Arequipa is often an overlooked city in Peru. The truth is, that there are quite a lot of mind-blowing places to visit in Arequipa. The city is framed by three volcanoes and has a lot of colonial architecture to offer. You can very well spend one day in Arequipa and not get bored. Or even more, if you want to visit the volcanoes around it. For me, this place was great for getting used to the higher altitude and is a popular stop-over for hikers. Arequipa also gives a taste of local culture, more than what you get in other bigger multicultural cities like Lima.
Things to do in one day in Arequipa
Because Arequipa is in the middle of the mountains, there are a lot of things to do around the city as well. But I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to go around the city and get used to the local climate. Arequipa has a lot of colonial architecture for anyone to discover. But at the same time, if you are planning to stay here longer, you can see the natural wonders around the city. Besides Arequipa is one of the biggest cities in Peru, so it would be a mistake to skip it.
Santa Catalina Monastery
I cannot express enough how much I liked this place. It is a colonial masterpiece and it is really beautiful. It is the first women founded a monastery in Peru and it is unbelievably big. The whole building has about 20 thousand square meters. So it is almost a little village in the middle of the city.
It is very colorful and has quite a unique atmosphere. By that, I mean that you can probably find monasteries in Europe that are more beautiful. This one has statues that look bad or are broken in some way. On their defense, they are also centuries-old so it is quite expected.
But everything is very colorful and you get to see an amazing view. Especially when you hike go to the first or second floor of the monastery, you get to see all the mountains around Arequipa. For me, this was surely one of the best places to visit in Arequipa.
The monastery is open every day from 9 am until 5 am and you will need about 2 hours to explore it. The entrance fee is 40 soles. But if you pay 20 extra, you can get a guided tour which takes about an hour and after that, you are free to explore the monastery by yourself.
Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa
Everyone will notice this building. It is the domain of the historic center the square Plaza de Armas. This massive building is another colonial sparkle in the eye of every lover of architecture. It was opened in 1656 and it is functional up till now. This beautiful building is a base for the archbishop and the Metropolitan Council. Local guides would tell you that this church is one of the unusual and famous buildings all over Peru because of the size of it but also the way it was made. It is also impressive how much the building holds together considering that it is in the middle of the volcanic area and it was endangered several times by earthquakes.
So about opening hours. You can come and visit the cathedral every day from 10 am until 5 pm. There are a lot of guides in front of the building offering their services for about 20 soles. I’m not sure how legit they are or how much they know about the place. I went there alone. And as much as I would love to know more about the building, similarly to all the churches, it is very straight forward.
You can also visit the cathedral in the night hours after 5 pm. But I didn’t quite get the rules of that. I think you will need to pay extra. I think it is fine to take a guide and have a look around, just make sure the guide can speak English, some of them would speak only Spanish, which is just not for everyone.
Plaza de Armas
The main square in Arequipa is something that truly shouldn’t be missed. And if you are planning to visit the cathedral, you will have to go there anyway.
But it is one of the things that you can do in Arequipa for free. And you will get a great view of the cathedral, and other magnificent buildings with built-in portals. The Plaza de Armas also have some green area with palms and fountains which is great for relaxing. But at the same time, be prepared that you will meet their beggars or people who will ask you if you want a picture of them in the traditional dresses and then ask a fortune for it.
Walk in the colonial neighborhood
Once you are in the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa take a walk around. The whole historical center of Arequipa is part of UNESCO heritage and it is worth seeing it. Choose any street from the main square and just explore for a little bit.
You will get to see a lot of historical houses that are dating back to the 16th century when Arequipa was colonized. The houses are filled with baroque decoration and sometimes you can see volcanoes rising behind the city. Most of the houses are white although sometimes you will get to see some very colorful decorations.
You will be introduced to places like first jail, the first hospital in Arequipa and a lot of other places.
If you want to know more about the city center of Arequipa, you can take a walking tour. For that especially I would recommend going to the tourist office and ask about it. Because the local tourism office offers three free walking tours a day. One at 10 am, another at 1 pm and the last one at 3 pm. They take about two and a half hours, and they are all done in English. The only thing you need to do is to reserve the tour online and then show up.
Museo Santuario Andinos
Very cultural thing! Or so it seems. Museum has a true Peruvian mummy from the 15th century. A 12-year-old girl called “Juanita” was sacrificed to gods and is now preserved in glass refrigerator. In this museum, you will get to know more about Inkas culture, habits and religion. It is a unique thing to see someone who was sacrificed and mummified. Especially when the mummy is so well preserved. So don’t miss it like me.
