Arequipa, Peru: A Guide to Traveling in the White City

Arequipa, Peru: A Guide to Traveling in the White City

Discover the best things to do in Arequipa, Peru’s enchanting White City. Explore the city’s attractions and plan your perfect travel experience in Peru.


In Arequipa, the air is a little thinner, the food a bit more delicious, and the sunsets perform alchemy to turn the city’s white-stoned buildings into a canvas of gold and pink.

The streets are a patchwork of history, where Spanish colonial churches rub shoulders with picanterias serving spicy rocoto relleno. Between those are bustling markets, where vendors unite to sell you their alpaca wool sweaters. And the smell of chicha morada blankets all of it with a perfume of sweet purple corn, sure enough to make everyone stop and turn.

Arequipa is a city that should be devoured with your eyes as much as your mouth. Come for the sights, stay for the flavors. And with this guide, I hope to help you do exactly that.

I’ll give you the best things to do, where to stay, how to get around, and where to eat so you can have the best possible stay in Arequipa.

Let’s dive in!

Overview of Arequipa, Peru

Cradled in the arms of not one but three lovely volcanoes — Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu — Arequipa lives life on the edge.

A photo of Mount Chachani through a window in Arequipa

Its heart is the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, where baroque buildings fashioned from pearly white volcanic sillar stone intertwine the culture and landscape forever.

History isn’t only found in the grandeur of its cathedral or the silent cloisters in Santa Catalina Monastery; it’s built into Arequipenos’ everyday life. With a unique Andean heritage and fascinating colonial history, Arequipa is a collision of cultures that surprises you on your first visit and leaves a strong impression.

And that’s before you get to the food.

Arequipa’s cuisine mirrors its culture — diverse, rich, and unapologetically bold. From the smoky flavors of adobo arequipeño to the freshness of the trout from the Colca River, the city’s food is a conversation between its terrain and its people’s creativity. So it’s best to grab a seat at a local picanteria (traditional eateries) and take in as much of the life (and food) as possible.

Arequipan food on a table

But the city’s greatest treasure is the Arequipeños themselves: friendly, social, and deeply proud of their heritage. From their crafts to their music to their parties, they’re the best testament to the resilience and warmth of the high Andes.

And they’ll love welcoming you to their city.

Best things to do in Arequipa

1. Explore Arequipa’s historic city center

Step back in time as you wander through the heart of Arequipa.

This site has some of the most beautiful architecture you’ll find in Arequipa. And it’s your best view of the Spanish colonial design still exists.

The white walls of the historic center in Arequipa

Wander through the streets and check out the intricate facades and preserved interiors. I’m not typically one who spends a ton of time staring at buildings, but even I found myself not minding simply strolling along, admiring the views. And when you get tired, the city has many restaurants and cafes you can duck into for a drink or a bite to eat.

In all, visiting Arequipa without visiting the Historic Center isn’t possible. It’s just unthinkable.

2. Relax in Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas is the social and cultural hub of Arequipa.

And because of that, it’s the best place to sit down and soak up as much of the local culture as possible.

The Basilica Cathedral de Arequipa in Plaza de Armas

My fiancee and I came here and enjoyed watching local families gather in the square. Children played, parents and grandparents sat by and talked, and street performers dazzled people nearby. It was the perfect place for us to sit and unwind for a bit after an action-packed day of exploring (and maybe a little recovery from the altitude). Plus, it’s quite the scene with the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa towering over the square.

And you can’t drive cars in the area! So you enjoy all of this without the noise of engines and drivers.

3. Take a tour of the Santa Catalina Monastery

A city within a city in the center of Arequipa.

This 16th-century monastery is a sprawling cluster of chapels, art and history collections, small plazas, and colorful walls.

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 nearly $150,000 in today’s money. You learn this and more on a tour of the monastery. Be sure to stop by the cafe to sample the local cuisine when your tour ends.

4. Learn about the Incas at Museo Santuarios Andinos

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

Home of the famous Ice Maid, ‘Juanita’, this museum gives you a fascinating glimpse into Incan culture and history. Plus, you get to look at Juanita at the end. And in case you’re unsure, Juanita is a well-preserved mummy of a 12-15 year old girl whom the Incas sacrificed atop Mount Ampato, a regular practice at the time, between 1440 and 1480.

Researchers found her in 1995 on the mountain. And, thanks to the frigid temperatures and burial, she was still well-preserved.

And now you can learn all about her (and her culture’s) rich history here. Sadly, you can’t take pictures inside. But that’s why taking your time and learning everything you can while you’re there is even more important!

5. Climb El Misti volcano

If you’re more adventurous (and not suffering from altitude sickness), you can take on El Misti.

