White volcanic walls, cobblestone streets, queso helado dessert, and friendly locals. Many tourists rush through Arequipa, spending a day or less with their eyes set on the Colca Canyon. But there are so many things to do in Arequipa that it’s worth far more time.
So, I’ll let you in on my favorite things to do in Peru’s “White City” based on my one-month stay.
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Volunteer Opportunity in Arequipa
Before we talk about touristy things to do in Arequipa, I wanted to bring up a wonderful opportunity for animal lovers—volunteering at Fundación HOPE.
Fundación HOPE is a private animal shelter run by a small group of animal rights activists in Arequipa. They have over 100 dogs and cats that they take care of at any given time, and they don’t wait for these animals to show up at their doorstep. Instead, they frequent a market and landfill where people heartlessly throw away unwanted animals.
Needless to say, volunteering at Fundación HOPE is one of the most rewarding things you can do in Arequipa. Whether you want to help clean, bring donations, walk dogs, or join them on trips to the market and landfill, they welcome volunteers.
For more details on the work that Fundación HOPE does and to coordinate a volunteer visit or donation drop-off, take a look at their Instagram and Facebook pages. If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t worry—some members of the group can help you in English.
17 Things to do in Arequipa
Put that trip to the Colca Canyon on hold—after reading through the things to do in Arequipa below, you’ll need extra time to do your exploring.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
Arequipa is an easy city to explore on foot. But even so, it’s helpful to know the history and stories behind what you’re looking at. Plus, you can get great tips from locals on where to eat and what to do in Arequipa.
I took my free walking tour with the aptly named Free Walking Tour Arequipa. Our guide was excellent and there were only two other people in my group, so was a personalized experience.
Our tour lasted about 2.5 hours, although it can go up to three hours, depending on the pace of your group. They run tours in English daily, and although they ask that you book your tour online at least 24 hours in advance, I booked my tour a few hours before and was still able to join without a problem.
Free Walking Tour Arequipa isn’t the only walking tour out there, so do your research to find the one that feels like the best fit for you.
2. Hang Out at the Plaza de Armas
Even if you’ve traveled to every nook and cranny of Europe, it’s impossible to not be impressed with Arequipa’s main square, the Plaza de Armas.
The Basilica Cathedral steals the skyline with a beautiful park lined with benches that allow you to sit and enjoy the view, water fountain, and people-watching.
They keep traffic to one part of the plaza, meaning you have an almost entirely pedestrian area to wander the cobblestone and walk the perimeter of the plaza without dodging oncoming traffic.
The Plaza de Armas is made entirely from sillar, which is Arequipa’s famous white volcanic rock. As a little tip, head to the buildings along the arched columns directly across from the cathedral (it’s a bit of a walk, given the plaza’s size). From there, you’ll have the best ground-floor views of the volcanos framing the cathedral.
3. Visit the Basilica Cathedral
When you’re standing in the Plaza de Armas and looking up at the Basilica Cathedral, try to guess which of the bell towers they’ve had to reconstruct on multiple occasions as a result of earthquakes.
If you guessed the left bell tower, you’re spot on.
So, you might be wondering—why didn’t the right bell tower fall, too?
It’s because the cathedral’s underground catacombs sit directly beneath the left bell tower, making the already unstable earth even more unsteady.
Needless to say, they no longer allow anyone to visit the catacombs. However, for just a few dollars, you can enter the Basilica Cathedral. And for an extra couple of dollars, you can even join a tour of it.
If you’d like to attend mass, you can do so for free during mass hours. You can view those times here.
4. Eat at a Rooftop Restaurant
There’s no shortage of rooftop restaurants to eat at in Arequipa. However, rocking it rooftop in the Plaza de Armas is an Arequipa must-do.
The views you’ll have of the volcanos from the second floor are unparalleled to what you can see from the first floor in the plaza. You’ll find restaurants and bars offering Peruvian and international food in this area.
Some suggestions include:
- Waya Lookout Rooftop Bar
- Restaurante Las Terrazas
- La Plaza Bar & Grill
Arriving at your restaurant of choice at sunset is an especially wonderful way to spend an evening in Arequipa.
5. Go Inside the La Compañía Church
The Basilica Cathedral doesn’t cost much to visit, but if you’re on a tight budget, the La Compañía Church is a free church in Arequipa.
This church is a favorite stop among tour guides, who point out the intricate artwork on the outside of the cathedral that contains a mesh of Spanish and Incan culture and beliefs. It also has some (rather deteriorated) fresco paintings in certain areas inside.
