Arequipa, la Ciudad Blanca, or "White City," is one of Peru's most culturally and industrially important cities. It is often said that the city's name evolved from the Quechua phrase, "Ari, quepay," meaning, "Yes, stay." Others contend that the name stems from the Aymara words "ari" and "kipa," which together translate to "near the mountain." The largest city in the Peruvian Andes, Arequipa is also the most beautiful.
Arequipa lies in the shadow of El Misti, a breathtaking and active snow-capped volcano. It is nicknamed the "White City" because many of its buildings are built with sillar, a white rock formed from petrified volcanic ash that is both beautiful and resistant to the earthquakes that plague Arequipa. El Misti looms above the city, attracting mountain-climbers from around the world. The volcano is visible from nearly every spot in town, but is perhaps best viewed from the rooftops of the labyrinthine
Arequipa is a modern city that offers everything necessary for an unforgettable trip. It contains more Spanish colonial architecture than any other Peruvian city, but is also firmly rooted in the Indian traditions of the antiplano. The city boasts mysterious and majestic monuments and exceptional geography, with wonderful green landscapes, luminous valleys and impressive geological areas. Arequipa's clear mountain air is often filled with the music of Andean pan pipes, which famously inspired Simon and Garfunkel's hit song "El Condor Pasa."
The districts and villages that surround Arequipa are also well worth a visit. These include:
Cayma Located three kilometers from downtown and past Yanahuara, this district, on the right shore of the Chili River, is called "The Balcony of Arequipa" because from its heights one can see the entire city. Its main plaza has a church which houses the image of the Virgin of the Candlemas, donated by King Carlos V.
Carmen Alto A district with many pre-Columbian features, and in whose fields it is possible to camp. It was also the site of battles during the Arequipa civil war and has a modest museum that illustrates those historical battles.
Characato This is a town 14 kilometers from the city. The Merced Church and an old manor house from 1795 are located in the main plaza. Characato also features an observatory and a geomagnetic and seismic station as well as another that tracks satellites.
Socabaya The most interesting aspect of this town, located 10 kilometers from the city, is its wonderful landscape, which has been a source of inspiration for Arequipean poets and painters. Visitors can hike and camp the in the natural caves of Las Peñas.
Chilina Only a 10-minute drive from the city, this district is for many the most beautiful and romantic of the Arequipean countryside. Out of its fields rise two volcanoes and the most splendid dawns. It also has perfect fields for camping trips and hiking to observe the precious wildlife and plant life of the region.
Tiabaya This district, nine kilometers from downtown, offers countryside with delicious traditional pear trees and picanterías (traditional restaurants).
Yura Synonymous with medicinal-mineral or thermal waters, this locale is 30 kilometers from the city. In its swimming pools, for multiple and individual use, visitors can acquire therapy for a variety of ailments. In addition, it has diverse recreational centers for camping or sports, and a hotel properly equipped for tourists.
Socosani Seven kilometers from Yura, we find another assembly of thermal waters, which is bottled for drinking, appreciated throughout the country. In addition, it has impressive waterfalls and immense fields for camping. It is flanked by hills suitable for hikes and rock climbing.
These are the most outstanding districts of Arequipa. The downtown area is also considered a district, El Cercado, "The Surrounded One," where the historical center of the city is located as well as several colonial churches and manor homes. There is also a great diversity of stores and cultural centers that feature art from this wonderful region.
Arequipa has a wide variety of interesting activities and destinations, from its architecture, art and indigenous and colonial culture, to its exciting nightlife.
Arequipa by day
Arequipa's attractions include the Basílica Catedral, Compañía de Jesús Church, Santa Catalina Convent, Dama de Ampato (Juanita Mummy) Museum and the Yanahuara viewpoint.
Not far from the city are also Casa Goyeneche, la Mansión del Fundador, Sabandía Mill, and the thermal waters of Yura.
Arequipa has a great diversity of recreations centers and sites, such as Juli Hill, where racing carts are available for rent, there is a giant drive-in screen and a restaurant bar, in addition to billiard tables and games for children.
The International club located in Yanahuara offers visitors the opportunity to engage in a variety of sports such as tennis, basketball, bowling and more. It has at its disposal two beautiful swimming pools, a gymnasium, restaurants and fields for picnicking.
Leaving the city northbound, we find the district of Tingo, where there is a complex, housing swimming pools, a lagoon for kayaking and pedaling boats, and barbecue fields. It also has a beautiful and extensive terrace where typical meals are served.
Located in the south side of the city is the El Lago (The Lake) recreational complex, where the visitors can go horseback riding, swim in a beautiful pool, tour diverse manor houses, camp and eat typical dishes in a luxurious restaurant with a beautiful view of the Arequipean countryside.
Finally, one must visit Yura, just a few kilometers from the city, famous for its thermal swimming pools and athletic fields.
Arequipa by Night
The large student population of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín de Arequipa has forged a varied and exciting Arequipeño nightlife. Arequipa's bars and clubs incorporate the powerful cultural and colonial tradition of the city with South America's potent rhythms and drinks.
Nightlife centers around Arequipa's downtown area and its Plaza de Armas. Calle Mercaderes, one of the city's main avenues, features a variety of restaurants such as the immensely popular Presto Pizza, bars, coffee shops and casinos.
