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.
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.
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. 😉
I’ve realized in the last 3 months, that my 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 I miss some stuff? Absolutely. I’m sure I miss lots of super amazing stuff. Do I feel regret about it? Honestly, sometimes…mostly when I meet other travellers, that rave about a can’t miss sight, or totally “unique” experience. But I also need to feel sane and peaceful, and running around trying to see every last thing would make our trip stressful, rather than enjoyable.
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.
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 Monastery though.
Santa Catalina Monastery
Agri and I are probably the farthest thing from religious that you can find, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate beautiful architecture. In Arequipa, the thing to see is the Santa Catalina Monastary, so we dedicated an afternoon to wandering around the massive 20,000 square metre complex.
Originally built in 1580, today, the Monastary only houses about 20 nuns (I wonder how many square feet that is per nun?) 😉
If you’re interested in the history, you can check it out here.
Some pics from our wanderings:
Where to stay in Arequipa
It cost 72 soles ($28) for a large room with 2 double beds, fan, private bathroom, internet and breakfast was included. Spotlessly clean and definitely recommended.