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 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."
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.
Arequipeños love food. Arequipa offers a wide variety of international and criollo restaurants. Southern Peru is also well known for its brandy, called pisco and distilled from the white muscat grapes grown in the coastal town of Pisco. It is often served with lime juice, syrup and egg whites in what is called a "pisco sour."
Indigenous foods, la comida criolla, rely heavily on meat. Peruvians are perhaps most famous for eating guinea pig, which are often served barbecued. There are several good barbecue restaurants in Arequipa, including El Viñedo, Argentino Grill. Another place to sample Southern Peru's indigenous foods, including mazamorra, a traditional pudding dessert, is Las Quenas, where the food is accompanied by live performances upon the Andean pan pipes.
Chinese and Peruvian cultures are famously integrated, and Peruvian Chinese restaurants, los chifas, are delicious evidence of this fusion. Ka Hing, the best chifa in Arequipa, offers Chinese classics as well as some Chinese-influenced criollo dishes such as tacu-tacu, lomo saltado, and arroz chaufa.
The Peruvian sea is one of richest on the planet, and while the northern coastal cities, such as Trujillo, are better known for their seafood restaurants, Arequipa's selection of seafood is formidable.Cebiche (a marinated seafood dish) eases the anxieties of strangers and locals alike. Also common are fried fish, steamed fish, black shells and fried calamari. Arequipa's seafood restaurants are often busiest during breakfast.
Despite their love of meat, more and more Arequipeños have opened vegetarian and health food restaurants in recent years. Noteworthy choices include Govinda and Lakshmivan.
The most picturesque restaurants in town are those on the Plaza de Armas. Several of these are located above ground-floor souvenir shops and tour agencies, and require patrons to hike up rickety staircases to reach them. However, they offer open-air balcony dining with stunning views of El Misti and the cathedral, and should not be missed.
Arequipa is one of the best places to enjoy Andean cuisine as well as international flavors. There are enough restaurants in the "White City" to satisfy every tourist and sportsmen looking to conquer El Misti.