A firm favourite among those heading to Peru, Arequipa is one of the most beautiful cities you can visit in this Latin American nation.
Not only is the city full of unique things to see and do, the surrounding landscapes also offer some really exciting day trips too.
From hiking smoky volcanoes to traversing one of the deepest canyons in the world, this is all possible when visiting Arequipa!
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about Arequipa.
As well as the best things to see and do, you’ll also learn the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay as well as my top recommendations.
So if you're planning to explore this part of South America, keep reading...
Known as the “White City of Peru”, Arequipa really is candy for the eyes.
Most of the city has been constructed using the sillar volcanic rock from nearby volcanoes and valleys, which is apparent in its abundance of colonial, white-washed buildings.
To make things even better, Arequipa is also surrounded by three imposing volcanoes, which sets up for some truly awesome photo opportunities.
The region around Arequipa is full of exciting destinations to visit, which include the Colca Canyon, El Misti as well as indigenous towns such as Chivay.
Given it’s the second largest city in Peru, Arequipa has also found its way to fame through its food.
Classics such as Lomo Saltado and Queso Helado originated here, and there’s no better place to try these than within the diverse range of diners found throughout the Historic Centre.
Arequipa is located within the same-named region in southern Peru.
It’s roughly 1000km south of Lima, and there are two main ways of getting here.
The easiest way to get to Arequipa is to fly from Lima.
Having just arrived into Peru, the capital has the most direct flights of any city heading to Arequipa. A one-way ticket costs roughly $40-60, and the major airlines serving this route are LATAM and SKY.
If you’re already travelling around Peru, then it’s good to know that there are also direct flights to Arequipa from the cities of Cusco, Piura, Trujillo and Tarapoto.
The other way, which is by far the cheapest, is by bus.
Taking around 17 hours in total, you’ll be paying between $20-25 for the trip so it's a great option for those backpacking Peru on a budget.
The other way you can do it (which is popular among backpackers) is to break up the trip along the way.
There are many notable destinations between the two worth seeing, such as Huacachina, Paracas and Nazca.
You can also take the bus to Arequipa from other popular destinations in the south such as Puno and Cusco. You can browse the routes using Redbus!
Once you’ve arrived in Arequipa, you’ll first need to get to the city centre.
Taxis are the best way, as well as using apps such as Uber or InDriver (however I don’t recommend using the latter upon arriving, since you won’t know what to charge).
Whilst you won’t find any mototaxis here, you can also use the local colectivos to get around Arequipa.
They’re a much cheaper mode of transport, however they’re also pretty erratic at the best of times. You’ll need to speak with your accommodation to learn which you’ll need to take.
When heading out into the region such as to the Colca Canyon, you can also take colectivos.
These are great for the independent traveller who doesn’t like to be rushed.
The other alternative is to take organised tours, such as this day tour, which sorts all logistics for you and is the most efficient use of your time. For some of the experiences (such as hiking the volcanoes), you must go with a tour.
Unlike the sprawling capital of Lima, Arequipa is much easier to find the right area to stay in.
Despite being the second largest city in Peru, you’ll want to narrow your search only to the Historic Centre and also the district of Los Sauces, which runs along the opposite side of the river.
Both areas are pretty safe and lively, although the Historic Centre is preferred for its convenient location (more sites to see in the immediate area).
For those looking for a budget accommodation option, you’ll want to go for Mango Hostel B&B. Located literally right on the Plaza de Armas, you’ll be in the best area of town whilst spending little. There’s also a free breakfast included for private rooms too!
The best in-between option has to be the Casona Plaza Hotel, which again is perfectly located in Arequipa’s historic centre. As well as its great breakfast included, some rooms even have a jacuzzi, which is what’s needed after a hike in the cold mountains!
When it comes to luxury in Arequipa, the overall best is the Palla Boutique Hotel. Located between both the popular Los Sauces and Historic Centre districts, you’ll be close to all of the top sites.
Kicking off our list we have arguably the best mirador in all of Arequipa (mirador is Spanish for lookout point).
