If you have over one week to spend in Peru, then Arequipa MUST be on your Peru itinerary. Not only is it a culinary capital, but the charm of the historic center, the beauty of the surrounding mountains and the great weather are all other reasons why you should visit! Our favorite things to do in Arequipa guide gives you all you need to enjoy your time there!
Arequipa, Peru In A Nutshell
Arequipa is often described as the culinary capital of Peru, the city of the sun, and the White City. All of which we found to be true. The cuisine is diverse and inventive, it’s sunny over 300 days per year, and the stones that make the buildings of the historic center are white.
Arequipa is a common stop on the journey from Lima to Cusco, after the beach town of Paracas and the natural desert oasis of Huacachina. The city offers plenty to soak in over a few relaxing days. With so much good food to eat and experiences to enjoy, we recommend spending at least 3 nights here as you travel through Peru!
FUN FACT: Arequipa was originally called the White City because so many Europeans lived there in the early-mid 1900s. While the stones used for the historic buildings are naturally off-white, they used to be painted in bright colors. They required a lot of upkeep as the porous rocks would chip and the color would fade. Eventually, the citizens got tired of maintaining them and over time, or as the paint faded, the White City came to signify the white volcanic rock instead of the color of the population.
Things To Do in Arequipa
Arequipa is usually a 1 or 2 day stop on the journey from Lima to Cusco. In our opinion, this isn’t enough time to really enjoy the food and sites. Among the many things to do here, we recommend the follow activities
Take a Walking Tour
There are a lot of companies offering free walking tours, but we think we found the best. Unfortunately, they don’t have the most creative name, Free Tour Downtown Arequipa, but their tour was extremely informative. They leave from Las Gringas at 10AM and 3PM daily. This tour offers a motherload of fun facts. Don’t worry, we won’t spoiled them all for you!
Take a Chocolate Making Class (or Cooking Class)
Chaqchao Chocolates (located just above Las Gringas) offers chocolate making classes twice a day. It was hands down the coolest experience that I had in Arequipa. Who knew that all you needed to make incredible dark chocolate was three ingredients, a couple hours and a microwave? Not me. In about 3 hours, you will learn all about the chocolate making process, taste a variety of different chocolates and even make your own! Highly, highly recommend!
Classes are S/70 per person and you should make a reservation one day in advance.
We met many people who took cooking classes in Arequipa, however we did not take one ourselves. If this is an interest of yours, either walk around town or do some digging online and I’m sure you can quickly find one that suits your fancy.
See Llamas & Alpacas
If you’re coming from Lima, Arequipa is probably the first place you will get to see llamas and alpacas. What’s the difference between a llama and an alpaca you ask? It’s all in the face. Llamas have a long nose, while alpacas look like a llama hit in the face with a frying pan – aka a smaller and rounder snout – giving them the facial appearance of a cotton ball.
You can see some llamas and alpacas up close at Mundo Alpaca which is a clothing store/museum. Here you can see 4-6 llamas and/or alpacas and try to determine which is which. Entrance is free and you do not have to buy anything to visit the llamas or the museum. (If you do want alpaca clothing, it is cheaper to shop elsewhere.)
You can also find a woman making a textile using a traditional Incan loom. Be sure to watch for a couple minutes (and give her a tip), it is truly incredible to set how traditional textiles were made!
Downstairs and around the corner is an exhibit to teach you how alpaca yarn is made. It is in a barn, directly below the woman and the loom, and it’s filled with different pieces of equipment as well as placards explaining how they’re used. Michelle and I are not going to get into the alpaca yarn industy, it was quite complex and confusing!
BEWARE: Arequipa has these tiny mosquito-like bugs that will attack any exposed skin. Be vigilant in any grassy area, especially near the llamas and alpacas. You will get bit up! We recommend wearing pants and close-toed shoes!
