The White City is worth so much more, but if you find yourself with only 24 hours in Arequipa, here’s how to make the most of it.
“Why is this city called the White City?” a member of our tour group asks our enthusiastic tour guide.
Another tourist answered that the reference is made because of the white cathedral.
“Well, not exactly,” our guide explained. “It’s actually because of the large number of gringos that arrived to the city many years ago.”
Whether or not our guide was joking, Arequipa has more than meets the eye—and is much more than its nickname describes. While many tourists visit the southern Peru city as a point of departure for the Colca Valley trek, there is plenty to do, see and eat in Arequipa.
Well, you might need to be if you only have one day to spend in this amazing city. Start your day early and walk to the San Camilo market where you can find natural juices, bread, fruits and veggies, and hats. Many hats.
Enjoy a fresh juice and try the empanadas in the kiosk at the entrance to the market for only on sol. You can choose between a beef or vegetable empanada.
On the second floor, you’ll find small eateries and stands offering queso helado, the local artisanal ice cream. Though its name translates to cheese ice cream, it is not actually made of cheese; in fact, other than its milk content, perhaps the only resemblance to cheese is the unique way the helado is served as shaved ice, causing it to appear (slightly) like cheese slices.
After a visit to the market make a short stop at the main town square, Plaza de Armas. Unlike other major cities in Peru, cars and taxis are prohibited from driving around Arequipa’s main square.
On one side of the plaza visitors can see the impressive white Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. This cathedral is like a phoenix, it was destroyed in the past (in a fire and an earthquake) but was rebuilt each time. The three other surrounding sides of the plaza are filled with restaurants, hotels, and businesses. In its center, you will find benches for some time to sit, relax and feed the fluttering pigeons that frequent this public area.
If you arrive in Arequipa on a Sunday you’ll get to watch the parade at the plaza. The march takes place in the mornings and the different groups are accompanied by musicians.
Make sure you make it on time to the morning Free Walking Tour. It usually leaves between 10am-11am. If you miss it, there’s another one around 2pm but it follows a different itinerary.
The tour takes about 2-3 hours and you’ll get to see different churches and hidden gems of Arequipa while learning about the history, culture and local dishes of this special city.
After walking all morning you’ll probably be exhausted and hungry. Time for some Arequipa-style lunch.
Make sure to try some typical dishes like rocoto relleno—a whole pepper filled with ground beef, vegetables, and cheese—or pastel de papa, a potato and ground beef casserole. The best place to try these is at a picantería, restaurants offering home-style cooking at affordable prices and large portions.
After enjoying the culinary traditions of Arequipa head out to the colorful Santa Catalina Monastery. An entrance ticket will cost you about 40 soles.
The convent is huge and even has streets inside of it so it will probably take you around an hour to walk around, learn about the place and of course, take pictures.
After touring the convent leave some time to watch the sunset. There are two spots from which you can get a great view.
Walk up to Yanahuara just before sunset for a privileged view of the white top mountains of Arequipa and watch the sky change its colors as the sun sets on them.
Another option is to go back to the main square and head up to the rooftop of Katari hotel. Here you can enjoy a drink while watching the plaza transform from day to night. It is recommendable to make a reservation beforehand.
Just remember that once the sun sets it gets extra cold (especially on the rooftop of the hotel) so make sure you bring some warm clothes for the evening.
After you’ve watched the sunset, dine in one of Arequipa’s fun restaurants like Las Gringas for pizza or the famous Pasta Cantina that serves fresh pasta.
Make sure you make it to the Colca Canyon! You can visit the valley on a 1-day tour with a van or in a 2-3 day trek. The trek is highly recommended, especially since you will be able to spot more condors in the trek.
From Lima, Arequipa can be reached by plane in 1.5 hours; by bus it takes about 16 hours. From Cusco, the flight time is no longer than an hour and the journey by bus clocks in around 10 hours.