This small plaza is located on top of a hill in the Los Sauces neighbourhood, and gives you a truly awesome view of this important Peruvian city.
Firstly, you’ll be able to witness the sea of white-washed buildings that makes the city so popular for a visit.
And behind them are the towering volcanoes which give a really cool contrast, not to mention a nice reminder of just how helpless we are at the hands of nature!
As well as taking in the sweet views, the Plaza de Yanahuara is also a great place to go for a stroll and to relax (perfect for the day after a hiking trip).
You can head inside the cute church on the plaza, as well as picking up a tasty Queso Helado which is perfect in the midday heat (we’ll cover this later on in this article).
The Yanahuara Mirador is around 10 blocks north-west of the Plaza de Armas, and the walk here is pretty nice too.
Of course you can also take an Uber if you’re feeling tired.
Although it’s open 24/7, the best time to come is in the evening for the sunset, or for sunrise (the latter with much less crowds).
When it comes to museums, this one is definitely one of the most interesting in Arequipa (and a good contender for Peru too).
The Museo Santuarios Andinos contains many relics and artefacts from different civilisations who lived within the Andean mountains, giving a really insightful look into how they went about their everyday lives.
Within this museum you can also find the infamous mummy of Juanita, who was found on a ridge of the Ampato Volcano (which is roughly 70km north of modern-day Arequipa).
Juanita is widely considered to be one of the most important human findings of all Andean cultures, as it tells us more about some of the gruesome human sacrifices that used to take place, as well as the development of particular Andean cultures.
The Museo Santuarios Andinos is located just a block south of the Plaza de Armas, with the building and entrance easily recognisable (a bright red wall with a picturesque courtyard inside).
It’s open from Tuesday until Saturday, between 9:00am until 5:30pm. You can buy your admission tickets in advance!
Lying just north of the Los Sauces neighbourhood we have Cayma.
One of 29 districts in Arequipa, this area is one of the most beautiful, yet still least visited by tourists!
There are many things to do here, however the first I’d recommend is to head up to the mirador of Carmen Alto, which gives a much different view over Arequipa than that of Yanahuara (it’s much less visited too).
From here you can walk to the cute plaza of La Tomilla in the heart of town. Here you’ll find a pretty unorthodoxly shaped church as well as different stalls selling novel goods and local foods.
Having had lunch in this area, you can then walk around the streets and see a more authentic Arequipa (the historic centre can feel too touristy at times).
Cayma is also the usual starting off point for those heading to El Misti Volcano, given it’s closer than the centre of Arequipa. We really recommend this tour, where you’ll see all of the highlights as well as some other gems too!
Arequipa is full of tasty dishes, and as such I think this city also deserves a food status similar to that of Lima.
As well as a variety of starters and mains you can try here, there’s also Queso Helado.
This vanilla-based ice cream (nope, there’s no cheese as you may have thought!) is topped with cinnamon, and is a really tasty treat.
Although you can now find it all over the country, Arequipa was the birthplace of Queso Helado, and where you can find the very best.
One of the best ones I tried was in the Plaza de Yanahuara, which is right next to the famous mirador.
There’s also usually a stall in the Plaza de Armas too, which is useful if you're staying within the Historic Centre (which is most likely).
Given it’s hot during the day year-round, you’ll want one of these around midday, which is great for a cool-off if you’ve been walking around all day.
Peru as a whole is full of truly mesmerising landscapes and terrains.
Now, if visiting a fiery and towering volcano is in your bucket list, Arequipa is for sure the best place to come in the country.
There are three main volcanoes to hike here, however the most popular (and recommended for those without much experience) is El Misti.
Standing at a height of 5822m, this volcano can easily be seen from the centre of Arequipa.
The volcano is still active with the last eruption being back in 1985, however this doesn’t seem to put people off the hike.
The majority of hikes take roughly a day and a half to reach the summit, such as this tour that leaves from the centre which includes all food and drinks.