The trek is challenging but rewarding for the views at the top of Arequipa and the surrounding area.

El Misti volcano looms over a small set of houses on a hillside

You can’t miss the mountain, and it’s likely the first thing you’ll see when you exit the airport. And that’s because of its giant size. At 5,800 feet high, it casts an imposing figure over the city. Sometimes, I felt like it was casting a spell on me as I stared at it before I realized it was simply the lack of oxygen to my brain.

And when it already sits at 19,000 feet above sea level, climbing to the top will test you. So I’d recommend being in fantastic shape for this one.

6. Go on a Colca Canyon trek

Think the Grand Canyon is deep? Colca Canyon chuckles deeply at this.

It’s almost two times as deep as the Grand Canyon, the second deepest canyon in the world, and it offers plenty of days’ worth of activities.

Visiting Colca Canyon involves condor-watching, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and trekking all in one? Doesn’t sound too bad for an adrenaline junkie looking for a playground. And if outdoor adventure isn’t your forte, many unique and cultural sites dot the area. You can arrange quick trips between the various villages to sample them all.

If you’re brave enough, climb El Misti and take a Colca Canyon tour to get the highs and lows of Arequipa 😉.

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7. Take the ride to Laguna de Salinas

A bit off the beaten path, this salt lake is a unique natural wonder.

Laguna de Salinas' mountains reflect off the lake's surface

If you can visit during the rainy season especially, the lake becomes a haven for flamingos and other rare birds. And with the unique mirror effect from the salt flat, you can create all the fun images you see on Instagram! Bring fun props or create a mirror image — it doesn’t matter what you do, just have some fun.

Luckily (and unluckily), I found a beer bottle lying on the ground I used.

A man looks like he's climbing in a bottle at Laguna de Salinas

Just be aware the ride to Laguna de Salinas will be…eventful. Make sure to add it to your itinerary, though!

Looking for a more relaxed yet equally beautiful experience? The Lojen Hot Springs are a great addition to a visit to the salt lake.

8. Check out Mundo Alpaca

Get up close to alpacas and learn a bit about how locals use their wool?

A man feeds an alpaca at Mundo Alpaca

I was honestly shocked by how much fun this was, but every time I mention it to my fiancee, our eyes light up and smiles creep on our faces.

You can start outside where the alpacas are inside a fence. We picked grass and fed it to the more curious ones who ventured our way. Then we continued on to where two locals, a man and a woman, sat weaving the wool into intricate patterns.

A local man sits with his weaving tools at Mundo Alpaca

It doesn’t take much time to venture through, so you can pass through quickly or take your time. Just be sure to check out the store at the end for some great souvenirs.

9. Go on a tour

If these above sights weren’t enough for you, then find a tour.

Whether it’s a city tour, cooking class, or a language exchange, these activities help you dive deeper into Arequipa. Sure, you can explore on your own and see everything, but you aren’t taking much away from the experience. A tour or class helps you get a bit of history, culture, and it connects you with a local from the city of Arequipa!

Two women walk in a canyon just outside of Arequipa

We did three (not all in the city), and one of our favorite parts was connecting with our knowledgeable guides and learning more about their lives. Just always remember to tip your guide if it’s a tour!

So I can’t recommend this enough.

Best time to visit Arequipa

I’m gonna hit you with a classic answer: It depends.

I know, I know. It’s everyone’s least favorite answer but the most accurate one because it depends on what you want to do.

So, I’ll break it down this way:

  • Dry season (May-September): If there was a “best time” to visit Arequipa, this is it. It’s sunny and dry, which is perfect for hiking the El Misti volcano or exploring Colca Canyon. The days are warm, but the nights get chilly due to the altitude.
  • Rainy season (December-March): It may be the rainy season, but it doesn’t often rain enough to disrupt travel plans. This is when you’ll find the fewest tourists and the cheapest prices.
  • Shoulder seasons (October-Nov/March-April): A nice balance of weather, crowds, and prices. It’s the best time to travel here if you want to experience near-peak Arequipa without the crowds or prices.

Hopefully, I’ve proven my answer is justified! 😉

Day trips from Arequipa

If you can’t tell by now, Arequipa has no shortage of day trips.

You’ve got your choices, from following a travel guide into a canyon and to a waterfall to climbing gigantic volcanoes. So, here’s a complete guide to some of the top picks:

  • Colca Canyon: A breathtaking natural wonder, it’s perfect for hiking, bird watching (especially for the Andean condor), and soaking in hot springs. The canyon offers stunning landscapes and a glimpse into rural Andean life.
  • Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve: Ideal for nature lovers, this reserve has diverse wildlife, including vicuñas and flamingos, and offers spectacular views of volcanoes and highland lagoons.
  • Petroglyphs of Toro Muerto: This site offers a fascinating excursion for history buffs. It contains thousands of ancient volcanic rock carvings that provide insight into Peru’s prehistoric cultures.
  • Sillar Route: Discover the origin of Arequipa’s buildings made of white volcanic stone by exploring the quarries where the sillar stone is mined. This tour provides a unique perspective on the city’s architecture and history.

