Arequipa is one of my favorite cities in South America. The beauty of the colonial center is rivaled only by three volcanoes towering over the city in the background. While quickly becoming more and more popular among travelers, Arequipa is still a bit of a hidden gem among international travelers. Backpackers quickly find themselves falling in love with this city, though. Arequipa is stunning, affordable, and has a treasure trove of adventures outside of the city. It is a nature lover’s dream. Within the city limits, Arequipa also has a lot of culturally and historically significant sites. Throw in a vibrant nightlife scene that lasts well into the morning and you have everything a backpacker could dream of.
How To Get To Arequipa
Arequipa’s location makes it a very ideal layover for travelers in Peru. It is a perfect city to break up the much longer journey from Cusco to Lima, La Paz to Lima, or even Chile to Lima and vice versa. Arequipa is a big city, making it an important hub for both travelers and local Peruvians alike. Because of this, transportation to and from Arequipa is very reliable and very frequent.
By Local Bus
Local bus is the cheapest way to get to Arequipa. Some popular stops before Arequipa are Lima, Ica (Huacachina), Nazca, Puno, or Cusco. All of these places offer direct buses to Arequipa. Unforunately, Arequipa is quite far from most of these places. Most of them will require a night bus, or a lengthy day bus. You will arrive at Arequipa’s Terminal Terrestre, from where you will have to take a taxi to your accommodation since it is a bit far out of the city.
For those looking for a more convenient, hassle-free approach to traveling within Peru, Peru Hop is the best option. You will get picked up from your accommodation along the Peru Hop route and dropped off right at your accommodation in Arequipa. It was so nice rolling into the city at around 6 AM and not having to worry about how to get to my hostel.
Arequipa does have an airport, being the second largest city in Peru and all. Flights within Peru are quite cheap, depending on the airport you are flying from. Lima to Arequipa is usually a reasonable price, although I’ve looked up flights from Cusco and it was aggressively expensive. I highly recommend bus travel in Peru, instead. Each bus feels like a first-class flight and it is much cheaper than a flight.
Where To Stay in Arequipa For Backpackers
Arequipa is fantastic for backpackers, and one of the cheaper cities in Peru to visit. Most of the hostels will be under $10 and usually include breakfast and all of the amenities you could ask for in a hostel.
Located not even a block away from the Plaza de Armas, MB Hostel has the best location in Arequipa. Their rooftop is quite the vibe for sunset views and beers. It is also surprisingly cheap, considering its central location, free breakfast, and awesome rooftop. The beds are nothing to write home about but they are good enough.
This place is absolutely nuts. I stayed here for a few nights my first time in Arequipa and absolutely loved it. I opted for quieter hostels my second time around but eventually, the call of the party was too strong. Wild Rover is the ideal place to pregame before a night out, but as a hostel, it stands pretty strong on its own as well. The beds are nice, the Wi-Fi is decent, and they even have a pool.
Free is the name of the game at Arequipay Backpackers. Free breakfast, ree yoga, free bicycle rentals, free everything besides the room, basically. This hostel sets the gold standard in Arequipa. They even have a fitness room, common kitchen, and each bed comes with curtains, plugs, and a reading light.
If you have stayed at a Selina before, you know their dedication to creating an amazing and aesthetic home base for travelers. Selina Arequipa is one of their best, boasting a pool along with all of the other amenities you would find at a Selina. I’m talking bar, restaurant, cinema room, common kitchen, library, and co-working space. Selina has it all.
The Best Things To Do in Arequipa
Where does one even begin with Arequipa? This city seems to have it all, whether you prefer chilling or nonstop adventures. There are plenty of options for hikers looking to summit behemoths, thrill seekers looking for the adrenaline rush of white water rafting or downhill mountain biking, and those that would prefer to sit in the gardens of a monastery.
Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world. Naturally, it is one of Arequipa’s top attractions, as well. Many people come to Arequipa just to do Colca Canyon before falling in love with the city and staying much longer. I somehow missed out on Colca Canyon my first time in Arequipa but made sure to check it off the list when I returned a few years later.
The Colca Canyon trek can be done in two or three days, although I highly recommend just knocking it out in two days. It takes you through the canyon itself, where you can see incredible scenery and wildlife, all while surrounded by the towering walls of the canyon itself. You spend the night in an oasis at the bottom of the canyon where you can truly grasp the immense size and depth of Colca. It is unbelievable. The next morning requires an early morning wake up call and a difficult climb all the way up to the top of the canyon. However, you can get a horse, making Colca Canyon pretty accessible for everyone.
Ruta del Sillar
This started popping up on my Instagram feed and I knew I had to go. It looks like a wannabe Petra, but carved into volcanic stone, hence its off-white color. I’ll admit, it’s not that impressive but we only paid 25 soles ($7) for the whole day tour so can’t really complain. The tour also included a few other stops, including through a cool, little canyon and a mirador filled with figures sculpted from volcanic stone. It was a fun enough day, although I’d recommend you to not get your expectations too high.