Given this is some pretty high altitude hiking, you’ll want to spend a few days in Arequipa beforehand for your body to adjust well.
It’s also recommended to bring Coca Leaves or Soroche Pills (altitude sickness pills) to help, given it’s still quite a jump in altitude from the city.
Here's some more information about hiking up El Misti Volcano...
A common feature in the majority (if not all) Peruvian cities are the Plaza de Armas. They're usually the main square of the city and are quite often the birthplace of the city.
Some of them (such as the one in Cusco) are pretty stunning to say the least!
Having been to almost all of the cities in Peru, I’d have to say that Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is the absolute best.
With its perfectly trimmed gardens and fountain at the heart, it’s actually the surrounding architecture that makes it stand out so much.
The cathedral is one of the best examples, as it’s made out of the infamous sillar volcanic rock, giving it its timeless white appearance.
As well as being a perfect photo spot, there are also lots of traditional restaurants and terrace view cafes here where you can try out the local cuisine.
Whilst these Plazas are usually filled with important buildings, this one is more laidback, and around its rim you’ll find lots of tourist agencies which are good for booking trips out into the Arequipa region.
You can also join this walking tour and learn from knowledgeable pros, as you walk around the Plaza and other key sites in Arequipa.
Continuing on from the last point, there’s even more to enjoy when in Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas.
Whilst you can catch some rays and enjoy a sizable Queso Helado during the day, the Plaza can really kick off during the night.
There are many bars lining the second floor of the Plaza, however the best in my opinion is the Waya Lookout Terraza.
This rooftop bar can be found on the west side of the Plaza, and at night is pretty easy to spot (given the loud music and flashing lights coming from above).
Head here in the evening to gear up for the night, where they have everything from pisco to artesanal beers on tap.
It can get pretty crowded (especially on weekends), so you’ll want to try and get in early to get a spot on the terrace, where you’ll also have some pretty incredible views of the Plaza and Volcanoes.
Even during the day it’s a great spot to eat at, where they serve up a variety of dishes from Tequeños and Lomo Saltado to tourists favourites such as Pizza and Club Sandwiches.
If you're looking for things to do in Arequipa at night then make sure you spent some time at this rooftop bar!
Of all the possible reasons travellers would want to come to Arequipa, this is by far the biggest.
The Colca Canyon is as deep as 6600ft in some areas, making it the second deepest canyon in the world!
Here you can head on multiple-day hikes (for those with the time or fitness), or a day trip where you can visit the mirador at the top as well as some other important sites like Chivay and The Cross.
The Colca Canyon is also the place to come to spot the elusive condor!
With a wingspan of up to 3m, this giant beast rules the roost in these parts, and it’s very likely you’ll see them soar above the canyon.
The best time to visit the Colca Canyon is between April and June, as it’s the start of the dry season, as well as being a great time to spot Condors.
Whilst it can be hiked independently (there’s colectivos leaving from Arequipa here daily), a multi-day tour really is the best way to get to Colca, and see all of its hidden gems.
Starting out as just a few stalls way back in 1868, Mercado San Camilo has now evolved to become one of the largest markets in Southern Peru.
The most important market of Arequipa, here you really can find anything and everything.
From fresh fruits to fresh cuy (yep - this really is what I’d call a locals market), it’s a great place to try out new foods and have a much more authentic experience whilst in Arequipa.
Whilst many sites are overrun with tourists, here you’ll be in rare company as you watch locals barter and go about their daily business.
My top advice would be to bring as little with you as possible, as petty thefts have robbed people outside the market before (the streets here are pretty packed with people).
To get to Mercado San Camilo, you’ll want to walk 3 blocks east of the Plaza de Armas, and then a further 3 blocks south (the entrance is pretty big so it’ll be hard to miss when you’re close).
It’s free to enter the Mercado San Camilo, which is open daily from 6:00am until 7:30pm.
Given that Arequipa is known for its incredible white architecture and buildings, you’re going to want to get out and about to see the very best.
