous lifestyle, and the rich Peruvian gastronomy make Arequipa a pretty special place culturally and geographically. Every traveler visiting Arequipa can have a unique itinerary as per his choice.
Let’s go now straight to our four-day itinerary to Arequipa and the popular Colca Canyon!
What to do in Arequipa?! Best things to do and places to see in Arequipa during two days
Walk around the Plaza Del Armas.
Irrespective of which Peruvian city you are in, you will find yourself at the plaza del Armas or the main square. These squares are a great place to start within any city as they are the center of activities and will help you understand the rhythm of the city faster.
Plaza del Armas of Arequipa has three long corridors or balconies that are supported by white columns spaced at regular distances. Most of the square is made from Sillar. Arequipa’s square is a busy place around the day, and you can expect all kinds of activities here.
Some old-style restaurants preserving the Peruvian gastronomy along with exquisite souvenir shops can be also found at the plaza. Along with dozens of travel agencies.
Walk around the square, have a cup of coffee, sit under the fountain, and observe Peruvian life going by.
When you get bored, head to the cathedral.
Insider Tip: Get onto the top of one of these roof-top restaurants to drink a Pisco with a panoramic view of the city. Or to cook an authentic Peruvian meal with wooden and earthen pots while watching over the plaza.
Explore the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa
Basilica Cathedral or the central church of Arequipa is one of the popular churches from the Spanish conquistadores time for it has been destroyed and restored many times.
The cathedral has two tall towers making it a wide building that almost covers one side of the square. Many Peruvians still follow Catholicism along with their ancient Incan beliefs, and you can see that fusion when you spend some time in the cathedral. Take some time to observe the architecture of the church for it is known to be one of the most beautiful.
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Visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Monasterio de Santa Catalina is located in the Santa Catalina street in Arequipa.
The monastery was established by a rich widow who only accepted girls from wealthy Spanish families to become nuns. The girls also had to bring a good amount of money and 25 other items with them to be accepted as nuns and live in the monastery.
In the 1800 century, the monastery’s rules were changed, and the nuns were given a choice to stay or leave. All the rich collections were sent to Europe, and now you cannot see the exquisite artifacts that the nuns must’ve brought in those days.
But you can understand the simplistic lifestyle that the sisters must have lived for centuries in the vividly colorful monastery with a courtyard full of avocado trees. At present, about twenty nuns are living in the monastery.
Visiting the monastery would take a couple of hours so plan accordingly.
Insider tip: You can also take a free walking tour of Arequipa that starts from the historic center of Arequipa. The guide would take you through Plaza del Armas, Museo Santuarios Andinos, Iglesia de la Company de Jesus, and Catedral de Arequipa. The tour also goes to chocolate cafes and Peruvian fusion restaurants, and you can sample free Pisco sours and delicious chocolates.
Though these tours are said to be free, you are expected to make a good donation at the end of the tours.
Buy exquisite souvenirs in Fundo el Fierro
Fundo el Fierro is an open market that flourishes around a large courtyard. You cannot miss this market if you walk around the San Francisco Church.
You can buy Andean handicrafts, alpaca souvenirs, traditional jewelry, and other Peruvian trademark souvenirs here for good prices.
Explore Mercado San Camilo
Mercado San Camilo is one of the most colorful markets of Arequipa. Like many other markets of Peru, this one also displays a wide variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, and meat. Juice stalls line the market and you can order any combination to savor the taste of one or many fruits at the same time.
Peru’s special are avocados and potatoes. You can find as many as 1000 varieties of potatoes in Peru and most of them come in colors as vibrant as red, purple, and black along with the usual brown ones.
Another Peruvian favorite is the purple corn. If you find the vendors on streets selling chicha, which is a fruity drink made out of purple corn, do try. It is one of its kind.
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Quinoa is one of the staples of both Peru and Bolivia, and you will find many varieties of the same in the market.
