What to Do In and Around Arequipa: Our Selection

December 28, 2022

Rooted in history as deep and dramatic as its volcanic surroundings, Arequipa is the perfect destination for culture, discovery, and relaxation. Set in the Andes over 2,000 meters above sea level and serving as the gateway to the Altiplano, the White City has an abundance of sunshine to explore southern Peru. World-class dining in walkable neighborhoods, jaw-dropping sillar stone architecture, five-star accommodations for decadent getaways… This colorful city has it all.


At the feet of three stunning volcanoes – Misti, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu – sits this gorgeous city, the second largest in Peru. Arequipa has long maintained cultural significance throughout its long history, and its heritage stretches back to the pre-Incan era. Even the CIRQA, the monastery-turned-Parador of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Center, has centuries of culture within its walls.


CIRQA is a fortunate local in this unforgettable place. Whether planning a trip to iconic local restaurants like 13 Monjas and Zig Zag, visiting the architecturally striking Cloisters de La Compañia, or refueling before or after a trip to Colca Canyon, Arequipa offers everything. Rest and relaxation that go hand in hand with cultural adventure; what more could you ask for?


Plaza de Armas


One of the most fascinating parts of Arequipa is the Plaza de Armas, located in the Historic Center. The plaza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but with a backdrop of volcanoes and cafes sprouting from the white sillar stone buildings, it is nothing short of perfect. Travelers and socialites are drawn to the Basilica Cathedral and its massive towers, looming over the plaza and offering another impressive view. From here, you can take an architecture tour through the plaza and surrounding neighborhood to learn more about what the White City is made of, how important the surrounding trio of volcanoes is, and how it all came together.


The archways surrounding the plaza have charming cafes and restaurants for a taste of Peru. There are even terraces around the edge of the plaza for a bird’s eye view. From here, you can take in the fountains below and the mountains in the distance. Many walking tours also begin at the plaza, so take advantage of its prime location in the heart of Arequipa.



Monasterio Santa Catalina

Founded in 1579, the Monasterio Santa Catalina occupies a large swath of the Historic Center of Arequipa and remains a functioning monastery today. It is as beautiful as it is riveting, built with both white and pink volcanic rock (tuff). Initially created for upper-class Spanish families, it was opened to the public in the 1970s and has tours of its facilities, even while maintaining operations. The vibrant colors, spanning lighter pastel blues and reds to white and purple, are astonishing in their brilliance and their ability to withstand centuries of earthquakes that have shaped the city over the years.


An art gallery of colonial works is exhibited in a couple of rooms, featuring nearly 400 pieces. A guided tour allows guests to pass through the history of the convent, viewing the cloisters, the preserved utility rooms and their appliances, and the courtyards of fountains and colorful flowers. The sheer size of the monastery – spanning over 20,000 square meters – is big enough to house the galleries, living quarters, plaza, and more. Come earlier in the day for better lighting and comfortable temperatures, or come towards the end of the day to enjoy a sunset against the beautiful backdrop of the architecture.



Travelers who want to do as the locals do will have no trouble navigating the many markets in the city. From San Camilo near the Plaza de Armas to Fundo el Fierro and Mercado Central, there are plenty of options for what you want and need to find. Items made of alpaca and other Peruvian goods and clothing can be perused and bought at Kuna in La Casona de Santa Catalina, among other stores. High-end products exclusive to Arequipa and Peru can also be found at Patio del Ekeko, with comfortable and elevated restaurants and cafes located nearby. Upscale antique stores, such as Alvaro Alvidia Antiques, are a great way to discover a curated selection of Peruvian essentials.


An abundance of authentic Arequipan clothing, jewelry, and artwork brim from the many squares and markets around the city. Fundo el Fierro is just a stone’s throw from the center of the Historic District and has captivating handmade items for gifts and souvenirs. It is a collection of local artisans who otherwise sell their work throughout the city, so if you don’t find a particular artist or artwork as you explore Arequipa, you might be able to snag it at Fundo el Fierro. San Camilo has a wide array of food stations and even butchers. For a glimpse into the Peruvian diet, you can see the thousands of potato varieties for sale in stalls that spill out into the streets on busy days. Its proximity to Plaza de Armas makes it an easy, authentic trip into the Arequipan way of life.



If geology and history are on your itinerary, the Sillar Route tours are designed just for you. Arequipa is known as the White City specifically for its white volcanic construction, so join an excursion to delve into the history, process, and creation. There are a number of quarries just outside the city, and they have an element of walking and hiking as well as culture.