If you want to see this museum, you need to get on a tour. The tour takes about an hour. The entry fee is just 20 soles and you can visit the museum from 9 am till 6 pm.
Casa del Moral
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This special building is called Casa del Moral. And essentially it is the ancestral house was build in the 1730s and it is in the style of colonial baroque architecture. You can find it in the historical center, so if you are planning on taking the free walking tour, you will be able to visit it as well or if nothing else, you will walk around it.
Like many other tourists, I managed to just walk around it. And from what I read, you cannot go inside anyway because people are still using this building. But either way, it is something you should notice if you walk around in the colonial neighborhood.
Honestly, I didn’t choose wisely, and expect, that one day in Arequipa would be enough. It isn’t. There are a lot more places to visit in Arequipa. So here is a little list to think about when visiting this city.
Is one day in Arequipa worth it?
I spend in Arequipa one day and it was enough, so I think two days could be overdoing it. But on the other hand, it depends on you. If you come here in the middle of the day, you won’t have enough time for exploring the neighborhoods and will see probably only one or two sights. In that case, two days in Arequipa would be great and without any stress.
You can also order some trips from Arequipa. Like visiting Colca canyon could be your option. For that, you need to be prepared for a higher altitude. And honestly, Arequipa is a great place to get used to local climate, since you get to be in 2500 altitude, which can help a lot if you are planning a trip to higher places.
How to get to Arequipa?
One of the most common questions. How to get there. First of all, there are no trains. Or not that I would see. Busses and airplanes are your best friends in this case but there are a bunch of things to know here.
First of all, planes are taking less time to go around but can be quite expensive. Because Arequipa is starting to be more and more popular with tourists, the number of flights between both Lima and Arequipa or Cuzco and Arequipa are increasing. But I also saw that you can get to Arequipa from the airport that is close to Puno.
If you want to see places like Paracas and Huacachina or have other places in the middle of Peru on your itinerary, buses are possibly better for you. Before you jump on one, check the available buses. For example, the longest distance I took in Peru was my ride between Ica and Arequipa, which took about 12 hours. For that, it is certainly better to take a night bus. Ant is it worth it to pay extra for a VIP seat, so you can properly lay down and get some breakfast in the morning. Also, check when will your bus come, the cities aren’t the safest during the night. If you come in the morning, make sure that your hotel knows about it.
Where to stay?
If you are planning to stay one day in Arequipa, there is a lot of great hotels and neighborhoods. For one day, I would make sure that you have accommodation in the middle of the historic center. It might be a little bit far from the bus stop or the airport, but the taxis there take max 20 minutes.
Besides in Arequipa, you have a great chance to stay in a boutique hotel or hostel. And that is something everyone should enjoy.
I spend the night at La Casona de Palacio Viejo, which is a very affordable boutique hotel with free breakfast in the morning and beautiful interior. The staff is very friendly and will help with getting around or give any advice you need. At the same time, it is only a few blocks from Plaza de Armas.
What to pack?
Warmer clothes will be your friend in Arequipa. Especially in the morning and in the evenings, when it is kind of cold.
As I mentioned several times, Arequipa is also in a little bit higher altitude than Lima. So if you don’t feel so good in hights like that, you should get medicine for altitude sickness. Otherwise, most of the local hotels have something to help you with. The luxury hotels also have oxygen room, in case you are really under the weather.
Bug spray, in this case, is not needed, because the altitude is too high for mosquitoes.
But for sunny days you will need to use some sunscreen since, in the middle of the city, there is only a little bit of vegetation where you can hide.
Where to go next?
- Colca canyon – Very close to Arequipa is one of the biggest natural wonders in Peru. Colca canyon. You can take several tours from Arequipa to the canyon. You will need to choose between one or two days there. For the tours it is usually just enough to ask in the hotel, it is not necessary to plan this tour.
- Puno – One of my favorite places in Peru. Puno is one of the highest build cities in Peru at an altitude of 3800 m. You can visit the local historical center or you can visit the lake Titicaca and the reef villages that are there.
- Cuzco – You can also skip Puno if you feel like it is not for you and head to Cuzco. A city, that everyone needs to visit in Peru. It used to be the capital of Inka and it is a really beautiful place to see.
- Nazca – You can also head the other way towards Nazca and see the local archeological center or fly over the world-famous Nazca lines.