Many types of fish are sold. You can also find spicy Peruvian sauces in red, white, and yellow colors that the locals use in home cooking and restaurants. Sample a few if you fancy.
Together with the different varieties of raw and cooked food, the market sends a strong odor even a few blocks away.
Find your way with the smell and have fun at one of the busiest markets of Peru.
2 day Colca Canyon tour from Arequipa
Like Machu Picchu invites millions of tourists to Peru every year, Colca Canyon is another favorite of the travelers visiting Peru.
Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons of the world, and while you are in Arequipa, you shouldn’t miss a chance to see it.
I would recommend a Colca Canyon tour of two days and one night to enjoy the hike to the canyon while staying inside the canyon for a night. Though you can visit the canyon just for a day and come back, in that one-day tour you cannot go deep inside the canyon for hiking down the canyon takes time. In such a short tour, you would just see the condors flying in Chivay (if you are lucky) and the canyon from the top and far away.
How to get from Arequipa to Colca Canyon
On a two-days-long tour, the tour guide will pick you up at 3 am from your hostel or hotel.
A 3-hours drive would bring you to the village of Chivay, a small settlement at a height of 3,650 meters above sea level. You can have breakfast there and then head to see some condors at a viewpoint decided by the guides.
When the condors glide in the sky, the purpose of the trip already seems to be achieved. But wait.
Now the real journey into the canyon starts. After driving for another ten kilometers, you will start your descent into the canyon from Mirador de San Miguel.
Colca Canyon trek
As you start descending the canyon, you would see the Colca river curling through the bottom of the green Colca valley. Depending on the day, the weather could be cloudy or clear and would decide your views. But throughout you would keep seeing the terraces fields that the villagers staying in the canyon cultivate.
The group would stop for lunch at one of the villages and then continue the hike. Around 5-6 pm in the evening, you would arrive at the bottom of the canyon to stay for the night. The bottom of the canyon known as Oasis Sangalle has many lodges to put up for the night.
After a relaxed dinner, make your way to bed early for the hike back up the canyon starts early the next morning. Hiking up the canyon might take about 3-4 hours depending on the speed of the group. You can also opt for mules if you can’t walk or the high altitude of Colca makes you uneasy (its a canyon but still at a height of about 2,000 meters).
Even though the hike is steep and will exhaust you, the gorgeous curves of the canyon and the clouds floating nearby would make up for the sore muscles.
Then the group heads for breakfast. But one of the best parts of the tour is the stop at the Colca Canyon hot springs at Chivay while driving back to Arequipa. Dip in the natural hot pools and see how quickly the exertion dissolves away. Of course, you can buy beers there, too.
You would arrive at Arequipa around 4-5 in the evening which is just at the right time for a good meal with a Pisco to celebrate your hike.
Best time to visit Colca Canyon
The best time to visit the canyon is from April to August when the weather is dry and not so cold.
You can book a tour to the canyon from one of the many travel agents in Arequipa. The two-day tour would cost around $35-40 depending on the agency. The tour would cover the food and stay.
How to get to Arequipa?
The major cities of Peru are connected by flights. So you can take a one and a half hour flight from Lima, Cusco, or Iquitos to Arequipa. The popular airlines of Peru are Viva Air, Latam, Peruvian, and Sky Airlines Peru. Flights aren’t that expensive and if you check beforehand, you can get good prices.
If you are flying internationally, first fly to Lima and then head over to Arequipa for there aren’t many international flights that come to Arequipa directly.
You can also take a bus to Arequipa from either Cusco, Lima, or Puno. The journey from Lima is the longest and takes 16 hours. But the other two travel times are 11-hours and 6-hours from Cusco and Puno, respectively.
If you are coming from Chile, you can cross the Arica-Tacna border to enter into Peru. Then most people head straight away from Tacna to Arequipa by a bus or a taxi.
Buses in Peru are pretty fancy. Some of the most popular and reliable companies are Peru Hop, Cruz Del Sur, Altursa, and Civa.
