3 amazing ways to spend a weekend in Arequipa

Locals lovingly call Arequipa its own country, and visitors say it’s a city unlike any they’ve ever seen. That’s no surprise, given that Spanish settlers built it from white volcanic rock. Admiring the White City as you meander down cobblestone streets is worth a trip to Arequipa in and of itself. But if you have a weekend to spend in Arequipa, you’re in extra luck—there’s a lot to do inside and outside its volcanic walls.

Because no two travelers are alike, I’ll introduce you to three approaches on how to spend a weekend in Arequipa.

Option #1: Arequipa city & the Ruta del Sillar tour 

Arequipa City

The historical center of Arequipa is walkable and safe, so it’s easy to explore on your own. However, I recommend booking a tour or signing up for a free walking tour, so you have some context of what you’re looking at on your first day in town. Tours will vary, of course, but you can expect to visit sites such as:

  • Plaza de Armas
  • Arequipa cathedral
  • Santa Catalina Monastery
  • San Camilo Market
  • Company of Jesus Church
  • Yanahuara viewpoint  
Charming street of Arequipa

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to try queso helado along the way, which is traditional ice cream made with milk, coconut, cinnamon, and cheese. Some tours will take you inside the cathedral and monastery, while others will tell you about them from the outside. If you don’t get to go in, make a note to do so during your free time later in the day—it’s worth it!

In the evening, Arequipa glows with soft light from the lantern-adorned streets. Cafes and bars also come to life. I recommend eating dinner at a rooftop restaurant in the Plaza de Armas. La Plaza Bar & Grill is a must!

The following day, head outside the city on a four-hour Ruta del Sillar tour to learn how miners craft sillar stones into blocks. You’ll stop at three locations, including a volcano lookout point, the sillar quarry, and the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas. The Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas involves a 20-30-minute hike to see petroglyphs through an unmined, canyon-like sillar.

Option #2: Explore the Colca Canyon

Colca Canyon in Peru
©Ottokatz/Pixabay

The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, at around 11,000 feet—almost double that of the Grand Canyon. It’s seated in the department of Arequipa, and nearly all Colca Canyon tours depart out of Arequipa city. To visit the Colca Canyon during your weekend in Arequipa, you can opt for a sightseeing or hiking tour to visit the Colca Canyon. 

Meandering around the Colca Canyon in a day 

If you’d like to split your time between Arequipa city and the Colca Canyon, you can book a full-day Colca tour. As with most Colca tours, you’ll need to harness your early bird ways—you’ll be picked up around 3:00 am.

Aside from the Colca Canyon being about a 3.5-hour drive from Arequipa, starting your tour early increases the chances of seeing condors. These birds become active when warmer, morning thermal air currents wind through the canyon. You’ll have the opportunity to walk along the rim of the canyon as you look for the massive birds, but you don’t have to worry about a heavy-duty workout during this sightseeing tour.

Getting your exercise in with a 2-day or 3-day trek

If you love nature and trekking, taking a two-day hike of the Colca Canyon or extending your weekend in Arequipa to do a three-day trek is an excellent option. Of these two hikes, the three-day version is the easiest. But when it comes to trekking the Colca Canyon, “easy” is relative—you’ll be hiking at a high altitude, undergoing freezing nights and hot days. Most trekkers say it’s worth it, though. 

Both hiking tours start at the lovely hour of 3:00 am, and you’ll get to visit the famous Condor’s Cross viewing area before hiking down into the canyon. If you’re having trouble deciding which trek to do, you’ll follow the same route with both the 2-day and 3-day tours. So, the main difference boils down to the pace of the trek.

Option #3: A leisurely and historical weekend in Arequipa

If you feel out of breath just reading about the Colca Canyon hike, perhaps a more laid-back time in Arequipa is more your style. I still recommend taking a tour of Arequipa on your first weekend day. But for your second day, consider staying in the city to explore at your own pace or feed your history buff soul with some museum visits.

Museums in Arequipa

The Museo Santuarios Andinos is one of Arequipa’s most famous museums. It’s home to Juanita, a 12-year-old girl sacrificed by the Incas between 1440 and 1480. She was discovered by an anthropologist in 1995, frozen in the crater of Mt. Ampato. Combine this visit with a stop at the Museo Histórico Municipal. You’ll leave with a well-rounded understanding of Arequipa’s history.

Exploring the San Lázaro district is another great activity to do during your weekend in Arequipa, and it’s located about a 10-minute uphill walk from the Plaza de Armas. Reminiscent of southern Spain, the narrow cobblestone streets and hanging clay flower pots will make you feel like you stumbled upon a countryside town.

Narrow streets of Arequipa

Planning your next steps

Now that you know what to do in Arequipa, you might be thinking—where should I go from there?

You have several options. The most popular is a six-hour bus ride from Arequipa to Puno and a flight or bus from Arequipa to Cusco. The advantage of spending your weekend in Arequipa before traveling to those destinations is you’ll have time to acclimate to the altitude before heading to higher mountains. Arequipa is about 7,600 feet above sea level, whereas Cusco and Puno are approximately 11,100 and 12,500 feet, respectively.

If you’re ready to explore beyond Peru, consider a trip to Chile. You can hop on a late afternoon three-hour flight from Arequipa to Santiago, arriving just in time to partake in Santiago’s nightlife.

FAQ

What’s the best way to get from Lima to Arequipa?

The fastest way is flying, but the cheapest is by bus.

How many days do I need to get used to the altitude before trekking?

Three days is usually good but everyone is different.

What’s the most traditional dish I can’t leave Arequipa without trying? I promise to wash it down with queso helado.

Most definitely it’s cuy chactado—guinea pig fried with hot sauce. If you’re a vegetarian try the ocopa—potato topped with a spicy sauce. Bon appetit!

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