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Peru will always be a place close to our hearts. On our first visit to this beautiful country, we ended up overstaying our visas and spending more than 3 months traveling because there was just so much to do!
We’ve come back many times since, and every single time we find ourselves in Arequipa, there is something new to discover that makes us fall in love all over again.
The city of Arequipa is one of the many highlights of visiting Peru. It’s earned the nickname “White City” or “Ciudad de Blanco” after the white Sillar rock used to make so many buildings in the city. The architecture with this white volcanic stone is stunning, especially in the Main Square and the various streets around it.
The city is also a popular place to stay for anyone getting ready to visit Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world! The spectacular views and impressive wildlife make this the adventure of a lifetime, especially if you embark on one of the multi-day tours.
From tasting delicious food and cocktails (pisco sour anyone?) to exploring museums and taking in the impressive volcano views, Arequipa is not a place you’ll get bored in.
So, let’s dive into the top things to do and see in Arequipa! I’ve included other important info too, so this can be your ultimate guide to visiting Arequipa, Peru.
About Arequipa, Peru
Arequipa is located in the southern part of Peru, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) south of Lima. It is quite a populated city, with over 1 million people.
The weather here tends to be quite dry, and chances are you won’t get much rain outside of the wet season (between December and March). The city gets more than 300 days of sunshine! It’s never too hot or too cold, which is great as you always know what to expect.
There are not one, but four volcanoes surrounding Arequipa! The Misti Volcano is the most impressive of the bunch as it’s the closest to the city. This volcano is dormant with the last major eruption happening back in the 1600s.
By far, the most popular sight around Arequipa is the impressive Colca Canyon. It’s only about 3 hours away, so it’s an easy day trip. Plus, Arequipa is at the same altitude as the canyon, so it’s good to stay here for a couple of days to adjust before going hiking.
In terms of money, most places only accept Peruvian soles, but credit cards are also widely used. We often just withdrew money from ATMs but spent mostly on our cards.
Things to do in Arequipa, Peru
1. Hang out at the Main Square
When in Arequipa, you can’t miss out on walking around the Main Square. It’s also called Plaza de Armas, and it’s perhaps one of the most stunning parts of the city.
Everything here is made entirely using the white volcanic stone common in the region. The city isn’t called The White City for nothing!
In the square, you can wander around or sit in the shade of the palm trees, feed pigeons, or make a wish at the Tuturutu Fountain which can be seen right at the center of the Plaza.
The Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa stands tall to the side of the square and is a true marvel of architecture. You can admire this pure white building from the outside, but also visit the museum located inside. A guided tour is only 10 soles ($2.50 USD) and the views from the roof are amazing!
If you are looking for a place to take scenic photos during the day or at sunset, Plaza de Armas should be your go-to option. Feel free to hang around after nightfall as well to enjoy a vibrant atmosphere full of live music and friendly people.
2. Visit Colca Canyon
One of the most impressive attractions in the area, the Colca Canyon is a must-visit for anyone who ventures to this part of the world. The views are second to none, especially on a sunny day when you can see so far into the distance.
Colca Canyon is actually one of the deepest canyons in the world – in fact, it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!
While it is possible to visit and hike the Colca Canyon on your own, we don’t recommend it. You won’t really save much money and the hassle of organizing everything, including what route to hike wasn’t worth it for us. In comparison, the guided tours of the Colca Canyon are relatively reasonable and include all your transportation and accommodation for multi-day hikes.
This 3-day Colca Canyon tour is what we did! For only $97 USD, it includes all of your meals and very nice accommodation. While it is a hiking tour, the hike is completed over 3 days at a nice slower pace with plenty of time to enjoy views, hot springs, and a pool with drinks!
If hiking isn’t your thing, this full-day Colca Canyon tour is a super affordable option at only $38 USD and you don’t have to break a sweat to enjoy the views! The tour takes you through some of the most scenic parts of the canyon including the incredible Condor Cross viewpoint. It also includes breakfast and lunch, and bonus stops at a hot spring and national reserve to see alpacas.
Related read: Another of Peru’s most famous sights is the wonder that is Machu Picchu. Check out all the things you should know before visiting Machu Picchu!
3. Pop into a café
After a busy morning walking around Arequipa, one of our favorite ways to relax (and get a boost of caffeine!) is by popping into one of the trendy cafes close to the Main Square.
Mi Kcao Cafe is especially worth visiting, as it serves some of the best coffee and hot chocolate around. It’s all made from 100% organic, locally sourced ingredients, including from the owner’s family farm.
This cafe is one of those hidden gems as it’s off the beaten path inside the Mango Hostel on a cozy rooftop patio. It really makes you feel like you’ve discovered one of the secrets of the city. The staff is also wonderful and loves sharing their knowledge of coffee making and Peruvian culture.