Mercado Central de Arequipa
Arequipa’s mercado is one of my favorites in all of Peru. It has all of the chaos and excitement of a local mercado but is also much cleaner and nicer-smelling than most of the others I’ve been to. Looking at you, Huaraz. At the mercado, you can eat to your heart’s content. And I did. A lot.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
I came here one time while nursing a bad hangover a few years ago. I stayed for hours and hours. It was so peaceful, beautiful, and empty that I literally just napped on top of a church while taking in some incredible views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, that was back in 2016. I returned to Arequipa in 2019 to find out that the once-chill monastery had now upped their entrance fees and had become packed with tourists. I didn’t bother going in, but for those willing to pay 40 soles ($13) to walk around this beautiful mini-Marrakech, it is something you should consider doing at least once in Arequipa.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas of Arequipa is arguably the most beautiful in all of Peru. The white buildings built from sillar are as beautiful as it gets. It gets even more stunning when the setting sun basks them in gold. The park in the center is covered in beautiful greenery and is one of the best hangout spots in town. Of all the cities in Peru, I think Arequipa might come second only to Cusco when it comes to how much of a flippin’ vibe the city center is. It definitely helps that people are always coming around selling queso helado which is one of my favorite things in the world.
Eat, Eat Eat
Arequipa is arguably the best place in Peru for food-lovers. It is hard to steal that crown from Lima and its thousands and thousands of diverse restaurants, but for its size, it is hard to find anywhere better than Arequipa. I loved the food here, and was even lucky enough to be here during a successful Guinness World Record attempt at cooking up the world’s biggest plate of rocoto rellenos. I can say that I’ve eaten a World Record. Nice.
The local food scene in Arequipa is incredible, and there are tons of local dishes and delicacies that you need to try.
- Rocoto relleno
- Queso helado
- Pastel de papa
- Cuy (guinea pig)
Aside from local food, Arequipa also excels at pretty much every other type of food out there. I gorged myself on vegan sushi and vegan pizzas. I ate a 10 soles ($3) four-course menu del dia for lunch every day. From Peruvian to Italian to Japanese to even German, Arequipa had one of the most varied restaurant scenes in Peru. For once, I wasn’t stuffing my face with chifa to save money.
Mirador de Yanahuara
This Plaza sits at about a 30-minute walk from the main hub of Arequipa. However, it is worth it to come here for the sunset. You get as clear of a view of Misti as you can get from within the city. The plaza is always bustling and full of life and allows you to see a different, more local side of the city outside of the touristic center.
Cycle Down Volcan Picchu Picchu
After cycling down Death Road in Bolivia, I was itching for that same taste of adrenaline. I saw that an agency was offering downhill mountain biking trips down one of Arequipa’s volcanos and I immediately signed up. Although I’ll admit that it wasn’t as fun as Death Road, it was still an exciting challenge.
White Water Rafting
Arequipa truly has it all. Although I prefer keeping myself dry, I noticed that quite a few tour agencies offered white water rafting adventures. Thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies have yet another reason to love this city.
The most iconic of Arequipa’s three volcanos, Misti is also the most challenging to hike. At its altitude of 5,800 meters, it is not for the faint of heart. Even the most hardened trekkers will find that it is quite the challenge. The trek up to Misti requires two days, with the second being a brutal midnight start to reach the summit before the sun rises and starts melting the snow.
Chachani stands at an imposing altitude of over 6,000 meters. However, it is actually an easier hike than Misti. Most trekking agencies that take you up Chachani start at a much higher altitude. You will have to carry all of your gear up the first day, but then on the summit attempt, you don’t have too far to go. While still difficult and rewarding, Chachani is not anywhere near as difficult as Misti. For travelers and trekkers looking to summit their first 6,000 meter monster, then Chachani might be the volcano for you.
Nightlife in Arequipa
The nightlife in Arequipa is what surprised me the most my first time in this city. I showed up at my hostel at around 9 PM and the party was pumping. Although I wasn’t planning on going out after coming off of a lengthy bus ride, I got sucked into the party pretty quickly. We went nightclub hopping and ended up having a fantastic time to kick off my few days in Arequipa.
Like I mentioned earlier, Wild Rover Hostel is an unbeatable spot to pregame. As a backpacker, it is where you can meet dozens and dozens of fellow travelers looking to have fun. They always have affordable drinks, and at happy hour, it gets even cheaper. You can usually buy two drinks for about $3, making it one of the most backpacker-budget-friendly bars to pre-game at. The location is also great, so when you stumble off to the bars, you don’t have to stumble for too long.
Once you’re done with the pregame, Arequipa has a wide selection of bars and clubs to choose from. These usually start filling up around 1 AM or so. Arequipa is a safe city to walk around in at night so follow the crowds and see where is poppin’. Some good streets to check out would be Calle San Francisco and Ugarte. Most of the bars and nightclubs are within a few blocks of the Plaza de Armas.
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