Arequipa has a long tradition of producing Peru’s presidents, laureate writers, poets, and artists. Like other great coastal cities such as Trujillo and Lima, Arequipa was founded shortly after the Spanish conquest and has a wealth of convents, churches, colonial homes, and fine art. But Arequipa is the most subdued and relaxed of Peru’s coastal cities.
Constructed entirely of white sillar stone, the city gleams in the sun and is home of the most stunning Plaza de Armas in all of Peru. Some blocks behind the main square, light shifts delicately across the arches, streets, and homes inside of the 400-year-old Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a citadel that could have been lifted right out of southern Spain.
Arequipa is for adventurers. One of the three volcanoes that tower above the city, Chachani, is the most attainable 6,000-meter mountain in Peru. A bit farther away lie some of the country’s most extraordinary landscapes, including high-altitude deserts, a magical place called the Valley of the Volcanoes, and two of the world’s deepest canyons: Cotahuasi and Colca.
The better known and more accessible of these two, the Colca Canyon, is five hours away. The canyon was only connected to the modern world in the late 1970s, and villagers living in the valley adhere to their centuries-old ways of life. This is one of the most spectacular and safe places in Peru for trekking and mountain biking. Rafting is also possible in the canyon and lower down on the Río Majes.
Arequipa is also for foodies, and Arequipeños are extremely proud of their culinary tradition. Products such as cuy (guinea pig), rocoto (a bell pepper–shaped chili), and camarones (freshwater prawns) are the foundation of a richly made, exquisite gastronomy that is one of the best in Peru. Each meal is a ritual that locals and foreigners enjoy thoroughly, tracing its recipes and cooking techniques back to pre-Hispanic times.
The Collagua people occupied the Arequipa area for millennia, as evidenced by the extensive terracing in the Colca valley, which was improved by the Inca. But the name for Arequipa apparently comes from Inca Mayta Cápac, who reportedly arrived at present-day Arequipa with his army and uttered the Quechua phrase “ari, que pay” meaning “yes, stay here.”
After conquering the area in the 15th century, the Inca began the practice of sacrificing children atop the area’s highest volcanoes. Juanita, the mummy of a 13-year-old girl, captured worldwide attention in 1995 when she was discovered atop Volcano Ampato at 6,380 meters. Her mummy can now be seen in Arequipa’s Museo Santuarios Andinos of the Santa María Catholic University.
The city of Arequipa was founded on August 15, 1540, by Captain Garcí Manuel de Carbajal after disease forced the Spaniards from an earlier settlement near Camaná, near the coast. Arequipa blossomed as a trade hub between Lima and southern Peru, including Cusco, Puno, and the rich silver mines of Potosí, in current Bolivia.
Arequipa has a long history of earthquakes. More than 300 buildings collapsed after a major earthquake in 1588, which prompted King Charles V to issue a royal order limiting building height. The city was covered with ash by erupting Huaynaputina a few decades later and leveled by earthquakes roughly once per century—in 1687, 1788, 1869, 1958, and 1960. The latest earthquake, in 2001, measured 7.5 on the Richter scale and knocked down one of the towers of the cathedral, which has since been repaired.
Getting to Arequipa
By Air: The Alfredo Rodríguez Ballón International Airport (Aviación s/n, tel. 054/44-3464) is seven kilometers northwest of the city, or about a US$3 cab ride.
LAN (Lima tel. 01/213-8200, www.lan.com) has at least 6–8 daily flights between Lima and Arequipa, and several other to/from Cusco (via Juliaca) and Lima. Star Perú doesn’t fly to Arequipa, but Peruvian Airlines (www.peruvianairlines.pe) has four daily flights to/from Arequipa.
By Bus: There are daily departures to Lima, Tacna, Cusco, and Puno from the two bus terminals Arequipa has—the rather empty Terrapuerto and the bustling Terminal Terrestre—right next to each other on Jacinto Ibañez, a five-minute, US$2 taxi ride outside of town. Most companies have offices in the Terminal Terrestre that are open 7 a.m.–9 p.m.
Most bus companies make the 15-hour direct trip to Lima overnight, with different services, including buses stopping along the way in Nasca and Ica. The best option is Cruz del Sur (Terminal Terrestre, tel. 054/42-7375, www.cruzdelsur.com.pe), with seven daily departures to Lima, which has nearly full beds on the first floor for US$47 and reclining seats on the second floor for US$30.
Oltursa (Terminal Terrestre, tel. 054/42-6566, www.oltursa.com.pe, US$29–45), Ormeño (Terrapuerto or Terminal Terrestre, tel. 054/42-3546 or 054/42-4187, www.grupo-ormeno.com.pe, US$25–35), and Civa (tel. 054/42-6563, www.civa.com.pe, US$18–34) also provide service along the Lima route.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition