Arequipa – la ciudad blanca, the second biggest and economically second most important city in Peru could probably be described as the Peruvian equivalent to Bolivia´s capital Sucre. Similar to the origin of the word “kangaroo” or “Chile”, the name of the city, Arequipa, comes from a misunderstanding between the conquerors and the locals. As the Europeans arrived to the region of today´s Arequipa, they have asked the locals for the name of the land pointing on the ground. The Incas misunderstood and answered: “Ari qhipay” which means translated “Yes, stay”. We don`t know for sure if this mythos is true or not, but nonetheless, the city is called Arequipa now. Another common misunderstanding is Arequipa´s nickname “la ciudad blanca”. A lot of people may think Arequipa is called the white city because of its numerous white colored houses and colonial architecture in the center. However, the city´s epithet derives from the fact that back in the colonial days only the Spanish, meaning the white people, were allowed to live in the city center.
Le Foyer is a lovely Hostel downtown of the city with a New Orleans flair. It is a bit pricier, but the view over Arequipa´s roof on the top of the building and the tasty breakfast is definitely worth the price.
The daily free walking tours will give you an historic and cultural overview about the city. On Plaza de Armas you can get the typical postcard picture of Arequipa with the cathedral and El Misti in the background. The cathedral of Arequipa is known for its uncommon shape: unlike the typical European vertical floorplan of cathedrals, the architecture of the main body of Arequipa´s cathedral is horizontally shaped. Another interesting building open for tourists is the Santa Catalina Monastery. Here the nuns of the Dominican second order have created their own city within a city and are basically living isolated from the rest of Arequipa. For a lunch you should definitely try one of the traditional Arequipa´s Picanterias. Here you can taste the typical Peruvian spicy food and even the typical fried guinea pig. Picanteria la Mundial with fast service and good cuisine is recommendable. Visit Chaqchao Chocolates for chocolate deserts after your lunch and dinner. This artisanal chocolate company also offers chocolate making workshops where you can try to create your own flavored chocolate.
Most of the travelers use Arequipa as gateway to the Colca Canyon, which is the second biggest canyon in the world. The travel agencies in Arequippa are offering 1-, 2-, or 3-days tours. However, as the entrance for the National Park costs around 20 Euros, it does not really make sense to do the 1-day tour, except you really have time pressure and really do not want to skip this tour. Some other tours like rafting on the Chili river as well as the mountain biking are offered as well. As always, be careful with the choice of the agency and read the travel adviser or other internet revues before. We have decided to book a rafting tour with … agency. However, on the day of our tour, our tour guide told us that the river conditions on that day were really bad for rafting so he offered us a mounting bike tour instead. At the beginning he wanted to charge us more, however at the end we have agreed on the same price. Still, it was probably the worst decision we could make. The bikes provided by the bike rental company were in a really bad condition and our biking guide did not even know which tour we have booked. He took us through a trek, which was really exhausting (especially with bikes without proper breaks and gears). Unfortunately, the trek was not spectacular at all. The weather was not nice either, so we could not even see the mountains around. At the end we have arrived at the river, where are biking guide told us, that the river conditions were perfect for rafting that day!! Afterwards he explained us, that the seller from the agency probably did not have enough bookings to fill the boat, so he just convicted us to do another tour instead. Angry and feeling betrayed we have realized how important it is to choose the right travel agencies, as sadly, most of the sellers in the South American countries are trying to take advantage of uniformed tourists.
Nevertheless, we have spent 3 relaxing days in Arequipa and learnt from our unfortunate travel experience.