Arequipa is a lively place with countless things to experience. From unique cultural attractions and museums to stunning views and outdoor activities, there are plenty of activities to fill your time here. If you find yourself venturing to southern Peru, we definitely recommend making a stop in this beautiful city. Here are nine great things to do in Arequipa.
1. Admire the Plaza de Armas
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is one of our favorite that we have visited in South America so far. The stunning square is a popular place to hang out among both locals and tourists. It contains fountains, benches, and stone pathways surrounded by white buildings from colonial times.
There are shops and restaurants surrounding the square, but the most iconic building is the Basilica Catedral. It was first built in the mid-17th century and has been reconstructed several times after damages from fires and earthquakes. Visitors can take a tour for 10 soles plus 5 soles for the guide from 10 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Tours include information on the Basilica and pieces of art inside the cathedral along with a visit to the rooftop.
We opted to visit after 5 p.m. during which visitors can enter and see just the main cathedral for free on weekdays. We were told that you can also go in the morning between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Note that you may be denied entry if you are wearing shorts and revealing tops.
2. Visit Colca Canyon
While Colca Canyon isn’t in Arequipa, it is one of the main attractions drawing visitors to the Arequipa area. Colca is one of the world’s deepest canyons! Visitors can explore the rim looking down from the steep cliffs as condors soar overhead or make the trek deep into the canyon below and camp out at an oasis.
Tours range from day trips to multi-day excursions and there are a variety of itineraries offered. If you are looking to learn more about the communities in the area, see the condors, and take in the beauty of this massive canyon and surrounding landscape, we definitely recommend adding Colca Canyon to your itinerary. We’ll talk more about the details of a Colca tour in another post.
3. Take a City Tour
A great way to get to know Arequipa is to take a city tour, especially if you are short on time and want to ensure you hit some of the city highlights. There are various free walking tours that visit the Basilica, monastery, city viewpoints, architectural highlights, and more. There are also city bus tours and other guided tours that explore the city and surrounding areas. Tours can last from a couple hours to a full day depending on the company and the sights you want to see in your tour.
Many of the tour options can be found online on sites, such as Get Your Guide, or individual tour operator sites. There are also numerous tour companies around the city where you can book tours in person or through your accommodation.
Want to go more at your own pace but still have a somewhat structured route? Check out GPS My City’s various self-guided walking tours covering a range of highlights throughout Arequipa.
4. Take in the Views from the Miradors
We found Arequipa to be quite picturesque with white buildings and towering volcanoes in the distance. There are quite a few miradors to relax at and take in the views of the city. One of the most popular to see is Mirador de Yanahuara. This pretty plaza has palms, benches to relax on, and a unique church and arches around it. Through the arches you’ll have panoramic views of the city and the massive Misti volcano.
There are other miradors around Arequipa, such as Mirador de Sachaca, Mirador de Carmen Alto (5 soles to enter), Mirador Cristo Blanco, and Mirador de Alto Libertad. These options are a bit further outside of the city center, so a taxi may be needed to reach them if you aren’t up for a long walk. Because they are further on the outskirts, some of these options offer views more over the countryside than the city.
5. Learn about Alpacas and Peruvian Textiles at Mundo Alpaca
All across Peru and other countries through which the Andes run, you’ll find a variety goods made of alpaca fibers. Behind the scenes, there are many steps to creating these lovely pieces, and of course, there are the alpacas! Mundo Alpaca is a small museum that provides some insight into the process of sorting fibers, weaving, and dying, and the history of these processes and textiles. It also provides information on alpacas and their relatives. On the museum grounds, we were able to see a few different breeds of alpacas and llamas up close.
Mundo Alpaca is open daily from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and entrance is free. There is a shop here, though we found prices to be higher than many of the markets we visited in South America.
6. Wander the Markets
Speaking of markets, Arequipa has some great local markets to wander through. Mercado San Camilo is definitely one you should stop at. This huge covered market offers a wide variety of items, from many types of fresh fruits and veggies to cheese, meats, and seafood.
You can also find some souvenirs, smoothies, baked goods, and stalls to grab a meal at. We always love grabbing a bite at the local markets because meals are generally budget friendly and this is a great way to taste some local cuisine!
Other great spots to visit include Fundo el Fierro and the many vendors that set up at the Plaza de Armas and the streets around it. Vendors sell anything from tasty snacks to alpaca goods and art.
7. Try Queso Helado
Delicious Peruvian cuisine can be found all around Arequipa. Queso Helado is one that originated in this city. Despite the name, there is actually no cheese in this ice cream. Instead, this creamy dessert has notes of vanilla, coconut, and cinnamon.
You can find it at some cafés and heladerías or there are street vendors selling scoops around the city. After trekking Colca Canyon or spending a day wandering the city, queso helado is a tasty and refreshing treat!
8. See the Monasterio de Santa Catalina
Visiting the Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the most popular things to do in Arequipa. Many refer to it as a city within a city because of the various buildings and walkways contained within the high walls that seem to separate it from the surrounding bustling streets. The convent was formed around 1580 and still operates today with nuns currently living on the premises.
Tickets cost 40 soles for foreign adults plus 10 soles if you wish to have a guided tour. It is open daily from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. except Thursdays when it is open until 8:30 p.m. for after-dark visits. Buy tickets online and reserve a time ahead of your visit. As you wander the monastery, you can see the pretty gardens and bright walkways, the living quarters, chapel, unique artwork, and more.
9. Learn More about the Incan Empire at Museo Santuarios Andinos
Museo Santuarios Andinos dives into the human sacrifice rituals of the Incan Empire. Housed in the museum are the remains of ‘Juanita,’ a 12-year-old girl who was sacrificed long ago and remained frozen on a mountaintop until her well-preserved body was discovered in the 1990s. The artifacts that were buried with her and other items found in the area are also on display here.
The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sundays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Tickets cost 25 soles per foreign adult.