Arequipa is known for its queso helado and having sunshine year-round, but its arguably most iconic feature is its white sillar buildings.
I won’t bore you with too much chemistry, but sillar is a type of volcanic rock that forms during a volcanic eruption. Most of Arequipa’s sillar contains andesite crystals, giving the rock its white hue. However, in some parts of Arequipa, the sillar contains hematite, which gives the sillar a pinkish-red hue.
The Routa del Sillar quarry opened in 2016. It gives visitors an up-close experience of the mining process to form Arequipa’s famous sillar stones.
I joined a group Ruta del Sillar tour in October 2021 and will share my experience here so that you know what to expect.
Accessibility Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, you’ll find information about accessibility on the Ruta del Sillar tour at the bottom of this page.
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Cost of the Ruta del Sillar Tour
I signed up for my Ruta del Sillar tour at a tourist shop upon arriving in Arequipa. They charged me 35 soles (as of October 2021) plus 5 soles for the entrance fee to the quarry.
So, it cost about $10 USD for a four-hour group Ruta del Sillar tour.
Wow, that’s cheap!
Needless to say, I didn’t try to barter down the price.
I signed up for my tour with Edu Travel and they contracted my seat out to another company. I was extremely pleased with the entire experience. And for full disclosure, I’m not receiving anything for writing this—Edu Travel didn’t even know that I was going to write a review of my experience.
Extra Costs to Consider
Every tour company may run their tour differently, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt.
However, for my tour, the only extra cost we had to pay for was 5 soles each to enter the Ruta del Sillar quarry. The entrance fee is the same for both foreigners and Peruvians.
In addition to this, you can pay a couple of soles each to enter two separate parts of the quarry that has special sillar carvings. I’ll talk more about that shortly.
There was also a man charging one sol to take a photo of you sitting in a sillar chair.
These costs are entirely optional, and no one will hassle you to pay the extra fees while you’re in the quarry.
You’ll have the option to purchase snacks, drinks, and bug repellent at the entrance and exit of the quarry. The prices were reasonable for being a tourist site.
And as for that bug repellent, I recommend picking up a package—it only costs 2 soles for a generous packet of cream, and it’ll save you from itchy-to-the-point-of-painful mosquito bites during a hike at your last stop.
Arranging Your Pick up
Again, as with everything in this post, verify the route and logistics with your tour operator before signing up. Everything I’ll be writing here is based on my experience with an agency that Edu Travel contracted.
I had the choice to be picked up at Edu Travel’s office or at Selina, the hostel where I stayed.
I chose Selina as my pick up spot and was told to wait outside at 9:00 am.
Needless to say, I expected a long (and stressful) wait, even adding Edu Travel’s contact numbers to my phone for the seemingly inevitable moment when too much time passed and I felt I should call them for help.
To my pleasant surprise, that never happened. My van arrived at 9:05 am, carrying about 16 travelers.
I was lucky to be the last person on the pick up route. Given that, it’s probably best to expect an earlier pickup time.
That said, I was given the following two time options for taking my Ruta del Sillar tour:
Morning and afternoon timeslots seem to be the norm with many of the local agencies running the Ruta del Sillar tour.
The van itself was comfortable, with two seats on the driver’s side and one seat on the passenger side. Most of the vans on the Ruta del Sillar had this same arrangement.
The Bathroom Situation
You’ll have one option to use the restroom during your Ruta del Sillar tour. The adorable sillar dome-shaped restrooms are located at the exit of the quarry.
There aren’t any fees to use the restrooms, and a sillar sink to wash your hands is located outside to the left of the domes.
The Low-down on Taking the Ruta del Sillar Tour
Almost all Ruta del Sillar tours offered by tourism agencies in Arequipa involve a 4-hour excursion visiting three sites:
- A view of Arequipa’s three volcanos
- The sillar quarry
- A small hike through the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas
Let’s look at each of them in more detail.
Stop #1: Viewpoint over the Chili River
Our driver took us to a beautiful lookout area of the Mist, Chachani, and Pichu Pichu volcanos by the Chili River.
The exact volcano lookout area where you stop will likely depend on your tour—our “lookout” area was on a quiet cobblestone road. From my understanding, there are more formal viewing areas nearby.
However, I was tickled pink with where we stopped. No other tour van was around, so we got to walk up and down the vacant road, taking photos of the volcanos and agriculture below from every angle.
Stop #2: Sillar Quarries
After stopping at the volcano viewpoint, we drove about 15 – 20 minutes further outside of downtown Arequipa to arrive at the sillar quarry.
My initial impression was that the quarry is quite small. However, it has a massively wide path, so you don’t have to worry about fighting for a spot to get views of the sillar rock that will tower dozens of feet above you.
Make sure to come equipped with plenty of sun protection, for there are limited areas where you can take a seat and get some shade.
Our guide gave us one hour to explore the quarry, which I felt was a generous amount of time. The only situation in which you might find that to be a bit limiting is if you want to enter the extra fee areas and take photos with nearly every sillar statue they offer.
The photo above was taken at the first paid area you’ll encounter. It has several animals carved from sillar. There’s also a large sillar rock that you can climb up (either in rock climbing fashion from the front or via stairs at the back). This is a popular stop, as you can take a photo with Arequipa’s flag.