Finally, this church is famous for its painting of The Last Supper with a round table instead of a square one. By doing so, the painter wanted to illustrate that life continues after death.
6. Roam Around the Santa Catalina Monastery
The Santa Catalina Monastery is like visiting another city within a city. The sillar wall property contains colorful buildings, cobblestone sidewalks, and lanterns that light the path in the evening.
It closes at 5:00 pm every day of the week except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when it closes at 8:00 pm. So, those are the days you should visit if you’d like to see the monastery at night.
The 1579 monastery held Dominican nuns between the 16th and 18th centuries. Nowadays, a small group of nuns continues to live and serve their community from there.
Make sure to put on some comfy sneakers—there’s a lot of exploring to do in the 20,000 square meter monastery, including visiting the chapel, living quarters, a plaza, and a gallery.
You can learn more about Santa Catalina and see its hours of operation here.
7. Check out the San Camilo Market
It’s easy to stumble upon several markets in Arequipa when you’re wandering around. But one of the biggest and most famous is the San Camilo Market.
San Camilo has everything you could possibly think of, from your typical fruits and veggies to hats, sweets, pet supplies, and souvenirs. It’s divided into two floors—the first floor has everything I just mentioned. The second floor has local meals.
If you’re the type of traveler who loves trying out traditional meals in traditional places, the San Camilo Market is your ticket.
You can find meals for as little as $1.50, which includes an appetizer, main meal, a drink, and sometimes dessert.
Go on the early side for lunch (12:00 pm) if you want a better chance of grabbing a table. And in either case, be prepared to embrace the Peruvian way and share your table with strangers.
8. Meander Around Yanahuara
Yanahuara is famous for the Yanahuara Viewpoint. And don’t get me wrong—the viewpoint is worth the visit.
However, there’s so much more to Yanahaura than its arched columns that frame the Misti Volcano.
So, I recommend taking time to wander up and down its cobblestone streets. If you head over to the river, there’s a wide cobblestone path where you can get back in touch with nature.
Walking from the Plaza de Armas to Yanahuara will take you 20 – 30 minutes—20 minutes to get to the bridge (more on that soon) and 30 minutes if you go all the way to the viewpoint.
While you’re in Yanahuara, don’t miss the opportunity to dig into the food at a piquería. I swear I’m not trying to tease you, but I’ll talk more about that shortly, too!
9. Visit Juanita’s Frozen Body
Believe it or not, visiting the frozen body of a girl is one of the most popular things to do in Arequipa. And it’s easy to see why, given her story.
In 1995, after one of Arequipa’s volcanos had a small eruption, it melted the ice caps enough for archeologists to climb to the top of Ampato Mountain for the first time. They discovered Inca trails along the way, confirming their belief that Ampato was a place where the Incas used to go to make human sacrifices.
It turns out they were right.
They discovered Juanita’s body at the top of the mountain, all but her face still frozen in ice. Sadly, she had fallen down a portion of the mountain just days before the archeologists arrived (how they know that is beyond me!). As a result of that and losing ice, her face became somewhat morphed.
Nevertheless, the archeologists brought Juanita’s body to Arequipa. To this day, they still keep it in a freezer where visitors can observe her at the Santuarios Andinos Museum.
As an FYI, you’re allowed to take photos everywhere in the museum except for in Juanita’s room, for the sake of preserving her body.
10. Spend a Half Day on the Ruta del Sillar Tour
You’ll be seeing sillar everywhere during your time in Arequipa, so taking a Ruta del Sillar tour is a wonderful way to learn about how locals mine this volcanic rock.
The Ruta del Sillar tour is a 4-hour excursion that includes the following three stops:
- A view of Arequipa’s three volcanos
- The sillar quarry
- A small hike through the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas
Bring comfortable shoes for walking, water, sunscreen, and bug spray (for your last stop). Alternatively, you can purchase water and bug spray at the sillar quarry before you head to Culebrillas.
As is the case with so many tours in Arequipa, this is an economical outing—I paid $10, including my entrance ticket, by booking my tour in person upon my arrival in Arequipa.
For more details about what this tour entails, check out my review on the Ruta del Sillar Tour.
11. San Lázaro District
If you’re wondering about things to do in Arequipa that are off-the-beaten-path, look no further than the San Lázaro District.
This district sits in the northern part of Arequipa’s historical center and will take you 10 minutes or so to arrive there on foot.
San Lázaro is small, so you don’t need to dedicate tons of time to it. However, it’s an excellent place to enjoy walking down extra-narrow cobblestone streets and viewing more of Arequipa’s sillar architecture.