Some sites like the Plaza de Armas (and its basilica) are pretty standard for a visit, whilst there are other lesser-known sites (like those is Cayma) that you’d otherwise not know about.
Heading on a walking tour is a great way to see both the best and lesser known, and is always one of my top recommendations when in any Peruvian destination. This tour is one of the best ones in Arequipa, which also includes entry to the Santa Catalina Monastery.
I’d recommend doing this on your first day, and saving the hikes until the second day (or third preferably) so your body has time to properly acclimate to Arequipa’s higher altitude.
With this tour, you’ll have a very knowledgeable English guide escort you around Arequipa where you’ll see many hidden gems, the Santa Catalina Monastery as well as the textiles in Mundo Alpaca - speaking of which…
Nothing shouts Peru more than a selfie with an alpaca. So how does a photo with a dozen alpacas sound?!
Mundo Alpaca is literally a world in itself, where you can enter the petting zoo and get up close and personal with these friendly animals.
Much more importantly, though, is how this tourist destination is bringing lots of value to Arequipa.
You can enter Mundo Alpaca for free, and learn how alpaca wool is woven and made into those pretty jumpers you’ve been seeing in local markets.
Once you’ve learnt and petted away, you can then head to the museum to uncover how those in the pre-Columbian era used textiles too.
Whilst there’s no entrance fee, you can leave a donation, and I couldn’t think of a more deserving place than here.
Alpaca Mundo is located next to the Ovalo de San Lázaro, along the Avenida La Marina.
If you're wondering what to do in Arequipa then make sure you head to this fantastic place!
This area in the wider region of Arequipa is one of the most popular for a visit.
The Ruta de Sillar is known for its weaving valleys that can be traversed, and are all naturally formed out of the sillar volcanic rock, which is then extracted and used for many different purposes.
As well as being used for architecture and styling in the city of Arequipa, you’ll also find some awesome carvings and monuments made out of sillar here too.
The very best way to explore the Sillar Valley (or Ruta de Sillar as it’s more commonly known as in Spanish) is to go with a tour, which will pick you up directly from your accommodation.
Alternatively, you can head there independently by driving or by taxi, or you can also find colectivos that head to the nearby area of Añashuayco.
No matter how you choose to visit, Ruta dea Sillar is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Arequipa!
This convent is one of the most famous in the country, let alone in just Arequipa!
Built in 1579, the Santa Catalina Monastery was constructed to serve the Dominican nuns who lived here, and is still standing today despite many earthquakes that devastated the rest of the city.
Known for its attractive red walls, you can walk around and also see important monuments such as the chapel as well as the Plaza.
5 centuries on, it’s still used today by nuns, and you can easily take a guided tour around to learn about their ways, as well as the historical importance of this monastery.
The Santa Catalina monastery is located just a couple of blocks north of the Plaza de Armas, between Calle Ugarte and Santa Catalina. It’s open from 9:00-17:00 every day of the week.
As it’s one of the most popular sights to see, you’re going to want to come during the morning before the crowds arrive!
When it comes to exploring Peru, there are of course many epic landscapes to be witnessed.
However it’s the small towns and cultures that really bring Peru to life, and Chivay is no exception.
Situated up at a dizzying altitude of 3635m, this rural town is located within the Colca Valley.
It’s known for its beautiful church and plaza, which are all lined with cobblestone streets, with alpacas roaming around as they please.
Here you can also learn about typical Peruvian dishes and local drinks, where this tour will include a tasting experience once you reach this authentic town.
What’s really great about Chivay, though, is that despite the colonialism from the Spanish, this town has kept the majority of its traditions and customs (most evident in how locals dress and go about their daily business).
It’s a usual stop-off on tours heading to and from the Colca Canyon, and here you can also visit the Calera hot springs for a nice dip at altitude!
The food of Arequipa is renowned as some of the best in Peru, and is a big reason many come to visit this volcano-laden city.
Some of the best dishes you can try here include Lomo Saltado (which we’ll cover later in this guide), as well as many national favourites including Papa a la Huancaina and Ceviche.