It is time to trek to the busiest places of the city, San Francisco Street has entertainment on nearly every block, such as bohemian bars, taverns and coffee bars like the recognized Soleil, where good music abounds, and the best national and imported drinks. If dancing is your game, there is Forum Rock Coffee, where the best bands of the city and the country perform every weekend. On Santa Catalina Street, we find the best bohemian bars and several discos.
But for those who enjoy more remote locations, there is the famous Dolores Avenue, which is full of discos like the Q'eros and the Fragola, and diverse restaurants of all types of meals, from barbecues to sandwiches, and mainly the best bars and taverns of Arequipa.
Another place to spend a night partying is the Avenida del Ejército, located in one of the most luxurious districts of the city and that offers the visitor bars, coffee bars, restaurants, pubs and discos.
Passion for Adventure
Arequipa attracts thrill-seekers from all over the world because of its proximity to Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons. Visitors can engage in diverse adventure sports such as hiking, trekking, canoeing, rock climbing, motor-crossing, and mountain biking and skiing. There are several travel agencies in the city's downtown (Jerusalén Street) that will guide you to the region's adventures.
Using the airport as a starting point, follow Aviación Avenue as an entrance into the city. A few kilometers further is the Grau Bridge, where on the right side of the Chili River the comfortable La Posada del Puente opens its doors to the city's downtown.
After crossing the bridge, detour toward La Marina Avenue, which provides fast access to the peaceful setting of Selva Alegre Zone, where the Libertador Hotel dominates the landscape, backed by the international chain Golden Tulip. Toward the city's downtown, one will find the enchanting hotel called La Casa de mi Abuela, 'My Grandmother's House', located along Jerusalén Street. Arequipa's downtown offers numerous hotels of diverse features and prices.
At the end of Puente Grau Street, travelers will find economically priced hostels for an average price of US$4 per person. The hostels are manor homes from colonial times 300 years ago, and their owners take personal care to guarantee the amenities and security for tourism. Two of the Historic District's most noteworthy hostels are La Posada de Sancho and Hostal Conquistador.
Arequipa's many hostels aim to provide guests with the most comfort, while providing complete tourist information and travel reservations. The hotels also take pride in their appearance, and many boast artworks by up-and-coming regional artists.
The Plaza de Armas provides a unique contrast to the more humble Historic District. El Misti looms above the plaza's beautiful cathedral, and provides a breathtaking backdrop to the bustle of the city center. The Posada del Inca Arequipa, part of the Cuatro Estrellas, is a hotel, casino, movie theater and restaurant for discriminating tastes located right on the stunning Plaza de Armas.
Crossing to the other side of the downtown, Sucre Street gives way into the residential area of Vallecito. The fresh and pure air provides a splendid climate, ideal to relax in its hotels: El Balcón and Hostal La Plazuela, both of adorable classic style.
Arequipa is one of the most historically rich Peruvian cities. The city's colonial history is evident in extant Spanish manorial houses, monasteries and convents, some of which date to the sixteenth century. However, Arequipa's history is deeper and more complex than this colonial architecture implies.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the area may have been inhabited as early as 6000 BCE. Visitors to Arequipa may examine archaeologically significant rupestrian paintings and carved stones at several nearby sites, including Toro Muerto in the Valle de Majes, and the caves of Sumbay (Yura Province, 4,127 meters above sea level).
Before the fifteenth century AD., Arequipa's fertile valley was occupied by Aymara Indians, an indigenous group that existed across the Andean antiplano. In the 1400s, the area was conquered by Incas, was successfully cultivated, and came to serve as the Inca Empire's most important supplier of grain and other agrarian products. The remains of irrigation systems and farming terraces from this time period still exist in the mountains around Arequipa.
On August 15, 1540, the modern city of Arequipa was founded by Garcí Manuel de Carbajal, a representative of the infamous conquistador Francisco Pizarro. During the Spanish colonial period, which lasted until José de San Martín's declaration of Peruvian independence in July of 1821, agriculture remained Arequipa's principal economic activity. European crops including wine, liquors and olive oil were successfully established in its fertile valley.
During the nineteenth century struggle for independence, Arequipa was a center of Peruvian nationalism. Once San Martín brought independence to the nation, Arequipa became a symbol of its freedom. The prideful, daring and rebellious temperament of Arequipeños made them supporters and visible leaders of revolutions. Arequipa came to be known throughout South America as the "Land of Leaders." Arequipa today is the economic heart of southern Peru and one of the nation's most important milk producers. The city has undergone rapid urbanization in the past century, as old houses and manors have been converted into hotels, banks and restaurants. For example, the Claustros de la Compañía now houses a shopping center. The Banco Central de Reserva del Peru and Banco Continental refurbished the Casa Goyeneche and Ricketts manorial houses, which are now their branch offices. The Banco Industrial did the same with Casa del Moral, and the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín updated the Casa Irriberry and Arrospide to hold the Complejo Cultural Chaves de la Rosa de la U.N.S.A.
In 2000, UNESCO declared Arequipa's historic district to be a World Heritage Site, saying, "The historical center of Arequipa is an example of ornamented architecture, represents a masterpiece of the creative coalition of European and native characteristics. A colonial town challenged by the conditions of nature, the indigenous influences, the conquest process and evangelism as well as for a spectacular natural scenario."