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An introduction to Arequipa, Peru

The colonial gem of Arequipa is one of Peru’s most beautiful yet overlooked cities. Situated in a lush valley and surrounded by massive volcanic peaks, Arequipa has it all: delicious local cuisine, spectacular scenery, and stately architecture.

The first thing you’ll notice upon arrival in Arequipa are the looming volcanoes: El Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu. Each tops 20,000 feet and during the winter months the peaks are sprinkled with snow. Though these 3 dominate, the region actually contains numerous mountains and volcanoes. In fact, it was atop of the dormant Mount Ampato, 60 miles outside the city, that Arequipa’s most famous resident was discovered: Juanita the Ice Maiden.


Photo - Karl Norling

Juanita is a mummified young Inca woman, found frozen and almost perfectly preserved near Ampato’s summit. Experts believe that at the age of roughly 13 she ascended the mountain as a (perhaps) willing sacrifice sent to appease the gods. From her death around 1450 until her discovery in 1995 she sat wrapped in a burial tapestry upon the frozen mountain peak. Juanita is now on rotating display in the Museo Santuarios Andinos, a small but informative museum.

No trip to Arequipa is complete without a visit to the Santa Catalina Monastery, a sprawling complex of colorful rooms, narrow corridors, and welcoming courtyards. Founded in 1579 and occupying a full block, this operating monastery is a pleasing and educational way to spend a full afternoon.

Photo - Körschgen

Equally appealing is Arequipa’s central plaza, a beautiful display of gleaming colonial architecture. Most of the center’s buildings are constructed out of sillar, a white volcanic stone able to withstand the region’s frequent earthquakes. The plaza is adorned by colonial buildings supporting arched balconies, and is completely lined on one side by the massive Cathedral, an impressively pillared building containing one of the largest musical organs in all of South America. The plaza, complete with palm trees and fountains, is often called the most beautiful in all of Peru.


Photo - Ivan Mlinaric

In addition to its architecture, Arequipa is famous for its food. Arequipeño cuisine is distinctly spicy for Peruvian food and classic dishes include the tasty rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) and adobo (pork marinated in spices). Many restaurants in Arequipa have surprisingly impressive interiors—many features arched sillar ceilings or cozy caverns with clay pizza ovens—and usually overflowing with a happy mix of residents and visitors.

Keen to see Arequipa for yourself? Check out our Peru itineraries here or speak to one of our Destination Experts about crafting the bespoke vacation of your dreams.

Thanks to Chris Walts for the title image of this blog.

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