The other extra fee area of the Ruta del Sillar quarry is a heart-shaped carving and a nativity scene. The heart is a bit treacherous to arrive at since there’s quite a bit of loose stone.
But don’t let the photo below deceive you—stairs lead up to it, so you don’t have to climb up the massive rock in front of the heart.
The nativity scene is in the same paid area as the heart. You can walk right up to the sillar animals and baby Jesus to take a photo with them.
If you choose not to pay to enter these areas, you’ll still get to see them from afar.
A short, wooden bridge connects the areas above with the Ruta del Sillar’s famous columns, as shown in the first photo of this section. This area is free for all visitors, and people were (mostly) good about forming a line so that you can take a picture of yourself at the columns without strangers getting in the way.
The good news is that Arequipa doesn’t have as many tourists as Cusco, much less the Ruta del Sillar quarry. So, you shouldn’t ever have to worry about fighting large crowds while you’re there.
The quarry ends in a downhill area near a sillar condor. Here, you can use the restrooms and purchase snacks, water, and bug spray for use during your final stop.
Overall, I was happy that I visited the quarry, although a bit disappointed that there weren’t miners working on the stone while I was there. Perhaps it had something to do with it being a Sunday.
Either way, my guide did a great job of explaining how they carve the sillar stones before giving us free rein to explore the quarry on our own.
Stop #3: Hike Through the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas
You’ve probably already gathered that the Ruta del Sillar isn’t a flip-flop kind of tour, but you really don’t want to be wearing anything open-toed for this last stop.
The Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas is a wonderful hiking opportunity where you’ll get to see the famous snake petroglyph, along with other petroglyphs.
This is an untouched portion of sillar that has worn down into a canyon-like structure via erosion from water, wind, and volcanic eruptions.
Archeologists believe that the petroglyphs are from the Wari civilization, which was a group of people who lived in Peru from around 450 to 1,000 CE.
As a bonus, while exploring the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas, we got to experience the most amazing natural phenomenon—a sun halo!
Scientists often call sun halos 22-degree halos since the radius of the circle around the sun (or moon) is almost always 22 degrees. They occur when millions of ice particles congregate at least 20,000 feet in the air.
It was an amazing experience and the halo lasted our entire hike.
The Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas hike isn’t for the faint of heart. Even though it’ll only take you 20 – 30 minutes, including time for photos and searching out the petroglyphs, you’ll be hiking at an altitude of over 7,000 feet.
So, if you haven’t acclimated to the high altitude yet, you may feel dizzy and out of breath. For details about how to manage the elevation, check out my guide on combating altitude sickness.
During the hike, you’ll need to be comfortable jumping a few feet down from rocks, climbing up loose stone, and grabbing onto sillar.
When you arrive at the end of the hike, you’ll encounter a spectacular view of man-made stones piled on top of each other.
Archeologists believe that people native to the area used to build these elaborate stone structures to mark their path so they wouldn’t get lost.
Nowadays, people say that they bring good luck if you build your own stone structure.
Our guide gave us time to try our hand at building them and make a wish. It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to pile these seemingly haphazard-looking stones on top of one another!
Wheelchair Accessibility on the Ruta del Sillar Tour
The Ruta del Sillar tour isn’t overly accessible for wheelchair users. However, you can make do with some modifications.
The first stop on the tour is quite accessible—our driver pulled off on the side of an empty road, so there’s plenty of room for you to get out with your chair. The road is cobblestone, but you only need to roll five feet or so to get up to the edge where you’ll have unobstructed views of the volcanos.
The Ruta del Sillar quarry has a gentle, downward incline. There’s a lot of loose stone around, although you’ll encounter less of it along the most commonly tracked paths.
The extra fee areas of the quarry have more stones than the main path. However, you can view all the statues from the path without paying, if you wish.
Below is an example of what the terrain looks like in the paid heart and nativity scene section.
Once you get past the nativity scene area, it’s best to turn around and exit the same area that you entered. That way, you’ll avoid a steeper slope with many larger rocks.
If you’d like to see the sillar condor that’s located at the bottom of the slope, you can ask your driver to take you to the exit area. There, you can get out and take a photo in front of the statue.
This is also a good opportunity to stock up on snacks and water at the quarry’s outdoor stores, which are accessible.
The restrooms at the Ruta del Sillar aren’t wheelchair accessible.
The Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas hike also isn’t accessible. However, your driver can take you to the area where you can build a stone structure. You’ll also have a beautiful view of the Andes Mountains from that point.
Check out our article on wheelchair accessibility in Arequipa if you plan on staying in the White City.
Ready to Experience the Ruta del Sillar Tour?
If you’ll be spending time in Arequipa, I think the Ruta del Sillar is worth it. The quarry itself felt a little touristy with lots of sillar statues and people taking photos.
However, if you have a good guide, you’ll be able to learn tons about the history of the area and how miners shape the sillar into the blocks, creating Arequipa’s downtown historical center.
If you have questions about the Ruta del Sillar tour, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.
P.S.- Do you love animals and want to support an animal shelter in Arequipa? Fundación HOPE is always looking for volunteers and donations to care for their 100+ rescued dogs and cats.