Arequipa in Peru: How to Travel in The White City

I stepped out of the airport after landing in Arequipa in, Peru. I breathed in; the cool air filled my nostrils like standing in front of an air conditioner.

The air was thin and noticeably so. With each breath, my lungs only filled to about 80%. I gasped like Spongebob in Sandy’s Dome.

To take my mind off my lack of breath, I glanced around. Misti Volcano sat in the distance to the right, resembling a pimple on a teenager’s face.

I stood, staring, amazed by the staggering piece of scenery.

I vaguely heard, “Do you need a taxi?”

Wow, this scenery is unreal. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this before.

“Excuse me, do you need a taxi?”

I shook myself from my stupor and glanced at the Peruvian taxi driver beckoning me toward his car.

“Uh, yes, I do,” I said as I followed him to his car and loaded my bags into the trunk.

I think I’m gonna like this place.

The City of Arequipa

Most people come to Peru looking to hike Machu Picchu or Laguna Humantay. But, Arequipa is often overlooked for these reasons.

Arequipa in Peru has the nickname “The White City.” Yet, it may not be for the reason you’ve read.

Countless blogs and websites attribute it to the color of the volcanic rock that is pulled from the surrounding area.

Yet, as I learned from one of the fantastic guides I had in the city, it comes from the color of the white-skinned Spaniards who came to colonize the area.

Thus, the “White City” was born.

The largest city in southern Peru, with a population of 947,000, this beautiful place is a haven for tourists. The beautiful weather is a prime reason, as it experiences 300 rain-free days yearly.

And that lack of rain leads to many activities you can experience on your next visit.

Things to do in Arequipa

Travelers from abroad come to Arequipa for various reasons — both in and outside the city.

Whether you’re a city-dweller or a nature-lover, there’s something here for you.

Arequipa’s Historic City Center

It’s hard to visit Arequipa and not head to its center to take in its grandeur. Plazas, cathedrals, and museums dot the area and offer an entire day’s worth of activities.

Here are a few to fill an empty afternoon:

Plaza de Armas

You’ll find a plaza of this name in every significant Peruvian city. Still, Arequipa’s plaza is one of the more beautiful in the country.

Giant palm trees surround a large fountain in the plaza’s center and make a great place to grab a seat and watch life flow. No cars are allowed in the area, so the only sounds you’ll hear are the locals enjoying the beautiful weather.

The Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa is a great site in Arequipa in Peru.

On the plaza’s northern side, the Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa casts an imposing figure over the rest of the plaza.

If you’re short on time and want a quick glimpse of Arequipa in Peru, Plaza de Armas is the place to go.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Near Plaza de Armas is a four-hundred-year-old monastery, a centerpiece of Arequipa’s culture.

At its height, the monastery held around 450 people (mostly nuns and servants). To be admitted to the monastery, prospective nuns (and their families) paid large dowries — sometimes totaling close to $150,000 in today’s money.

Inside the monastery — which you’ll tour — you’ll find religious art, history, and architecture collections.

Stop by the cafe to sample the local cuisine when your tour ends.

Museo Santuarios Andinos

Ever seen a well-preserved Incan mummy before? Neither had I until I visited this informative museum.

Looking into Arequipa’s rich history, this museum has an extensive collection of Incan artifacts, such as textiles, carvings, and relics. Looking at pictures of ancient ruins and what was left over, as I stood with a cell phone in my pocket, was an interesting reminder of how far we’d come.

But, its most significant attraction is the mummy of Juanita — a 12 to 15-year-old girl discovered atop Mount Ampato in 1995.

Due to the freezing temperatures, her remains were kept in fantastic condition. So much so that scientists were able to figure out her last meal and how long she had eaten before her death.

A tour is required, and no pictures are allowed, unfortunately. But it’s worth the visit, nonetheless.

Arequipa’s Outdoor Activities

You could stay in the city the entire time, but you’d miss where Arequipa shines — its stunning nature.

Volcanoes shoot out of the ground, canyons reach the depths of the earth, vast deserts sprawl across the landscape, and jungles fill the low-lying valleys in the Amazon.

You’ll find it near Arequipa in Peru if you prefer a certain type of nature.

Climb El Misti

You can’t miss El Misti, and it’ll likely be the first thing you see when you exit the airport.

The volcano is over 5,800 feet high but sits at an elevation of over 19,000 feet. Due to this height, climbing Misti shouldn’t be undertaken by the unprepared.

Climbing El Misti is a top, but very difficult, activity in Arequipa in Peru.

On a two-day trek, tour companies offer hikes to the top and back so you can get a birds-eye view of the surrounding area.

Climbing is on the menu every day, so be prepared to struggle. However, the volcano’s crater — still spewing smoke — awaits you at the top, along with one of the best views of Arequipa.

Just make sure you bring the proper gear.

Colca Canyon

Think the Grand Canyon is deep? Colca Canyon chuckles deeply at this. Almost two times as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is the second-deepest canyon in the world.

And it packs plenty of days’ worth of activities.

Condor-watching, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and trekking all-in-one?

This canyon is an adrenaline junkie’s playground.

If outdoor sports aren’t your forte, many unique and cultural sites dot the area. You can arrange quick trips between the various villages to sample them all.

Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve

Looking for a more relaxed yet equally beautiful experience? Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve is for you.

While the ride to the reserve can be nerve-wracking, the area’s serenity will calm you as you take in Laguna de Salinas and the Lojen Hot Springs.

Laguna de Salinas is a can't-miss activity from Arequipa in Peru.

Salt flats spread out to an impossible distance with volcanoes and mountains soaring up. Flamingoes dot the shallow waters. And vicuñas and llamas roam the area in large packs.

You can arrange a tour (the easiest option) from the city’s center and you get a helpful guide to give you some background on the area.

A day trip from Arequipa in Peru well-spent.

Where to Stay in Arequipa in Peru

The city is quite compact, making it easy to reach all the things you want to see. But if you’re looking for the best areas to stay, here are some options:

Centro Histórico

Staying near all the sites and attractions makes your trip as convenient as possible. And that’s what you’ll find in Centro Histórico.

By reducing the amount of time you spend commuting back and forth, you maximize the time you spend actually sightseeing!

However, this comes at a cost. The hotels and accommodation will have higher rates than surrounding areas.

Centro Histórico Hotels

  • Average cost of hotel: $50-60
    • Low: $10
    • High: $125

Near the Train Station

If you’re using the train to get from city-to-city in Peru, then staying near the station will provide you with a fair amount of convenience.

Located to the south of Centro Histórico, this is a great option if you’re hoping to save some money, but still access the main area. All the main sites are within walking distance, so you’ll have no trouble saving a bit of cash here.

Train Station Hotels

  • Average cost of hotel: $30-$45
    • Low: $10
    • High: $135

Selva Alegre

Looking for a bit of the hustle and bustle of tourism but also some peace and quiet?

Or maybe you have a family and want to get away from the wild nightlife?

Selva Alegre is a great option for you. Sitting just north of Centro Histórico, this area is a short walk to the major attractions.

Plus, because of its location, you’ll also save some cash on your accommodation.

Selva Alegre Hotels

  • Average cost of hotel: $25-$35
    • Low: $8
    • High: $110

Getting to Arequipa in Peru

There’s a multitude of ways to get to Arequipa. Yet, some will be easier than others.

Arequipa by Plane

A plane is the easiest and most comfortable way to arrive in Arequipa. Flights from the major cities (Lima and Cusco) will take around an hour and a half.

The airport — Alfredo Rodriguez Ballón Airport (AQP) — can be accessed by most major airlines in Peru, including:

  • LatAm
  • Avianca
  • Peruvian Airlines
  • Sky

From the airport, grab a taxi and head toward your accommodation or Plaza de Armas for around 20 soles ($5).

  • FromLima
    • Average: $50
    • Low: $20
    • High: $82
  • FromCusco
    • Average: $40
    • Low: $16
    • High: $83

Arequipa by Bus

If time isn’t a pressing issue and you want to see the country at a slower pace, then a bus is a great option.

You can choose a bus straight to Arequipa or a service like PeruHop.

PeruHop offers a variety of options based on the amount of time you have and how many cities you’d like to visit. So, it’s best to head to their website and enter your specific details.

But, PeruHop passes range from around $160 to $200.

Suppose you’re looking for a more direct (and cheaper) option. In that case, you can buy tickets using WayBus, Wari Palomino, Andoriña Tours, and Rey Latino.

  • FromLima
    • Around $25
    • 17-hour trip
  • FromCusco
    • Around $20
    • 11-hour trip

Getting Around Arequipa in Peru

Like most cities, the most common ways will be taxis and public transport.

Taxi

Your first priority is safety, so you should use taxi dispatch companies.

Like me, you may have a love/hate relationship with taxis. I’ve been ripped off enough to have a jaded view of taxi drivers. Yet, Peru has a trump card that I learned from a local.

InDriver.

This app is one of the best I’ve used, and you should download it when you land in Peru. Think of Uber, except you get to set your own price.

Drivers can accept the ride if they like or suggest a new price. You can increase your bid if you don’t receive a ride after some time. It will even suggest how much you should bid based on the average for that ride.

This app saved us so much money as we had no idea what the average taxi ride cost to each place.

With that said, most rides will cost between 4-10 soles ($1-$2.50) to the major sights in the city.

Public Transport

For locals (and savvy travelers), public transportation is the way.

You can get to most major attractions for as cheap as 1 sol ($0.26). Bus terminals are scattered around the city, making frequent stops.

When in doubt, follow the locals and listen for your destination. If you’re really in doubt, ask a local. They’re very friendly in Arequipa and are always willing to help.

As with everything, be aware of your belongings on public transportation. This is a prime area for pickpockets and thieves (although this was never an issue for us in Arequipa nor in Peru).

Conclusion

I entered Arequipa knowing nothing about it and not knowing what to expect.

I was sad my time in this city was over as I left. But, I felt joy that I’d discovered this beautiful city.

I’d done so much, but there was still so much left unseen.

But, I knew this wouldn’t be my last time in Arequipa. And, if you haven’t visited yet, you should start planning your first visit; it’ll be well worth it.

If you’re already in Arequipa, be sure to check out Laguna de Salinas. It’s not far from the city and is a fantastic day trip!

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