La Nueva Palomino Picanteria is my top pick for an authentic eating experience in Arequipa.
Located on a pretty street in the Yanahuara district, the menu here is full of regional classics such as Pastel de Papa and Adobe.
Even the design of the restaurant will really make you feel you’re in the true Arequipa (which sometimes can be hard given how some parts can get overly touristy).
For those willing to spend more, then you can head to Chicha in the historic centre (right next to the Santa Catalina monastery).
Ran by the famous chef Gaston Acurio, here you’ll be able to try all the Arequipa classics with some creative twists added in by the pro chef himself.
Of the three hikeable volcanoes that surround Arequipa, Chachani is the biggest beast of them all.
With its peak standing at a lofty 6057m, this stratovolcano is dormant, so there’s no need to worry about getting toasted whilst on a climb.
It’s by far the most demanding hike you can do in Arequipa, where you’ll spend two days climbing through rocky formations and snow-capped terrains to reach the peak.
Unfortunately when I tried to summit I got really sick due to the altitude, so never made it to the top.
However others on the trek told me it was truly spectacular, and when seeing their photos, it was pretty hard to disagree.
You’ll need to go with a tour, who’ll pick you up from your hotel early in the morning, and provide all necessary equipment (which will be sorted for you before you head-off).
Just be sure to take the altitude seriously and acclimatise before in Arequipa, and also to bring Soroche Pills and Coca Leaves.
Well that’s unless you want to join me sat on the slopes waiting for the rest to hike up and down, that is…
If you're looking to attempt this hike then here's some more information about hiking up Chachani Volcano!
This sprawling cathedral is an absolute masterpiece, and is one of the most important landmarks you can visit in Arequipa.
You’ll see it a mile-off before even reaching the Plaza de Armas, given its large size as well as its classic white appearance.
Made out of sillar rocks, half of the Basilica Cathedral actually fell down during an earthquake, and today you can see the difference between the new and old sides of the cathedral.
Originally founded in 1540, it has two large bell towers, as well as two gigantic, stunning arches next to its east and west wings.
It has a museum inside which is worth the visit too, which is open from 10:00am-5:00pm daily.
The rest of the church is open throughout the week with more flexible hours, although if you visit before 7:00am there is no admission fee (if you needed a good reason to get out of bed early, here it is).
For those who’ve already scaled the mountains and volcanoes, and are still looking for their fix of adrenaline, then this is for you.
Just half an hour from Arequipa lies the Chili river, with rapids ranging from the levels II to IV.
Whilst manoeuvring your way downstream, you’ll catch some seriously impressive glimpses of mountains and volcanoes, as well as other arid landscapes in the surrounding Arequipa region.
Of course you’ll need to go with a tour (unless you’ve completely lost it), and this tour is our top pick. You’ll be accompanied by an experienced rafting guide, where you don’t need prior experience to be able to enjoy this river.
All gear is also included in the price, where they’ll pick you up and drop you off at your accommodation.
Arequipa has a very proud heritage, and often considers itself to be much different to the rest of Peru.
Whilst you’ll see this in the culture and architecture, it’s the food that really stands out in this fantastic city.
Lomo Saltado is by far one of the best dishes to try here, and is also considered one of Peru’s National Dishes.
Here you’ll have sizzling marinated sirloin strips accompanied with rice and French fries, as well as vegetables such as tomatoes and onions.
I think it’s one of the main dishes you must try at least once when in Peru, given the fact that it’s tasty regardless if dining out in an expensive restaurant, or eating in a locals’ favourite diner.
Consider heading to Sol de Mayo, which makes one of the best Lomo Saltados I ever tried when in the white city.
It’s located along the Calle Jerusalén in the Yanahuara district, which is somewhat far from the Plaza de Armas (worth taking a taxi if staying here).
Arequipa is a pretty buzzing city, which is especially the case in its popular historic centre.
For those starting the night off, you can head to the small and picturesque street of Pasaje de la Catedral. Here you’ll find many small outdoor pubs perfect for the first brew.
