We arrived in Arequipa around 11am, fresh off the longest bus ride of our trip (~11 hours). We decided to use this long bus ride as our “hotel” for the night. We didn’t want to waste a full day of riding a bus, so the overnight bus ride was a good option, and we still got a pretty good night’s rest. [Note: I’ve mentioned how nice the buses are, which is absolutely true. But I also need to mention how terrifying they can be if you pay too much attention. The route was essentially cut right into the mountains with winding, hairpin turns on narrow roads during which the buses and semis have no qualms passing each other right in the middle of these turns on the narrow one lane roads. It’s best to not think about it, though if you are brave enough to look, the views are spectacular!]
In Arequipa, we stayed at La Casa de Sillar. “Sillar” is a type of white rock that many of the buildings in Arequipa were built with by the Spanish. Many of these buildings are considered historic and boast incredible architecture. With many of them constructed with this white “sillar,” it is apparent why Arequipa is also known as “La Ciudad Blanca” or The White City.
After taking a cab to La Casa de Sillar and cleaning up a bit from our overnight bus ride, we ventured out for lunch. The hostel recommended a place called La Mundial (enjoy the tunes!). This place was an easy walk from the hostel, and was very local – we were probably the only non-Peruvians in the place. We ordered an appetizer of choclo con queso (corn with cheese) and an entree of rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) to split for our lunch. These are two distinct Arequipenan foods – and both were quite tasty. The corn will really throw off a lot of norteamericanos who are not expecting it; the size of each kernel is probably 4-5 times what a normal corn sized kernel would be on an ear here in the US. Each kernel is it’s own bite that you can eat with a fork – very different, but still very good, and still tastes like corn. The rocoto relleno was also very tasty – stuffed with a mixture of meat, sauce, and some quinoa(?).
We then headed to the Plaza de Armas. Almost every city in South America will have its own Plaza de Armas – essentially the town square, and generally a hub of activity. We enjoyed some of the gorgeous architecture and decided to sit up on a balcony and relax with a nice cafecito (coffee), before enjoying the sights as we slowly wandered our way back to the hostel. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon in Arequipa.
After regrouping at our hostel from the afternoon’s (lazy) activities, we decided to head out for dinner. We had looked around at some reviews, and there was no shortage of fabulous looking restaurants, but we decided to head to one called ZigZag. The atmosphere here was very cool – again, with the sillar and the historic quality of the building, it really felt like dining in a castle. There, we also happened to have one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. [Most of you know that I love my food, and there were a handful of dishes throughout our Peru travels that would make it on my top meals of all time list.] “La Trilogia” was the main course that we ordered after our appetizer of anitpasto and some bread with excellent spreads. We picked our 3 meats – The Trilogy – to be beef, lamb, and alpaca. And those came with four different dipping sauces and a side order of quinoa that was so good and so rich that it nearly resembled a risotto. The meats were all cooked perfectly, the dipping sauces were spot on, and the quinoa incredible. And they gave us paper bibs to boot! Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves and our food immensely.
The following day in Arequipa we woke up, ate our breakfast at the hostel, and then headed to a huge mercado. The market was full of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and any other kind of handicraft or knick knack you could imagine. Check out the ol’ pineapple toss!
In the afternoon we decided to take a bus tour. Many cities have these, and there are many versions within each city as well. [Note: One thing to remember is that nearly everything is negotiable in Peru. Your hostel may offer you one price and another person in the hostel a different price, and you can walk into the Plaza de Armas to a tourist company where they will give an entirely different price. Depending on how much time you have, try to check a few places, and don’t be afraid to haggle.] Our bus tour drove by a few of the historic places just off the Plaza de Armas, including the Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the oldest in South America. However, the majority of the bus tour was spent just beyond the city. [Note: If you want to see some of these historic places in and around downtown, I would recommend one of the free walking tours that occurs twice daily. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go on one.]
Our first stop (just above) was at the famous mirador of Yanahuara, with beautiful arches that look out over the city of Arequipa. You can also see some of the large volcanoes in the background that are very impressive in Arequipa. [Note: One of the big draws for tourists in Arequipa is the trekking through the Colca Canyon, near some of these huge volcanoes. While there are single day trips (starting at 3am and lasting until 8pm), most people elect to do the trekking in 2 or more days. We didn’t have that kind of time, so we decided to tour the city and surrounding sights instead, which was still very worth the trip.] After the trip to the arches, we went to the next vista and enjoyed seeing the volcanoes.
After a tasty lunch break, we continued on to the mansion of the fundador of Arequipa. The historic mansion had fallen into ruin for a long period of time, but was purchased by a team of architects and restored to be an historic museum and destination. The mansion and rooms were interesting to learn about and see some of the old tools that would have been used, and the grounds were very impressive and beautiful as well.
After the mansion of the fundador, we took a little bit a random stop at a ranch. There were some horses around as an option to ride, but no one from our group decided to exercise that option. This led to most of us milling around without doing much of anything for a good 30-45 minutes. The one spectacle was a pet hawk that we saw. Two ladies had trained a huge hawk to stand on the shoulders of people for impressive photo ops for just a few soles. I was not worried about the price, but I was absolutely worried about the bird so I elected not to partake. But here’s an interesting shot of one of the people in our group who did decide to be adventurous and make friends with the hawk:
After we returned, we decided to wander down a couple of neat walking streets, and ended up eating at a little spot on la calle San Francisco. It was a neat place, and we ate on the rooftop terrace (even though it was a little chilly in the evening). The food was good, but couldn’t compare to the previous night’s at ZigZag. The following morning we were up early and on the bus toward our next stop – Puno!