Another personal favorite was the Kafi Wasi Coffee House. If you’re looking for a delicious breakfast sold at an amazingly cheap price, this is the place. Their sandwiches melt in your mouth and the chocolate desserts are delicious!
4. Visit the Yanahuara Scenic Overlook
Arequipa is also known for the volcanoes surrounding the city. Luckily there are some great spots to see them with no hiking required!
On a sunny day, make sure to head to the Yanahuara Scenic Overlook. You’ll see the volcanoes in the distance through stone arches. It’s a perfect spot for some memorable photos for your Insta!
Besides the stunning views, this is also a nice place to walk around the nearby park and grab cheese ice cream (yes, I said cheese!) from Queso Helado Charito, which is just around the corner. It’s a really unique taste, but good!
5. Pet an alpaca!
If you’re looking for a unique and family-friendly activity in Arequipa, Mundo Alpaca is a great choice.
It’s a museum dedicated to alpacas and llamas! You’ll learn about their wool, how the traditional textiles of the area are made, and even get the chance to buy a handmade garment.
Not only that but there are actual llamas and alpacas here! You can see them up close and even pet them, making this the perfect place for children and grown-ups alike.
If you weren’t completely sold on this place yet, it gets better – entrance is completely free. The locals care deeply about their culture and try their hardest to keep it alive by promoting it to tourists, and this museum is living proof of that.
Related read: Alpaca wool is so comfy – I still wear the sweater I bought from a local market in Cusco, Peru!
6. City walking tour
The White City of Arequipa is the perfect place to just walk around the streets for the day. There is plenty of stunning, white stone architecture and flowers to admire here that make you feel like you’re visiting a place straight out of a storybook.
Walking around by yourself can be a great experience in and of itself, but if you really want to get to know the city and its history, consider doing one of the free tours offered by Free Walking Tours Peru. They take place twice a day, one at 10 am and one at 3 pm, and they are all in English.
The tour takes you all around the historical center – you get to admire the Monastery of Santa Catalina, the Main Square, the first hotel in Arequipa called Los Tambos, or walk over the Puente Bolognesi. There is so much to know about the city and this tour really helped us connect with it more.
Although the tour itself is free, make sure to tip your guide at the end of it, so that people can continue to enjoy this amazing service!
7. Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery is another great piece of culture and history to visit while in Arequipa. The white and red stone buildings built as early as 1579 look stunning and walking around feels like an adventure.
Try to stay mindful of your surroundings and not make too much noise as there are still nuns living here today.
At the Monastery, you can take one of the guided tours to find out more about the rich history of the place, and you can also take a short rest at the coffee shop here.
The entry fee to visit the place is fairly cheap, as tickets only cost 45 soles (about $12 USD) and can be purchased online in advance here. The tickets are untimed, meaning you can take your time and explore all the corners of this place at your own pace.
The Monastery is open to the public every day from 9 am to 6 pm and stays open late on Thursday nights for night tours.
8. Day trip to Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation
If you want to admire unique landscapes of the volcanoes around Arequipa, Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation is the perfect place to venture to.
The reservation is located on the way from Arequipa to Colca Canyon and offers some of the most spectacular sights in the area. You’ll see the volcanoes standing tall on the horizon and some of the unique flora and fauna that survives in the arid environment. Sometimes, you can see alpacas and even flamingos on the lake.
This place is definitely a full day’s worth of travel. We recommend this private day tour to take you through all the great spots, including Salinas Lake, the canyon, and the lagoon. You also get the chance to visit the village of Chiguata, where you’ll get to learn a lot about Inca culture from your guide and maybe even the locals.
The tour costs only $95 USD, which is a bargain considering this is a private tour and also includes lunch!
9. Wander a local market
One of the best things to do while traveling is to get a feel for the local culture and meet the people who call this place home. What better place to do that than at the local markets?
While in Arequipa, make sure you stop by the Mercado San Camilo. It’s one of the largest local markets in southern Peru.
Everything in here is surprisingly affordable if you consider just how much work and sweat have gone into carefully crafting every product. Here, you can find anything from fresh fruit and local dishes like stuffed hot peppers and adobo, to accessories and clothing.
The market itself is free to enter and open every day of the year, between as early as 6 am to 7:30 pm. It’s truly a great place to wander around for a few hours while getting breakfast or lunch at one of the numerous stalls.
10. Take a food tour
Do you consider yourself a foodie? You definitely will be after trying this local food tour in Arequipa. It is such a memorable experience, taking you through some of the hidden gems of the city in terms of restaurants.