The overall best street for nightlife has to be the Calle San Francisco, which is laden with various bars and nightclubs.
Of course the weekend is the best time to come here, but even then during the week you’ll find many of the outdoor tables taken up by both locals and travellers alike.
Deja Vu is located here, which is among the overall best nightclubs in Arequipa, with everything from salsa rooms and live music to a bar & grill!
Last but not least, we have the beautiful, protected region of Salinas and Aguada Blanca.
Located in the extreme south-east of the Arequipa region, this area spans over 3,500km2, and is extremely diverse with everything from Andean forests and bubbling volcanoes to colourful lakes.
The salt lake is one of the most impressive landscapes of all here, and a great alternative if you’re not planning on heading to Bolivia.
You can also see many wild and exotic animals here too, most notably the pink flamingo, as well as wild guanaco, alpaca and the Andean fox.
The best way to explore the Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reserve is with a tour leaving from Arequipa.
We recommend this day tour, where you’ll visit some of the most biodiverse areas of the region, as well as making stops for a dip in the hot springs as well as to the volcano of Lojen.
Arequipa is located within the arid region of Peru’s South.
Here the landscapes are dominated with deserts and mountains, and overall it's a pretty dry place to visit. Fortunately, Arequipa is great to visit year-round.
Daily average temperatures throughout all months hover between 59-61°F, with highs of up to 73°F and lows of 48°F.
Be sure to bring an extra jumper or jacket, since whilst hot during the day, temperatures can quickly plummet cometh the night.
Rainfall is mostly scarce throughout the year, and here there are no dry or wet seasons. In fact, you can expect as little as 0-0.1mm of rain each month from April until December!
January until March has a tiny bit more, with between 0.4-0.6mm falling throughout each month.
The only thing that can really vary in Arequipa are the prices!
Heading during busy months such as December, or during festivals, will see a hike up in prices.
April and May are some of the best months to visit Arequipa and keep things cheap.
After spending time in Arequipa on numerous occasions, I would say that 6 days would be the perfect amount of time to spend here.
As well as exploring all the sites within the city, you’ll also need a bit of time adjusting to the higher altitude (unless coming from places like Cusco or Puno).
This amount of time is also plenty to head on some treks into the Colca Canyon, as well as to summit one of the picturesque volcanoes that border Arequipa.
Of course more time would be even better, and if you have the flexibility, I’d go for 8-10 days.
On the other hand, if you’re really in a rush, I’d say 4 days is the minimum you’d need for Arequipa.
Given that everything is located in and around the Historic Centre, this is the place you’ll want to stay in (which is more expensive than the outskirts).
Of course your budget can and will vary depending on what your style of travel is, and if you have any particular poisons too (alcohol, excessive tripping etc).
It’s important to note that the above budgets do not take into account the costs of flights or tours.
As mentioned before, when visiting Arequipa you’ll want to spend quite a bit of time here to get to know the city well and all of its unique attractions.
Of course this isn’t always possible, which is where an organised tour will come in really useful.
We recommend jumping on this city tour, where you’ll see most of the city highlights such as the Basilica and the Santa Catalina Monastery.
Here are some other worthy tours to look into:
Now over to you …
Are you thinking of heading to Arequipa?
Is there anything you recommend other travellers to do whilst here?
Drop a comment below and let me know!
There’s a good chance you’ve already started the classic loop around Peru’s south once in Arequipa.
If you haven’t been yet, then this is a perfect time to head to Cusco.
The bus takes around 10 hours, which is perfect for an overnight trip (to not waste daytime).
Known as the imperial city, Cusco truly is the highlight of a trip to Peru, with its mesmerising ruins, landscapes and culture all waiting to be explored.
Once there, you can head on this well-organised tour, where you’ll see the very best highlights of the incredible Sacred Valley region. If you're short of time you can also head out on a day trip to Machu Picchu!
If you're planning a trip around Peru then here are some other travel guides that you might find helpful: