Arequipa is the second-largest city in Perú, and is definitely worth visiting when traveling through the southern part of the country. While the towering volcanos of El Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu provide a dramatic backdrop to the skyline, the city’s stunning architecture and whitewashed buildings shimmer in the blinding Andean sun. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Arequipa is rife with picturesque colonial-era buildings, but also has all the amenities one expects of a modern metropolis. Throw in the fact that the spectacular, adventure-packed Colca Canyon is a quick 2 hour trip outside the city, and you’ve got yet another MUST SEE on your Perú itinerary...
Arequipa is serviced by the Rodríguez Ballón International Airport (AQP), which connects to both domestic and international destinations. Most budget travelers arrive in Arequipa by bus, as it is easily connected to through Lima, Cusco, Puno, and other locations along the coast.
There are a handful of ways to get to the Colca Canyon once you’ve arrived in Arequipa- there are local buses that leave from the bus terminal, you can book a ‘tourist bus’ that will pick you up at you accommodation and stop at various sights along the road to the canyon before dropping you off at the trailhead, or you can book a full-blown ‘Canyon Tour’ package that includes all transportation, food, and accommodation for your trek through the canyon. It all depends on how much you want to organize things on your own, and how you feel about doing a planned and guided ‘tour’.
Things to do in Arequipa
- Walk around town- Arequipa is a BEAUTIFUL city, with everything centered around the historic center. Grab a map from your hostel and get out and explore.
- Hang out in the Plaza- Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is one of- if not THE- most spectacular squares in all of South America. The soaring spires of the Cathedral stretch into the blue Andean sky, with the mountains and volcanos rising in the background. It is a great spot to relax and watch the world go by.
- Head for the mountains- the mountains surrounding Arequipa provide endless opportunities for activities and adventure, and thus there are no shortage of tour operators and booking agencies in town. Mountain biking, trekking, camping, rafting, hiking, mountaineering, horseback riding- there’s no telling what you can get up to in the hills around Arequipa. Choose your booking agency wisely...
- Get you shop on- Arequipa has more shopping possibilities than one could hope for- from the local wares on offer at the Fundo el Fierro to the name brand shops that line the streets around the Plaza de Armas, you won’t be lacking for places to spend your soles.
- Hike the Canyon- The Colca Canyon is one of Perú’s top tourist destinations, and rightfully so. The 2nd deepest canyon in the world offers world class hiking along with the opportunity to experience the quiet village lifestyles of those that call the canyon home. Spectacular views, quaint little hospedajes, and a friendly smile on every local’s face- a few days hiking through the Colca Canyon is a great way to get your ‘outdoor adventure’ fix while in southern Perú.
- If you want to enjoy the Colca Canyon, we recommend doing it on your own. Many of the organized tours are rushed, and don’t give you the opportunity to really relax and enjoy your time in the canyon. Get yourself a map, figure out the best way to get to the trailhead, and take your time and enjoy the scenery.
- For transportation to the canyon, we recommend booking a ‘Tourist Bus’- they’ll pick you up at your accommodation in Arequipa, you’ll get to make a few stops along the way to the trailhead (Maybe even see a few Andean Condors), and it’s quicker and safer than taking the local bus.
- There’s really no need to book accommodation ahead of time in the canyon, as there are numerous lodges and hospedajes along the trails that will be more than happy to serve up a hot meal and a warm bed upon your arrival.
- If you’ve got the time, make sure to leave a half-day or so to enjoy the almost resort-like atmosphere at the bottom of the canyon. Relax by the pool, lie in the grass, enjoy a cocktail from the bar- it really is an oasis.
- Shop around for activities and transportation options in Arequipa- most offices will offer the same options, and prices are negotiable.
- Most hotels and guesthouses in Arequipa will store your big bags while you venture out into the canyon for a few days. Pack a smaller bag, bring layers, and make sure you’ve got something for the rain- conditions can change quickly in the canyon.