The city is part of the so called “Southern Peru Tourist Corridor”, together with Nazca, Puno and Cusco. In contrast to these other cities, Arequipa is an example of the Spanish and mestizo culture developed in Peru. There are no Inca artifacts or ruins in the city.
In the winter it is warmer than in the summer. It is nicknamed the ‘white city’ (la ciudad blanca, in Spanish), because many of the buildings in the area are built of sillar, a white stone. This rock was quarried from the many volcanoes that surround the city, including the towering El Misti. Ask for local help to identify Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu, the three volcanoes surrounding the city.
Arequipa embodies a rich mix of the indigenous and Spanish colonial cultures. With 468 years of history since its founding, examples of Spanish colonial architecture can be found throughout the center of the city and several surrounding districts. UNESCO has declared it a Human Heritage site. Catholic churches are scattered throughout the center of the city. Some ancient houses have been refurbished by the local authorities and serve as living museums. An example of this are the so-called “Tambos” located at Puente Bolognesi street.
By far the easiest way to get to Arequipa is by plane, landing in Rodríguez Ballón airport (IATA: AQP), 8km from the city. Latam (formerly LAN Peru) flies from Lima and Cuzco. Avianca (formerly Taca) Peruvian Airlines and LC Peru fly from their hubs in Lima. There are several connecting flights from Juliaca in Avianca and Latam. Peruvian Airlines also has non-daily flights to the coastal city of Tacna, in the border with Chile.
A taxi from the airport to the Plaza de Armas costs a flat-rate of S/20; go to the counter before leaving the baggage claim area to avoid hassle. Signs are posted with this rate, but depending on the size of the car, the size of your bags and your bskillsartering you could pay less. No public transportation is available to/from the airport.
There are two terminals serving the city, Terminal Terrestre and Terminal Terrapuerto. They’re next to each other, about 3km from the center. A taxi should cost around 10 soles but prices are fixed based on distance. You need a taxi to get to your hotel. Take taxis WITHIN the parking lot of the bus station. Those are registered official taxis. Express kidnappings have been reported with passengers taking taxis outside the bus stations. You can use buses/combis to get to/from the main bus terminal for 0.75 soles per person to Plaza de Armas; much cheaper than a taxi and still quite quick. Usually Hotels do not organize pickups from the bus station because buses delay and their time of arrival is not exact. But you can ask your hotel to call a taxi for you when you arrive at the bus station. It will take no more than 20 minutes of waiting.
From Lima (30-130 soles, 16-18 hours) it’s advisable to take non-stop express buses — though more expensive, they tend to be safer. Cruz del Sur, Oltursa and Excluciva are reputable companies with special tourist services. They leave from dedicated VIP terminals in Lima. Most express buses leave starting at 5 pm in order to get to Arequipa early morning. Its a night trip and has no view attraction. A special service from Cruz del Sur leaves at 9 pm and let you enjoy watchig the beautiful coast of Arequipa during the trip. Regular or local services stop too many times on the way and your risk of losing your luggage is very high. Avoid them.
From Cusco an option is Cruz del Sur Cruzero service. Its expensive but a night non stop express service with comfortable buses. You arrive to Arequipa very early, at 6-7 am. Be aware some hotels will not give you a room that early.
From Ica (12 hours). Cruz del Sur offers a night nonstop express service with comfortable seating. For Ica Andoriña bus was the cheapest (50/S. 10 hours – 5 times a day) but it stopped too many times, the AC wasn’t working and it was difficult to really sleep.
From Puno there are buses roughly hourly for S/.15, taking about 6hours. Cruz del Sur daily service leaves at 3.30 pm. Some Expresso services are also available with 4M and Giardino Tours. If you are a group (4+) you can rent a charter. All the local companies providing regular cheap service have being reported as bad and unsafe for tourists. Julsa has been reported as the worst service available.
From Nazca, the cheapest bus option is Flores. From its office nearby the terminal in Nazca, there are buses leaving at 3.30pm and 10pm and costs S/. 50 (Nov 2015), and take anywhere between 8 to 10 hours. The bus originates in Lima so might not arrive on time in Nazca. There are numerous other bus companies (Civa, Cruz del Sur, Ormeño) ranging in price between S/. 85 – 100
From Tacna or Chile the best option is Florez Hnos Super Dorado service leaving from Tacna National Bus Station. You better leave before night time. Its a 5 hour trip but because of customs procedures to avoid contraband, the bus can be delayed 1 to 3 hours.