Practice Your Modeling
Have you been practicing your hair flips? Been re-watching Zoolander? Are you ready for your time to shine? Well, Arequipa is the place to unleash your inner Heidi Klum. Arequipa has some of the most picturesque, narrow, cobble-stone streets that we’ve seen. The white walls are certainly a nice touch as well. So put on that button-down or dress and explore the streets of San Lazaro and/or Leoncio Prado – Yanahuara and snap some pics!
Hike the Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world and is located just a couple hours outside of Arequipa. There is no shortage of travel agencies in Arequipa offering a day-trip, 2-day trip, or 3-day trip to the Colca Canyon. We hiked it on our own and had absolutely no problem doing so. The path is easy to follow and you don’t have to plan very much. If you are interested in hiking it, be sure to check out our How To Hike The Colca Canyon post.
If you like to dance, then add learning bachata in Arequipa to your list. While Arequipa isn’t exactly a dance capital (there are plenty more school and clubs in Lima), there are some great schools here and classes are substantially cheaper than they are in Lima. We took classes at Escuela de Baile Si o Si – Michelle, intermediate, and I, beginner – and both picked up some sweet moves. We highly recommend it!
If you’re in town on a Saturday night, go to La Casona Forum. It fills up around midnight and there is a S/25 per person cover (the highest we ever found in Peru!), but it is the only salsa club in the city center. You’re bound to see some great dancers, most impressive is the bachata. Casona Forum is a multi-level club with over four different concepts on the various levels. Go exploring and have some fun!
FUN FACT: Si o si is an arequipeño phrase that means “yes or yes.” It’s kind of like saying, “Am I right or am I right?” Now that you know, keep your ears open or maybe even try to work it into a conversation!
Enjoy the Views
One of my pet-peeves when reading a travel blog is when one of the top recommendations is to walk around the city center and look at the buildings. Of course. Who wouldn’t? But for Arequipa, I just have to write it. The city and surrounding mountains are just so beautiful. In my opinion, it’s the most attractive city in Peru, both because of the architecture and the surrounding mountains.
Carve out some time to relax on a bench and have some ice cream in the Plaza de Armas. Once you’ve been annoyed enough by the same guy trying to sell you sunglasses for the fifth time, head to one of the nearby cafes and enjoy the views of the mountains.
Mirador Yanahuara is a great place to admire the city center and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, we there wasn’t a spot (or at least we could find one) to watch the sun set over the mountains.
Where to Eat
Arequipa is a culinary capital and not only because of its Peruvian cuisine. When researching restaurant recommendations given by other blogs, I was surprised by the diversity of cuisines recommended – burgers, Indian, Italian, even sushi. Below are the places we tried and recommend:
I’ll try not to raise your expectations too high, but Zig Zag was our best meal in Peru. Scratch that, in all of our 4-months of traveling to that point (sorry all of Colombian cuisine). It was also our most expensive, but a higher price is not a guarantee of deliciousness (see my thoughts on Budo Profundo below). Thankfully, this restaurant is the real deal. We ordered a bottle of wine + an appetizer + 300g (~2/3lb) alpaca steak all for about ~200 soles (~$60USD). I know, not a backpacker-budget friendly meal, but hey, we were celebrating our 6 year anniversary!
It’s recommended you make a reservation, though we didn’t. We went on a Monday night and were seated immediately, however the place was pretty full. If you plan on going, stop by the day before or morning of claim your table.
Hole in the Wall Lunch Spot
I am following up the most expensive restaurant one on this list with the cheapest one on this list. I am putting it second to make sure you read about it. It’s that good. This restaurant was not on any travel blogs. I don’t even know its name, but I can direct you to it. On GoogleMaps you can find it under El Sabor Criollo 3 (though I never saw that name anywhere at the restaurant). I just know that no matter what day of the week it is, weekends included, between noon-3PM you can be sure this place is packed with locals. I went for lunch nearly every day and there was never an empty table.