For only $79 USD, you get to sample some of the best local dishes, paired up with matching drinks and yummy desserts at the end. Peru cuisine has such rich, unique flavors to it and uses some of the freshest ingredients, and you’ll get to experience them all with this tour.
We recommend joining this tour hungry because you will definitely get your money’s worth of food and more.
Related read: Some of the top tours in Lima, Peru also include amazing food!
11. Explore San Lazaro
There are some great places to wander around the city center, and San Lazaro is absolutely one of them. This is the oldest neighborhood in Arequipa and features cobblestone paths and white walls made from the same type of stone that you see throughout the city.
There are a couple of streets in San Lazaro that are popular to walk on, mainly for taking photos and admiring the architecture. You should look for the narrow passage of Callejon Bayoneta, the Calleja del Combate Naval, and Matorral square.
San Lazaro also offers some great bakeries serving freshly made bread that smells out of this world. Masamama Cafe is a personal favorite. Here, you can try some of their amazing sourdough bread, focaccia, and even the delicacy that is chocolate bread, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of heaven.
Arequipa is truly a place of rich culture and history, and what better way to explore that than by visiting one of the cool museums in the city?
Museo Santuarios Andinos offers a chilling but interesting experience, as you get to learn about the sacrificial practices of the Inca. You can see the remains of Juanita, an Inca person who died in one such ritual, but also various artifacts used as offerings which were found alongside the remains (such as ceramics and textiles).
Museo La Recoleta is another great place to go to and learn more about local culture. Not only can you read about various artifacts collected during missionary travels, but you can also climb up the bell tower for an incredible city view.
Last but not least, Museo De Arte Virreinal offers a lot of insight into the lives of nuns living in the monastery here. You can also admire lots of paintings, murals, sculptures, and decorative items, from many different time periods.
13. Hike to a waterfall
If you are a fan of nature like us, then you’ll love a peaceful, scenic hike up to a beautiful waterfall and hot springs in the area.
This tour is not too expensive (around $62 USD), and it includes some snacks and drinks as well as hotel pick-up. It is the perfect day activity for those looking to escape the city and set out on a bit of an adventure.
The hike itself is not too difficult, and the views at the base of the Capua Waterfall are spectacular. The trail isn’t busy either, so it’s really serene as you enjoy the views.
After the hike, you’ll take a dip in some natural hot springs, which feels so refreshing after the long walk. Make sure to have some cash on hand (5-10 soles) to pay for entry to the thermal baths.
The tour itself takes around 8 hours so make sure you are well-rested beforehand!
Related read: Another natural wonder in Peru and one of the best hikes in South America is the colorful Rainbow Mountain!
14. Drink Pisco Sours
While in Arequipa, cheer yourself up by drinking a delicious pisco sour! This cocktail is made using the local spirit called Pisco, which is a grape brandy only made in Peru and Chile.
The drink itself is incredibly popular and considered the national drink of Peru! With its citrusy flavor and fluffy froth on top, it’s a must-try for all who enjoy a good cocktail in the evening.
In Arequipa, the Sunset Rooftop Bar serves the best pisco sours, which you can enjoy while overlooking an amazing city view from your table. You can even learn how to make the iconic drink yourself by joining one of their daily Pisco Sour workshops! You’ll be able to impress all your friends back home with this amazing drink.
15. Go white water rafting
Only 20 minutes away from Arequipa, there are some great rapids for rafting down!
This white water rafting tour takes you to the Chili River. You’ll raft along the upper 6 km (3.7 mile) section tackling Class III or intermediate-level rapids.
Don’t let the “intermediate” scare you off though – you don’t need any prior rafting experience. The guides are with you the whole time and stay in control of the raft, you just get to help paddle and have fun!
The tour is only $24 USD per person and includes all your gear, round-trip transportation, and snacks. The tour is not for the faint-hearted but it’s such a cool experience!
Arequipa is great not just for the culture and nature, but also for the parties! At night, the city really comes alive with live music and plenty of places to dance the night away.
We loved Casona Forum. It has three different floors, and you can enjoy different kinds of music on each of them! The salsa floor was by far the most fun one. Just buy one of their tasty drinks and enjoy yourself on the dancefloor.
Frogs is another great option and a favorite local stop for live music. Grab a beer, some wings, and enjoy the atmosphere!
17. Try coca leaves
While in Peru, you can’t miss the opportunity to try coca leaves.
These leaves are typically chewed or brewed in teas and are a popular remedy for anyone dealing with altitude sickness. Eating the leaves either raw or as part of a tea can make your symptoms (like bad headaches for me!) completely disappear.
It’s very easy to find bags of coca leaves at local markets – just ask for ‘hoja de coca’ and you’ll find it just about anywhere you go. Expect to pay less than $1 USD for an entire bag of leaves.