La Paz Ormeños has direct buses leaving at 1AM every day, passing through Puno at 6AM (40 Soles) and arriving in La Paz at 12 midday (60$).
Charter trains to Juliaca and Puno are only available for groups of 40 or more.
The city has a central urban area that can be explored on foot. The historic center is a 5 block area around the main square and is relatively easy to navigate with one of the many maps available at hotels or any information office. Some ancient districts like Yanahuara and Cayma are also within walking distance. Walking is safe within reason even at nighttime. Follow your hotel recommendations on which places NOT to go.
The rural area is a whole attraction itself, with gorgeous terraces, Spanish mills, palaces and the ever-present view of the volcanoes from wherever you are.
One option for visiting most of the main tourist sights from the rural and urban areas is to take a bus tour. Tour buses are available at the main square and you can book the tour at your hotel or directly with the bus driver. In two or four hours, according to the tour you book, you will visit most of the famous viewpoints of the city. It is a great experience (from 6 to 10 dollars).
For safety, use cabs from taxi dispatch companies. Your hotel or the restaurant can call it for you. Avoid taking taxis that have stopped, waiting for passengers. A tip for taking a taxi is to take the one that you see a passenger leaving from. Prices are per ride. A ride from the main square to any place in the central district will be 4 – 7 soles. A ride from the bus station to any hotel is 10 soles (as of july 2015). From the airport, the price varies between 20-30 soles. Some cab drivers try to rip you off by saying prices are per head but price is always per ride for all passengers. Allow for a minor extra charge for luggage (usually half a sol per major piece). There is also an option to rent a taxi per hour. Price:$6/hour. Please follow the advice of your hotel on reliable taxi companies.
Most of the attractions are within walking distance from the historic center. You can use buses/combis to get to/from the main bus terminal for 0.80 soles per person (as of july 2015); much cheaper than a taxi and still quite quick. Always be aware of your personal belongings and don’t leave valuables unattended.
Traffic in Arequipa is chaotic. It is not advisable to drive. If you drive to Arequipa, leave your vehicle in your hotel and enjoy the city on foot or using taxis.
From ‘Hertz’ you can rent a Toyota Hilux for $90/day. The 4×4 they give you will be 5 years old and have been driven over 50,000km. Do not expect the car to be clean inside (insist on a discount for this) and expect your collection to take a minimum of 45 minutes.
- The Plaza de Armas, the main square of Arequipa, surrounded by buildings made of sillar, a white volcanic stone.
- Visit San Camilo Market, the oldest one, located in the centre of the city. It’s three blocks away from the main square.
- See the Juanita Mummy in the Museo Santuarios Andinos. From May to November the main exhibit is the Dama de Ampato, also known as Juanita. It is close to the main square.
- Convento de Santa Catalina is the most visited building from the Spanish era of the city. Described as a city within a city, this beautiful place with its colors, flowers and little streets will make you feel like you have traveled back in time. Quite close to the Plaza de Armas.
- One of the newest attractions is the Convento de Santa Teresa, a little off the usual tourist areas in downtown Arequipa. Not as interesting architecturally as the Convento de Santa Catalina, but some of the paintings and artifacts are stunning.
- Many of the almost 250 colonial buildings entitled as Human Heritage by UNESCO, are close to the main square. Some have been turned into banks, stores, restaurants and departments. This method of preserving the city by finding a practical use for the historical buildings, provides a great experience to the visitor who feels like visiting a living museum.
- Churches are among the most beautiful buildings preserved. They are all Catholic and you can visit them but be aware that they are used daily for worship so try not to be intrusive. La Compania, San Francisco, La Merced and the Cathedral are some of the most famous.
- Arequipa has beautiful bridges. Puente Bolognesi is the closest to the main square. Go there and visit the Tambos (ancient houses rebuilt by the city government and used as apartments). Great experience and good views of El Misti and Chachani