As you walk around and climb through the quarries, each tells a different story with its own history. There are ancient carvings from past cultures – including colossal figures etched into the stone at Culebrillas. Sillar Rosado has a pink hue reflecting off its rock, which includes a unique composition to its canyon. Many of the quarries have smaller artifacts that lend to the stone's value throughout history. Some may be available to purchase as souvenirs.


Mansion del Fundador

While the city of Arequipa has long been home to different communities, dating back nearly 4,000 years, it's founding in 1540 brought in a new history and appeal as it developed into the Peruvian gem we know today. The Mansion del Fundador is a testament to the founder of Arequipa – Don Garcí Manuel de Carbajal – and a recent past of southern Peru. His eldest son resided there until his death, and it was once a premiere crossroad of people and culture. With immaculate cobblestone roads, stunning trees and natural landscapes, and buildings dressed and maintained with unmatched elegance; it is a pleasant and intriguing venture to visit the mansion just a few kilometers from the city center.


Ashlar architecture sheds yet more light on the volcanic upbringing of Arequipa, and the mansion itself is kept in pristine condition. The colorful walls are filled with artwork, and colonial-era decor illuminates the past. You can be sure to understand better how modern Arequipa came to be through the story of Fundador. Easy to get to and a pleasure to enjoy, this is an absolute must-see in the White City.


CIRQA Restaurant

Eating in Arequipa is a special treat, no matter the itinerary. Not only is there an abundance of restaurants to have a great, unique meal, but the fare itself is extraordinary. Proximity to both mountains and the ocean has proved vital to the White City’s integral role in developing much of the Peruvian cuisine we all know today. The city is the birthplace of rocoto relleno, a pepper stuffed with meat, vegetables, and eggs, with traditional variations. It is also a great place to try some of the many potato varieties associated with Peru, prepared in customary ways in the southern parts of the country.


Many of the great eateries are located within walking distance of each other and centrally located. CIRQA, located in the Historical Center, is known for twisting classic dishes into a Peruvian mold and doing it well. The establishment is an example of the perfect ambiance, with volcanic stone arches serving as a backdrop for locally sourced ingredients and an eye on sustainability. You will also want to try a picanteria – a place where the community comes together for gatherings and enjoy classic plates that have stood the test of time. Often associated with lunchtime and communal eating, orthodox cooking practices make it a genuinely Arequipan and Peruvian experience.



As one of the country’s most sought-after attractions, Colca Canyon is an exceptional adventure. This canyon carved out from the Colca River, reaches depths of nearly 3,400 meters, almost doubling that of the Grand Canyon. It was crucial in the country’s development, and there are preserved petroglyphs offering distant glimpses of the past. The Toro Muerto, a collection of rock carvings, depicts scenes of pre-Incan civilizations' daily life. These civilizations used terrace farming in the canyon, a practice adopted by ensuing regional cultures. Keep your eyes on the sky; you will see the graceful condor gliding through the air above.


Activities include birdwatching, hiking, and even zip-lining. Some of the trails are intensive, so intermediate and advanced trekkers will thoroughly enjoy the immensity of the landscape. If a quick jaunt and the scenery are too beautiful to pass up, spend an hour or two in the hot springs. The bubbling volcanic mineral waters are soothing and fun, perfect for rejuvenation, and a lovely place to take in the surrounding views. Check out the Planetarium and Observatory Colca for unbeatable views of the stars and the Milky Way.


Cloisers de La Compañia

To the southeast of the Plaza de Armas, you can find another striking architectural treasure, the Cloisters of La Compañia. At the northern end of the cloisters is a chapel adorned with engravings for another example of the gorgeous sillar stone structures. The archways and a stone patio have been converted into shops, food stalls, and cafes within the cloisters. Shopping here is a wonderful mixture of handcrafts, textiles, and souvenirs, all within an aesthetically enchanting courtyard. Grab a coffee, people watch and pick up gifts in the heart of Arequipa.


The complex was completed in the mid-17th century, and its religious colonial identity has been maintained in nearly the same fashion over the years. Constructed by the Jesuits, who used the facilities over the course of 200 years, the religious features dominate the structure. Coming later in the day will provide beautiful sunsets while dining or enjoying the café, and the nightlife in the area is also worth discovering for night owls.