Unless you speak Spanish, you won’t understand half the menu, but that’s okay. Just pick something and leave it up to the food gods, you won’t be disappointed. The soups were big and hearty, and the second plates were delicious. And all for the cost of 8 soles ($2.50USD), this is the best deal in town. If they have fish soup (pescado sudado), definitely order that!
Here’s the location (restaurant marked by the red pin):
We really did not want to go here. Who wants to go all the way to Arequipa, Peru and eat at a restaurant called Las Gringas, literally, “the white people.” We’d seen it on numerous travel blogs and even had it recommended to us by a local. We put it off for almost a week before finally caving in… and boy do we wish we’d gone earlier.
Las Gringas is known for pizza and craft beer, but we weren’t in the mood for that, so we ordered a cheese gnocchi and a salad instead. They were FAN-TASTIC. We were blown away by both and have now jumped on the bandwagon. GRINGO ME UP!
PS: If you’re craving pizza while in Peru, we highly recommend having some in Pisac, a small town north of Cusco. There, you will find the most amazing restaurant, Antica Osteria, to indulge your pizza cravings!
Like pizza, we have not eaten a lot of burgers in South America (although we did have a pretty darn good one in Buenavista, Colombia). They just don’t scream authentic South American cuisine to us. However, we were super impressed by the burgers and fries in AQP Burger! Whether you’re looking for a good ole juicy burger or for a spin on the classic, this the place to go. We were planning on sharing a burger just to try it, but promptly decided to order another one after a bite of the first. We had the AQP burger (a classic) along with the A La Pobre (a Peruvian twist), and both were top-notch.
PS: You will see the letters AQP on a lot of buildings, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me too long to realized that it stands for Arequipa. You’ve been told.
This is probably the restaurant I saw recommended most on travel blogs. It’s… wait for it… vegan sushi. Sounds amazing and creative, right? I thought so, too. Many travelers we met raved about it and maybe we just ordered the wrong thing, but I was underwhelmed.
We ordered a variety plate and almost half of the sushi was either avocado wrapped in rice or cucumber wrapped in rice. It was one of our more expensive meals in the city and also the least impressive. If you’re comparing it to what real sushi tastes like, will be a disappointment. Just know what you’re getting into before you sit down – vegetarian sushi.
Very unoriginal name, and yet very good Indian food. More on the pricier side for a backpacker budget, this place is worth going to if you have a craving for Indian food that you need to satisfy. We enjoyed their Saag Paneer, Chicken Tika Masala, and buttered naan. All were very good. Would definitely recommend as a special treat.
FUN FACT: Saag Paneer is surprisingly easy and affordable to make at home (provided you can find paneer cheese at your local grocery store), check out this 30 Minute Saag Paneer recipe to learn how!
Looking for the best Indian food in Peru? Our favorite Indian Restaurant was surprisingly found in the culinary desert of Huaraz. Check out our Huaraz Travel Guide if you’re interested in visiting Peru’s high-altitude hiking capital!
Arequipa is known for its local eateries and gathering places called Picanterias. These places serve authentic arequipeño cuisine and are often open only from noon-5PM. The city boasts quite a few good ones. We would recommend (in order from least touristy to most):
- El Super Abodo Arequipeño
- La Nueva Palomino
- Picanteria Victoria
We’re usually big fans of “menu del dia” for lunch, but not at a picanteria, as these places are best for trying authentic arequipeño cuisine. Order off the menu and make sure to try some authentic plates such as:
- Rocoto Relleno – spicy stuffed pepper
- Chupe de Chamarones – crawfish stew
- Chairo or Chayro – hearty, delicious beef & vegetable soup
- Cuy – guinea pig, either fried or roasted
- Adobo – spicy, pork stew (traditionally served through noon on Sundays only)
And whatever you get, don’t forget to wash it down with chicha. It’s a fermented purple corn drink that tastes a lot like kombocha and used to be made with human saliva (but not anymore, we don’t think…).
