Six hours up the road from Puno, we got our first impressions of Arequipa. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in colonial Mexico, with the sun shining on the beautiful buildings which are built solidly with the native sillar stone (volcanic rock).
Many different colours for the eyes to feast on, and such diverse architecture. With the sun blazing down for most of our time here, it just gave the place an extra edge of beauty. First impressions count for a lot, and this city did not disappoint!
After a few false starts with hostels (due to noise and price) we settled on Casa De Sillar, about 10 minutes from the main plaza. Another beautiful building with a nice garden, all the amenities and a rooftop terrace overlooking Mount Misti, perfect for some quiet meditation.
During our first few days here, we experienced the earthquakes which rocked Chile up to 8.2 on the Richter scale. This was a new experience for both of us and shook the hostel for a couple of minutes, but fortunately no damage was done. It was a surreal experience to say the least.
We had just two weeks to explore and find the little haunts Arequipa had to offer (just as we did with Sucre on a smaller timescale). The first stop was on a free walking tour which are on offer in Arequipa, Cusco and Lima. Great for getting your bearings and sourcing out local restaurants, coffee shops etc. On the walking tour, we even took in a trip to the Alpaca Mundo factory, where they shear the animals and produce great clothing on site. Very pricey but worth it.
The main central Plaza de Armas was partly a let-down, absolutely full of pigeons and hawkers so we didn’t hang out there as much as we had in previous cities; still it was a nice place to enjoy an ice cream on lazy afternoon.
Arequipa’s central market is an assault on the senses much like in Bolivia or many of the South American cities we’ve visited, a fascinating stroll of weird and wonderful sights and smells. We even tried our luck with a cheap lunch in the market and the deep fried fish was worth the risk, very tasty with all the trimmings for about £1.50 each!
Other culinary delights included the fancy Zig Zag restaurant which was a place we stumbled across by accident and after the meal we found out it was number one restaurant in Arequipa according to TripAdvisor. The Trattoria del Monasterio, located in the monastery was equally delicious and fancy.
The £7.50 entry fee to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina itself was worth every penny, billed as a ‘city within a city’, we had a wonderful 3-hour look round this fascinating building full of the colour, history and heritage of Arequipa. We skipped on the professional guide and took ourselves round at our own pace and with most of the placards in English, we didn’t feel like we missed out on too much.
Here is a wonderful photo essay of our trip round the Monasterio, a prime example of the colonial architecture I mentioned previously:
Chaqchao is a wonderful chocolate café and shop, first introduced on the free walking tour, we went back at least three more times during our stay. The brownie alone was to die for. Friendly staff accompanied the pleasant atmosphere and reasonably priced menu. They even offer chocolate classes to make your own chocolate! Everything is organic and fair trade to boot so it ticks all the boxes. No wonder everyone is raving about this place on TripAdvisor, we loved it!
Our friends the Wilsons arrived into Arequipa on one of our last days there, so we showed them the few sights we’d found including a delicious dinner in Zig Zag and another trip to Chaqchao which was great to watch the world go by on a warm afternoon. It was very nice to see a couple of friendly faces from home after three months away. We have some fond memories here, some very reminiscent of Sucre, but we left feeling that Arequipa has carved its own little place in our memories.