Arequipa: A city to submerge yourself in
Arequipa is the second largest city of Peru, located on the Western slopes of the Andes Chain in the south of the country. At 2,325 meters above sea level, it has a comfortable climate. Known for its eternal spring (la eterna primavera) the days are usually pretty warm and sunny, but the nights are cold. A 3 hour drive from Arequipa will take you to the Peruvian coast. Nearest beach town is Mollendo which is great for spending a day or two. Five hours from Arequipa is the neighboring country of Chile.
Entering Arequipa the first thing I noticed were the impressive colonial buildings and its Plaza de Armas. It is said to be the most beautiful Plaza in the world. Many buildings are bright white, which caused Arequipa to get the nickname ‘The White city’. These buildings were made with volcanic stones of the Misti volcano. Walking through the center you will see you are surrounded by three volcanoes, of which 1 is still active. Apart from that Arequipa also has regular earthquakes to endure. In 1600 the city was completely destroyed by a major eruption of the Huaynaputina volcano, 80 kilometers away from Arequipa. It was the biggest eruption ever on the South American continent. Because of the regular earthquakes in the area you will mainly find low-rise buildings here.
The city has a lot to offer to tourists. Personaly I was most impressed by was the convent of Santa Catalina. The convent was built in 1579 and expanded in the 17th century. It has been home to 450 nuns over the past 400 years. These nuns were cut off from the outside world, living in this ‘city within a city’. In 1970 the convent opened its door to the public for the first time, even though nuns were still living there. It’s a beautiful place to visit.
Another attraction worth a visit is the Sanctuary Museum. Here you will encounter many mummies found in Peru, Chile and Argentina. Most famous inhabitant of the museum is Juanita; a frozen mummy of a young girl sacrificed to the gods, found in 1995 by an American archaeologist. I always wanted to see this famous girl and I’m glad I did. She is quite impressive.
A few hours from Arequipa is the magnificent Colca Canyon. This canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. It is thé place to spot Andean Condors, the largest birds in the world. If you are not lucky enough to spot one, it is still worth going there. The views are amazing! Make sure you dress up properly though because it gets freaking cold! Usually the tour from Arequipa to the Colca Canyon takes 2 days. The first day you visit the town of Chivay and the hot springs of Calesa. On day two you go to the actual Canyon. Dos Manos Peru also offer a two and a three day hike in the Colca Cayon and there are also biking trips offered.
Another thing I like about Arequipa is the possibility to shop. There are quite a few shops and they are a bit cheaper than in Lima. Also there are many terraces to relax on with a nice drink. If the sun is out, you can easily spend a whole day on just one terrace. Sitting and enjoying your view you might as well order one of the typical dishes of Arequipa. The Chupe de Camarones is a tasty shrimp soup, served often in this area. Also worth a try is Rocoto Relleno, a stuffed pepper with minced beef, melted cheese, onions and cream. You will find this dish all over Peru, but it originates from Arequipa and this is the best place to find the tastiest Rocoto Relleno.