Arequipa, the White City, is another of the many must see places when visiting Peru. Majestic volcanoes, fertile fields and minor canyons surround the city. On arriving in Arequipa, you are struck by the dichotomy of a historical city center surrounded by a modern growing district capital. Many say that the old city is reminiscent of Seville in Spain and I must agree. The architectural style of the historical district and the buildings made of sillar, a white volcanic stone that can have an assortment of colored rocks mixed in, are striking and bring back fond memories I have of visiting the Pueblos Blancos in Southeastern Spain. For those wishing to visit, there are many hotels in the historical area ranging from 3 to 5 stars as well as some very nice hostels. Arequipa does not have the pollution or traffic problems that Lima does. The air is clear and since it is at a higher elevation than Lima, it is a bit cooler in the summer months. The traffic, although still hectic at rush hours, seems much more controlled than in Lima and you don’t get quite the adrenaline rush that a cab ride in Lima can give you.
The historic area of the city is quite beautiful and touring the streets before the crowds of people start filling them is well worth an early morning wakeup call. The narrow cobbled streets with homes hugging them, no sidewalks to speak of, flowers in pots hanging from the walls, and the intricate carvings and fantastic architectural details on these historic buildings will leave you with a sense of walking back in time. You can wander though these intimate little streets for hours, each one providing a different visual delight. You might pass by an artist sitting in a small alcove and watch him paint or admire the work he has already done. Seeing the intricate work done by artists working in metal and other materials hanging on the walls outside their shops will certainly give you pause. The church and park of “San Francisco” are magnificent as is the main Cathedral, La Catedral and the church of La Iglesia y Complejo de la Compañia both of which are located on the main Plaza (Plaza de Armas) and the Convent of Santa Catalina which is like a small city in itself. Oh, in case you didn’t know, if a church has one tower it is dedicated to a male Saint and two towers means a female Saint. Coming into the main square via the arches of the Cathedral reminded me a lot of Rome, lots of magnificent columns and arches with intricate carvings. It is almost humbling to walk through them and up to the front doors of the Cathedral. The Central Plaza is beautiful at night. The main Cathedral is lit up and colored lights play on it and the water in the fountain at the center of the plaza. On weekends, the local population gathers on this square, resting in the sun on the benches, visiting with friends or just admiring the beauty of this square. You can buy packets of seeds and feed the pigeons, if you are very patient they will eat right from your hand. Restaurants and stores surround the Plaza for your dining and shopping pleasure. There are many hidden pleasures just waiting to be discovered in this area of Arequipa.
Outside the historical district are many other sights and experiences for the visitor to enjoy. There is an Alpaca Factory, where you are able to mingle with some Vicuñas, Alpacas and Llamas. You will also learn how they differentiate the wools, clean, process, and dye them. You can watch Peruvian women hand weaving the yarn into scarves and sweaters. You will also see the hand tools, minerals and plants the dyes are made from, samples of the colored thread, and other devices used in ancient times to make the yarn. There is also a museum here showing all the mechanical devices used in dealing with the wools when products are made in a factory setting. You can visit many churches and parks of which each has their own historical tale to tell. Naturally all of them are stunning and the parks a perfect spot to stop for a short rest in the mid day heat. I personally wished I could have all the gold making up the various niches in the churches. One of the most beautiful and restful spots is the Plaza de Yanahuara with its beautiful arches made from sillar and the stunning views of Arequipa and the Volcano Misti. Also on this plaza is the Church of San Juan with its elaborate carvings on the façade. As with most Latin countries I have visited you can’t throw a stone without hitting a church. There are some handsome bridges in Arequipa also of which the two not to be missed are the Bolognesi and the Bolivar Bridges. The Bolivar in particular was designed and built by the French architect Gustav Eiffel, the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
There is a spot outside of the city called Cayma with a viewing/photo op point of the Minor Colca Canyon and the three major Volcanoes (Misti, Pichu Pichu and Chachani). The views are postcard perfect and the terraced fields of the farms with the majestic volcanoes in the background would delight any photographer whether he is an amateur or professional. I had a drink of the local papaya juice here, which is considerably different from the papaya you might be used to. It almost tastes like a mix of papaya, pineapple and mango. It was very sweet and delicious. I was also introduced to Maca, an herb that grows in the region and supposedly will fix almost anything that ails you. It does contain a lot of vitamins and minerals so I know that it is a great dietary supplement.
A tower, El Mirador de Sachaca, located on a large hill outside of the city with spectacular views is another place worth the visit. Besides climbing the stairs on the hillside to get to the tower, the tower itself is five stories high to boot. There is a huge statue of Jesus in the center of the tower, which was quite inspiring even to me. Before the ascent, we indulged in some Helado (Ice Cream) which was being hand made on the spot. It was very tasty and refreshing. The views from the top of the surrounding countryside and the volcanoes were thrilling and worth every step you had to climb.
Arequipa is also known for its food. I was warned that here they use spices a lot more liberally than in other areas of Peru, especially the warmer chili peppers. The dish they are most well known for is the Ricotto Relleno, a nicely warm pepper stuffed with rice, raisins, meat, potatoes and cheese. It is quite delicious and for those who have a problem with very spicy foods, do not worry. I have had this dish in several restaurants now both in Arequipa and other areas of Peru and it has never been overly hot to my taste buds. I will add that I am not a person who likes food spiced to be hot just for the sake of making it hot. When that happens, for me it covers the taste of the dish. Arequipa is also known for the “chupes” or chowder like dishes of which a different one is served according to the day of the week. All of these are spiced nicely in the mestizo style. The “Picanterias” are the place to eat in Arequipa and the food as the name indicates is always spiced nicely and warms the heart as well as the stomach.
These are only a few of the reasons to visit this culturally significant city. If you are the type of person who loves to explore new places I am sure that this city will provide you with days of adventures. The city of Arequipa is well worth a visit for its historical center, the many wonderful restaurants, the beautiful churches with their plazas and the stunning vistas of the surrounding country side. Happy Traveling!