We didn’t have much time in Arequipa, but what little time we did have we loved. First things first, Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city, with nearly 900,000 people. The city, founded in 1540, is 2,300 meters (7,600 feet) above sea level and has a very temperate climate with average monthly high temperatures of about 21C (70F) and lows of about 8C (45F). It was perfectly sunny during our visit and at this altitude the sun is quite strong. I’m glad I put on my extra strength sun screen this morning.
We checked into our hotel first thing in the morning then immediately headed out to explore. Through some pretty basic research we found the city offers complimentary City Tours at 10h00 and 15h00 daily. We hit the first tour and had about 20 people on the tour with us. We were the only Americans in our group.
The tour itself was good, especially considering it was a free tour. We kept up a good pace and the tour had a nice mix of history, local anecdotes and geology (Arequipa is surrounded by active volcanoes). The tour ended at a rooftop bar, where we all had a final toast of a Pisco Sour. I’m sure there are better tours of the area, but I thought these guys did a great job. You can find more details by visiting FreeTour.com.
We spent the rest of our arrival day and the next wandering the city. We spent a couple hours touring (both self guided and with the help of a complimentary English speaking guide) the old Santa Catalina Monastery, which was built in 1579. The space was beautiful and I learned so much about the 16th and 17th Century Clergy. Little did I know that the for many families it was expected that one of your children would enter the clergy either as a priest or a nun. To enter this prestigious convent, the family had to pay a substantial sum, but you could also have your servants help out (cook, clean, etc for you). I guess being shipped off 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) and likely never to see your family again is pretty rough, but bringing along your own servant should make it a little more bearable.
One of the attractions I’m very pleased we visited was the Museo Santuarios Andinos. The main reason most people visit this museum is to see the mummified remains of Juanita – a young Incan woman who was sacrificed by the local priests as an offering to the God’s so they would spare the city destruction by the active volcanoes. Before you see Juanita, you learn about both the archaeological expedition that found her and the theoretical idea on how she actually got to 6,300 meters (20,000 feet). We spent about 2 hours at the museum. If you are in Arequipa, you need to visit Juanita.
The final thing we did in Arequipa was to visit Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa. We didn’t know own anything about Mario Vargas Llosa before visiting the museum. Vargas Llosa is an author, journalist and Nobel Prize Winner. We arrived at the museum about 45 minutes before it closed. We had to really push the receptionist to allow us to enter the museum. Little did we know that we couldn’t actually walk around ourselves, we had to have a guide who would take us room to room. She was very accommodating and powered through about three quarters of the museum, in about 30 minutes. It seemed like we were running through exhibits at a couple of points. The tour was completely in Spanish and the guide spoke clearly yet very quickly. I think I probably picked up about half of what she was saying. I was pleased with her and proud of myself.
While we didn’t have anything else on our list to see in Arequipa, I was disappointed we left when we did. I really like the city. My biggest struggle with the city was the air pollution though. There were so many vehicles and it sure felt like the emission standards were dramatically lower than those we see in the US or Western Europe.
When you put together your plans for travels through Peru, you need to take some time and explore the city of Arequipa.
What did you think of Arequipa? Was it worth your visit? Did you have enough time or did you feel rushed? Was the weather perfect for you like it was for us?