You can expect to encounter next to no people in this area during the day. That’s right—not only no tourists but not many locals, either, since everyone will be out working.
12. Mundo Alpaca
If you’re dying to see some alpaca, Mundo Alpaca is a wonderful place to see them. Even better, it’s free.
Mundo Alpaca’s purpose is to sell you alpaca clothing and items made from other animals’ fur. Their pieces of clothing are beautiful, but they have a big price tag. Needless to say, I was impressed by how they put zero pressure on visitors to buy anything.
They have a lovely small outdoor area where you can get up close and personal with alpaca and llama. They’ll even give you fresh grass to feed the animals.
A large barn contains a display of the alpaca and vicuna wool process. Sometimes, women are there offering a weaving demonstration.
One thing to watch out for are the mosquitos, which create the itchiest and biggest mosquito bites I’ve ever had (this is the case in many grassy areas of Arequipa). So, put some bug spray on before arriving.
You’ll only need to allot about 20 – 30 minutes to visit Mundo Alpaca.
13. Walk Across Arequipa’s Bridges
The Chili River runs along the western side of Arequipa’s historic center. These bridges make for a beautiful place to enjoy views of the river with Arequipa city’s three volcanos as a backdrop.
Puente Bolognesi is the most popular of the city’s bridges, as it’s the one that connects Arequipa with the Yanahuara district. It also has a wide sidewalk and mini lookout areas built for pedestrians.
You can also head down the river to cross the José Abelardo Quiñones bridge. When you start in downtown Arequipa and cross to the other side, you’ll arrive at the picturesque Callejón de los Huesitos street.
14. Eat at a Piquería
Piquerías are the best places to go in Arequipa when you’re really hungry.
They’re famous for offering massive dishes of traditional Arequipan food at reasonable prices. Although you can find piquerías throughout Arequipa, there’s a high concentration of them in Yanahuara near the viewpoint.
If you only have time to visit one piquería, try to make it La Nueva Palomino.
La Nueva Palomino has a knack for drawing in a jaw-dropping number of visitors. They open at noon every day except for Tuesdays, when they’re closed, and Sundays, when they open at 7:00 am for breakfast and brunch.
However, from my experience, people start lining up as early as 20 – 30 minutes before opening time with the hope of getting seated right away.
15. Eat Queso Helado
Queso helado is one of Arequipa’s many prides and joys.
If you speak some Spanish, you might recognize that “queso” means cheese. Interestingly enough, no cheese goes into making queso helado.
It’s an ice cream composed of three types of milk: whole milk, evaporated milk, and condensed milk. It also contains coconut, vanilla, and cinnamon.
You’ll encounter vendors selling queso helado all throughout the historical center, but especially around the Plaza de Armas’ perimeter. They sell it in several different cup sizes that typically range from 2 – 5 soles (50 cents to $1.25).
16. Colca Canyon
For as lovely as Arequipa city is, there’s a reason that people want to visit the Colca Canyon—it’s the second deepest canyon in the world, is home to condors, and offers excellent hiking opportunities.
If you love to trek, you have two hiking options: A 2-day or 3-day excursion.
These hikes both follow the same path, so if you’re not in tip-top shape, the 3-day excursion might be a better fit since it goes at a slower pace. Don’t forget that you’ll also be hiking at a high altitude, which can slow down even the fittest person who would have no trouble with a similar hike at sea level.
Here’s the good news if you’d like to skip hiking: You can visit the Colca Canyon as a full-day driving tour from Arequipa. During the tour, you’ll get to stop at the canyon’s famous Cruz del Condor to try to spot a condor.
Because condors fly early in the morning and the Colca Canyon is about a 3.5-hour drive from Arequipa city, be prepared for a very early morning—I’m talking a 3:00 am – 3:30 am pick-up time.
That early pick-up time applies if you’re hiking, too.
17. White Water Rafting
White water rafting is another popular day tour to take from Arequipa. I didn’t make time to take this tour myself, but what I’ve heard from others is that it’s a beautiful way to get out in nature and see a different side of Arequipa and the volcanos.
Just make sure you’re prepared to spend about two to three times the amount of time driving as you do on your raft and you’ll have an enjoyable day.
Ready to Visit Arequipa?
Arequipa city deserves way more attention than it gets. Then again, the fact that relatively few travelers put it on their Peru itinerary is what helps Arequipa keep its small-city charm.
If you have questions about visiting Arequipa, leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help.