18. Take a cooking class
If you want to impress your friends back home and bring a little piece of Peru home, you should definitely take a cooking class while in Arequipa!
This Peruvian cooking class starts at a local market as you pick out ingredients. Then you’ll learn how to prepare traditional dishes with the help of a professional chef. The class finishes with a pisco sour (of course!) and you get to enjoy your hard work with a delicious lunch.
What’s great about this class is that you get to set the menu – it can be customized to your preferences and what dishes you want to learn how to make. A great value for $65 USD per person.
19. Hike to incredible views
Arequipa is surrounded by incredible places to hike through, not just Colca Canyon. If you’re up for a challenge, Chachani Mountain or Misti Volcano are two of our favorite options.
Both of these hikes are much more challenging than the Colca Canyon (and that’s no walk in the park either!) We definitely recommend taking a guided tour to stay safe.
This tour of Misti Volcano takes about 2 days as you climb up a scenic route on the volcano. You’ll hike for 6 hours on the first day to base camp to enjoy a sunset and camp on the volcano for the evening. Then, the next day starts early (3 am early!) to keep hiking to the summit. The tour is $174 USD and includes some meals, transportation, and camping gear.
If one epic climb isn’t enough, you can also take a guided tour up Mountain Chachani. This tour also includes camping for the night and a guide to help navigate the climb. Make sure to admire the amazing views as you catch your breath! The tour is $300 USD and includes some meals, camping gear, and a guide.
Related read: We have a complete guide to trekking in Peru to help you prepare for any hikes you’ll tackle while you’re here!
20. Hit the beach!
If you’re craving a sunny beach day, make sure to drop into the city of Mollendo. It’s only 2 hours away from Arequipa and offers some of the most amazing beaches in the area.
Catarindo Beach is the perfect place for a quiet day of sunning on the sand. The beach is surrounded by huge cliffs, and the water is calm and perfect for cooling down. Be careful, though – the beach itself is quite rocky, so if you venture into the water make sure to bring a pair of water shoes to not hurt yourself.
The main beach in the town is Playa Mollendo, which is another great option when you want to enjoy a quiet day away from the bustling city.
All the beaches in Mollendo are clean and the views are quite spectacular. If you stay all day, you may even get to capture an amazing sunset for your holiday photo album.
21. Make your own chocolate
Arequipa is definitely heaven for all chocolate lovers (like me!). It seems like around every corner there’s a cafe serving hot drinks and desserts using local chocolate.
While in Arequipa, not only can you taste some of the most amazing sweet treats, but you also have the chance to make your own! The Chaqchao Chocolate Making Workshop is the perfect 2-hour activity for all enthusiasts wondering how chocolate goes from bean to bar.
In this $25 USD workshop, you will learn all there is to know about the history of chocolate (did you know that it was drunk even by Aztec Kings?) and get to take home your very own chocolate bar made with your own hands.
At the end, there is, of course, a chocolate-tasting session, teaching you the difference between store-bought chocolate and artisanal products. Be careful – you may not want to go back to the store-bought one after this!
Where to Stay in Arequipa, Peru
When it comes to places to stay in Arequipa, there are tons of great options, especially around the city center. No matter if you are traveling on a budget or treating yourself to a luxurious holiday, there is something for everyone.
If you are looking for a cheap hostel that fits within your tight budget, you can opt for a place like Mandala Rooms and Services, located 5 minutes away from the Main Square. The rooms look pretty fancy for the price (around $20 USD), and you also get a fresh breakfast included!
A local favorite is Los Andes Bed & Breakfast, which features traditional cultural decor inside decently spacious rooms. There’s a mix of dorm rooms and private rooms here and although you’ll pay a bit more for a private room, it’s still really reasonable. The location is perfect in the heart of Arequipa. Plus breakfast is included or there’s a nice kitchen you have access to.
If you are looking for a more luxurious experience, then La Hosteria Boutique Hotel delivers! This hotel was built in a renovated colonial house and has access to a beautiful courtyard with intricate tilework and a fountain. You’re also in a great location in the historic center of the city, so you can walk out the door and explore! If it fits within your budget, don’t forget to treat yourself to their exquisite spa and sauna services as well.
Thanks for reading!
Arequipa is one of those cities that has a perfect mix of history, fun adventures, and plenty of great food (and chocolate!) to enjoy. Whether you stay here for a few days while hiking the Colca Canyon or stop in briefly while backpacking around South America, you’ll love the friendly atmosphere and spectacular scenery around you.
If exploring Peru is on your bucket list, check out more of our Peru blogs here. You’ll get lots of tips and ideas to help plan your trip!
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