The buses have televisions, air conditioning, toilets, and semi-cama or full-cama (half and full recliner) seats to enjoy the majestic landscape of Peru.
If you are traveling from Cusco, you can take a train to Arequipa. But the journey is three-days-long as the train stops over at Puno and other tourist places. Also, the ticket is super-expensive as the ticket prices include food, tourist attractions, and sometimes comfortable suites, too.
You can check the train availability and prices here.
As the train service is limited in Peru, Arequipa isn’t connected to any other city by train.
Where to stay in Arequipa?
Arequipa offers many options to stay. You can choose from a range of hotels, hostels, homestays, and apartments. Stay near the center to fully enjoy the nightlife and the panoramic views of Arequipa.
Select amongst one of the good options from booking.com here.
Some of the hostels and hotels also come with a free-to-use kitchen and offer unlimited free coca tea. Choose as per your priorities and budget.
What are the best places to eat in Arequipa and the must-try food?
Restaurants in Arequipa are a mix of modern and authentic. You can find cuisines ranging from Indian, Peruvian, to Italian in this bustling city.
La Nueva Palomino, Chicha por Gaston Acurio, and Victoria – Picantería democrática are a few good restaurants that offer authentic Peruvian cuisines such as Aji de gallina, quinoa soups, and more.
The restaurant called India in Calle Bolivar is a must-visit if you are a fan of Indian food and are missing some curries. The place is run by an Indian who is now settled in Arequipa after marrying a Peruvian lady from the city.
Apart from the fine-dining restaurants, you should also try walking around the city and trying the local food from the stalls. Mercado San Camilo is a great place to have fresh juice or buy some fruits and eat the local delicacies in a more rustic style along with the many sauces that Peruvians prepare in bulk every day.
Arequipa also has a good mix of clubs, breweries, and chocolate cafes.
La Casona Forum – in Calle San Francisco, Museo del Pisco – in Calle Moral, and Forum in Hall Central are good bars to head out for a drink and the later even for some crazy dancing. Museo del Pisco is a must-visit place to drink Pisco, a popular Peruvian drink, and also to understand the history and origin of the much sought-after Pisco.
Most of the clubs and bars are open until late or let’s say early morning since in Latin America parties run even beyond sunrise sometimes.
You can enjoy organic chocolates at the Chaqchao Chocolates in Santa Catalina Street with a good espresso or a craft beer.
Arequipa has some good breweries and one of the popular ones for craft beer is Chelawasi Public House. This brewery is open 4 to 11 pm throughout the week.
Peru has a rich gastronomic culture, unlike many other South American countries. So while there, go crazy and eat, for Peruvian food is really flavorful.
How to handle the altitude in Arequipa?
The Altitude of Arequipa is 2300 meters. Though Arequipa is one of the low cities of Peru, people traveling from plains might experience altitude sickness.
Give yourself time to acclimatize in Arequipa. Walk slowly, drink a lot of water, and sleep well.
Though Peruvians have many local remedies for altitude sickness, one of their favorites is coca tea. Leaves of coca, the same plant that is used to prepare cocaine, is drank with hot water for the coca plant is energizing(of course) and prevent altitude sickness.
Drink a glass of tea with your breakfast or even between meals. Peruvians keep drinking the tea throughout the day and chew coca leaves, too.
You can easily buy some leaves in the San Camilo market or ask your hotel to provide you some.
I hope that you enjoyed this four-day itinerary to Arequipa and Colca Canyon. Peru is a like country none-other and Arequipa is one of the special cities of this unique country.
Enjoy your time there!
This is a guest post by: Priyanka from the travel blog Onmycanvas.com
Author’s Bio: Priyanka Gupta is an itinerant travel blogger from India who left her investment banking career to travel the world and write. Having traveled extensively thorough South America, solo, Priyanka is now based out of India. She focuses on culturally immersive travel while relishing local delicacies and never missing a chance to see wildlife. Priyanka blogs full-time and claims to know the art of blogging from even the camps in the wild.
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