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Arequipa and the Canyon that was Not to Be

La Ciudad Blanca, Arequipa (By Christian Monzón (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

I had never heard of Arequipa until I looked at a map of Peru, but apparently a lot of travelers stop here en-route to Cuzco or Puno, in an attempt to acclimatize more gradually to the high altitudes. Known as La Ciudad Blanca, (the white city), because of the predominance of buildings made of sillar, a white volcanic rock, Arequipa was indeed the first stop on our altitude acclimation tour of the Peruvian Andes.

Bright, blue skies in Arequipa

Our painless overnight transit completed, we stepped off the bus and were greeted by bright sunshine and a blue, cloudless sky. After so many hours cooped up inside with only recirculated air to breathe, the gift of crisp, clean air inside our nostrils was fresh and rejuvenating.

Our first day in Arequipa

A quick 12 soles taxi ride later, we were settled into the spotless Los Andes Bed and Breakfast, 1 block away from the main square, and ready to explore the town. But not before we had a cup of coffee! Fortunately, this was a simple endeavour in Arequipa, which has 3 or 4 decent coffee shops within a few blocks of each other. We settled onto a comfortable couch at the Cusco Coffee company, and plotted out a detailed travel strategy over cheesecake and lattes.

I’m lying. We drank coffee and checked Facebook. 😉

Coffee and wifi at the Cusco Coffee Company

I’ve realized in the last 3 months, that the Bear couple’s travel style does not include running around to see all of the famous sights of a place. Our style is more to relax, soak up the vibe and try to meet the locals whenever possible. In South America, this has involved a walk around the main square, a look at the main buildings (usually just from the outside), and eating lots of local food.

Does this mean that we miss some stuff? Absolutely. I’m sure we miss lots of super amazing stuff. Do we feel regret about it? Honestly, sometimes…mostly when we meet other travelers, that rave about a can’t miss sight, or totally “unique” experience. But we also need to feel sane and peaceful, and running around trying to see every last thing would make our trip stressful, rather than enjoyable.

One small part of the Santa Catalina Monastary

So even though Arequipa has some major tourist draws, including the massive Santa Catalina Monastary, the city’s proximity to the Colca Canyon (billed as the deepest canyon in the world), and views of the almost 6000 metre tall, El Misti volcano, we skipped most of it.

We’d planned on trekking into the depths of the Colca Canyon, in what would seem to be one of those do-not-miss traveling experiences, but when the time came to actually book it and do it, it didn’t seem so attractive. Perhaps it’s because we were still getting into the traveling groove. Perhaps it’s because we had the Inca Trail trek already scheduled. Honestly, I’m not sure why. (In restrospect, I don’t regret the choice, though I think the Bear might).

We didn’t even venture to the region’s most popular attraction, Cruz del Condor, where majestic condors supposively soar gracefully on the warm drafts of air rising from the canyon floor. (glad we didn’t, because we heard from other travelers later on, that they shelled out the cash, and didn’t see a thing – nature is finicky I guess).

We did manage a walk around the gargantuan and beautiful Santa Catalina Monastary though. Pictures in the next post.

Where we stayed in Arequipa: Los Andes Bed and Breakfast
72 soles ($28) for a large room with 2 double beds, fan, private bathroom, internet and breakfast included. Definitely recommended.

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