San Lazaro

One of the oldest neighborhoods in Arequipa is Barrio San Lazaro, at the northern edge of the Historic Center. The cobblestone streets and sillar architecture are similar to the rest of the city, but it contains great river views with ashlar pillars and arches. Every street is picturesque, with lamps, flower boxes, or pastel stone homes. Some of the first houses in the White City were constructed in San Lazaro. The neighborhood is scenic and quiet, so romantic strolls steeped in history provide plenty to be enamored with.


Perhaps most importantly, San Lazaro is a trendy and chic neighborhood with great cafés and restaurants. Plaza Campo Redondo is a small square but is just as stunning as the rest of the district. People-watching and dining are great options here, and it is a beautiful place to spend the day admiring the atmosphere of the White City. The gorgeous sunset views also beckon a burgeoning nightlife, easily accessible from the rest of the Historical Center and the Plaza de Armas.


Puerta roja

There are many museums throughout the city, but one of the most intriguing and insightful is Santuarios Andinos Museum. Known for housing the remains of a mummified Incan child, Juanita, tours provide captivating descriptions of the Inca civilization, particularly their rituals and practices. Though Juanita is the best known of the sacrificed children unearthed from the ice, there are others that carry the same significance. The price is reasonable, and there are artifacts to be explored.


Located to the south of Plaza de Armas, the building is also a spectacle of great physical beauty. There is a courtyard with benches, striking red on the sillar with white trim, and floral decorations to make it an inviting museum. Peru has a strong connection to its pre-Incan and Incan heritage, so an informative tour through one of the country’s most influential periods is a must. As succinct and efficient as the tour is, you will leave feeling satisfied with a unique part of South America and its history.



It is impossible to imagine what Peru would be without Arequipa. It is an authentic piece of its geology and landscape and once served as the capital of the country. Its roots stretch back over millennia, and it played an important role in colonial eras. Geographically, it is the gateway to the Altiplano, connecting the Pacific Ocean and the interior highlands.


Arequipa is a great destination year-round; no matter when you arrive, there are plenty of activities to enjoy. The White City enjoys over 300 days of sunshine every year, so you can count on stargazing and hiking whenever deciding to come. With an altitude of over 2,300 meters, it can be used to acclimate to higher points in the interior before continuing an expedition.


Traveling to and from Arequipa is also easy. This second-largest city has an airport with connections to Lima, Cusco, and even Santiago de Chile. Private cars are available for travel around the city, but it is a very walkable destination. For connections throughout southern Peru and Lima, high-end rail service allows a unique and unforgettable way to see Peru’s natural beauty. Sit back, relax, and discover its many worlds.


The city is very centralized, making itineraries inclusive and easy to follow. Many restaurants are close to museums and markets, which are also close to chapels and churches. The abundance of plazas throughout the city is also conducive to meeting locals, engaging with the city, and learning the local way of life. Using the Plaza de Armas as a center, you can seamlessly make your way to all parts of Arequipa.


For outside excursions, including Colca Canyon, you can allow a couple of extra hours. It is about two hours to drive to the coast and roughly three to get to Chivay and Colca Canyon. Many expedition companies can be found within Arequipa and often near Plaza de Armas.


Staying in Arequipa is perfect for rest, relaxation, adventure, and everything in between. Meeting locals and experiencing the culture is one of the city's most enriching aspects, and staying at CIRQA can help make the most of your itinerary. The team in this Parador allows you to unwind while curating a trip to your needs. Trips to Lake Titicaca and the Altiplano by personalized private transfers are just one of many offerings, including Chili River neighborhood tours, special activities like rafting and biking, and monastery guides.


Located in the Historical Center, CIRQA has knowledgeable local guides to help the entire process from start to finish. The eleven-room Parador is based around an immaculate patio, with custom finishings and timeless nods to Arequipa, its people, and its heritage. The restaurant is one of the best in the world, set up to host remarkable cuisine in a world-class setting as you recount the wonders of your day.


Arequipa has long boasted a never-ending list of attractions that motivate travelers from across the globe. Having the intimate knowledge that comes with being a dedicated local, Andean Experience is always looking forward to sharing the secrets of its home with guests. From designing the trip in its inception to following every detail through to the end, there is no excursion too grand to give you the experience of a lifetime in the White City.


Textiles and Crafts of Arequipa and the Colca Valley

January 23, 2023

What to Do In and Around Arequipa: Our Selection

December 28, 2022