Best restaurants in Arequipa

Arequipa is full of delicious food.

Finding it isn’t hard, but check out some restaurants while you’re here to ensure you get your fixings from the best eateries!

Here are some of the best places to eat in Arequipa:

  • Zig Zag Restaurant: Known for its innovative Andean fusion cuisine, Zig Zag presents dishes with both local and international influences, served in a charming, architecturally unique setting.
  • Chicha por Gastón Acurio: A must-visit for food enthusiasts, this restaurant by Peru’s celebrity chef Gastón Acurio offers a modern twist on traditional Peruvian dishes, emphasizing local ingredients and flavors.
  • La Nueva Palomino: Famous for its authentic Arequipan picantería experience, this restaurant serves generous portions of traditional dishes like rocoto relleno and chupe de camarones in a lively, rustic atmosphere.
  • Sol de Mayo Restaurant: Set in a beautiful traditional courtyard in Yanahuara, Sol de Mayo offers a range of classic Arequipa dishes known for their hearty flavors and fresh ingredients.
  • Il Caffe Della Nonna: Not as famous as the other restaurants, but this small, intimate restaurant serves up some delicious food (and the owner is a delight to talk to!)

Where to Stay in Arequipa in Peru

The city is quite compact, making it easy to reach everything you want to see.

But there are some places to stay that make it easier to sightsee, like:

  • Centro Historico
  • Near the PeruRail train station
  • Selva Alegre

I usually stay in Airbnb when I travel, so if you want an Airbnb in Arequipa, I have a guide to get an Airbnb discount. However, if you prefer hotels in Arequipa, here are some top ones I recommend:

  • Casa Andina Premium Arequipa: Located in a restored 18th-century mansion in the historic center, this luxury hotel combines colonial elegance with modern comforts and is close to major attractions.
  • Katari Hotel at Plaza de Armas: Offering spectacular views of the city and the cathedral, this hotel provides a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary design, with a rooftop terrace that’s hard to beat.
  • Homestay Pachamama: A more local and authentic experience, Homestay Pachamama gives you the perfect stay in Arequipa. The rooms are a bit basic compared to other hotels, but still more than enough!
  • Los Andes Bed & Breakfast: Located right near the main square, Los Andes Bed & Breakfast offers a cozy little option tucked just outside of the most popular attractions.

Each hotel offers something special, whether it’s a prime location, historical charm, luxurious amenities, or exceptional service, ensuring a comfortable and memorable stay in Arequipa.

How to get to Arequipa

If you have time, I recommend planning your Arequipa travel by bus. You’ll see more of the country (especially parts most people don’t see) and experience a slower pace.

But not everyone has that time, and that’s where planes come in to make it faster (but more expensive.

Here’s a breakdown of your options to get to Arequipa:

By plane

FromAirlinesCost RangeDuration
LimaLatAm, Avianca, Peruvian, Sky$20-$82~1.5 hours
CuscoLatAm, Avianca, Peruvian, Sky$16-$83~1.5 hours

By bus

FromServicesCostDuration
LimaPeruHop, Direct buses~$25 (local bus), $200 (PeruHop)17 hours
CuscoPeruHop, Direct Buses~$20 (local bus), $200 (PeruHop)11 hours

How to get around in Arequipa

Like everyone, you arrive in Arequipa thinking your best option will be Uber or a taxi, right?

Wrong.

In Arequipa, InDriver is the most popular option.

You request a ride to a place at a price you think is fair. Drivers can accept the ride or even suggest a new price. If no drivers take your offer, you may need to increase your price slightly.

Personally, I loved this app. I thought it was an awesome twist on Uber, where you get a bit more control over how much you pay.

Take it from someone who got shafted on a ride from the airport to my Airbnb: you want InDriver.

Otherwise, your best option is public transport. You can get to most major attractions for as cheap as one sol (~$0.26) and find bus terminals scattered around the city. When in doubt, follow the locals, and you can’t go wrong.

Ready to visit Arequipa?

One of the best things about travel is its ability to surprise you.

And my visit to Arequipa was a HUGE surprise. And I’d recommend anyone to visit on their trip to Peru and South America. Whether you want adventure, food, culture, or history, Arequipa has everything.

So let me know what your plans are when you visit Arequipa! I’d love to hear more about your planned trip or your thoughts!

And be sure to sign up for my newsletter below or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok!

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