The best way to cool down on a warm, sunny day in Arequipa is with some queso helado. Unlike its name suggests, it is not actually made of cheese. Instead, it is ice cream made from condensed milk. You can buy queso helado from one of the many street vendors with wooden barrels on many corners around the city. Sizes are sold at any price, even if the vendor tells you the smallest size is S/3.
If you’re in the mood for a good ole soft-serve ice cream cone, Michelle swears by those sold at the supermarket in the town plaza.
Street popcorn is to Peru as plantain chips are to Colombia. Perhaps bananas just aren’t as abundant here? One of my favorite things about Arequipa and Cusco is the availability of delicious street popcorn. For S/1 (~$0.30USD) you can buy a bag larger than you could pop at home of perfectly salted popcorn. I’ve bought a lot of bags.
A good cup of coffee is generally more expensive in Peru than in other South American countries. You can expect to pay 6-8 soles (USD) for a flat white in Arequipa.
My favorite place to grab a coffee in the city. This is the perfect place to relax and play some cards or write a blog post. Note: Tourists are certainly make up the majority of customers, but the gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains from the patio makes up for it.
Huayruro Peruvian Coffee Shop
A good coffee for sure, but the small space and tables makes this not a place I would recommend if you want to relax for an hour or so. Perfect if you’re in the city and want to grab a good coffee to go.
A bit out of the way, but this was my favorite tasting cup of coffee in the city. There’s not much else to do in this part of the city, nor it is that picturesque, but worth the walk if you love coffee.
If you’re into craft beer, Arequipa is the best city for it in Peru. In Arequipa, you can expect to pay around 16 soles ($5USD) for a pint. You have plenty of options to choose from, we are a couple we enjoyed:
Melkim Draft House
Melkim Draft House looks like a small craft beer house you could find in the States. Located in the gorgeous San Lazaro square, it has just a handful of tables and taps. It’s the perfect place to grab a drink before heading off to dinner.
Inside, the name is also written out as “NowHere.” So what’s the name? You decide. Anyways, it’s a cool spot, which we were told by a local is “so in right now”. Nowhere is run by a young Canadian/Peruvian couple and they rotate the taps often. I tried a stout and a friend had an IPA, both of which we thought were really good.
At the end of the day regardless of where you go, it’s local craft beer, you really can’t go wrong!
How to Get There
Although Arequipa does have an airport, most people get to Arequipa by bus on their way from Lima to Cusco. It is a 12 hour overnight bus from Ica (the town 10 minutes from the oasis Huacachina) and an 8 hour bus from Cusco.
Where to Stay
Arequipa has a lot of options, but we were not overly impressed by the two hostels we stayed at.
The private rooms are decently priced. Ours had little natural light and spotty WiFi, so we didn’t love it. It is very close to the gorgeous Plaza de Armas, though, and has a free (simple) breakfast. The best parts of Arequipa are found outside your hostel so, since Dragonfly is affordable and checks the major boxes, it’s a good choice.
Selina Arequipa is more of a compound instead of a hostel. It has a massive courtyard and seems to take up the entire block. Unfortunately, the courtyard and yoga studio are the only good things we have to say about this hostel.
Although the hostel was relatively empty, management packs all guests into the fewest rooms possible. Each room we stayed in was filled to capacity, and in one case, the bathroom was disgusting. It is about a 10 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, but close to San Lazaro.
Our recommendation, find a hostel that meets your needs and plan to spend to your days checking out restaurants and cafes and soaking in the incredible views.
Where to Go Next
Heading South or East: You’re only an 8 hour overnight bus from Cusco! Be sure to check out our Cusco Travel Guide to help plan your time there!
Heading North or West: You’re a 12 hour overnight bus from Ica. Ica is a transportation hub. Ica is 10 minutes from the desert oasis Huacachina, 1.5 hours from the desert-meets-the-sea town of Paracas and 5 hours from the bustling capital of Lima.
There you have it, our favorite things to do in Arequipa! From us to you, happy adventuring!
All prices are current as of November 2019.