Peru’s 2nd largest city, Arequipa living offers enough comforts of modernization to make 1st world travelers feel relatively at home, while still retaining a sense of that old agrarian lifestyle we foreigners have a propensity to romanticize. Perhaps its most distinctive feature (once you’ve grown accustomed to its strikingly beautiful volcanic surroundings) is the white, volcanic sillar stone from which many of Arequipa’s buildings are constructed, giving it the creative title “The White City.” This architecture tells the story of rich historical influences, from pre-Inca to Spanish colonial, offering plenty of rewarding stops along cultural tour of the city.
Start with the historic center, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for easily recognizable reasons. Here around the Plaza de Armas you’ll encounter some incredible architecture, including the immense Basilica Catedral de Arequipa and the spectacular 16th century Santa Catalina Monastery. If you’re looking for museums, you may go a-wanting in the fine arts department; however, sites like the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries and the Jose Morante Archaeological Museum offer great insight on the unique history of both the city and its surrounding countryside. You can also opt for some great panoramic vistas of the region from the beautiful Yanahuara Arches, located in the northern district of the same name.
But far be it from us to tout only the merits of Arequipa’s past when there’s a thriving contemporary culture to explore and experience. This is, after all, a city particularly fond of its annual festivals and celebrations. From Independence Day (July 28/28th) and Founding Day (mid-August) to Semana Santa (late March/early April) and All Saints Day (Nov. 1st), and plenty in between, Arequipenos find plenty of reasons to throw a city-wide party. You can also get a feel for the day to day life of the city’s inhabitants by paying a visit to the vibrant San Camilo Market, which, conveniently enough, doubles as your go-to destination for some authentic and delicious local grub. So when you’ve had your fill of massive volcanos and bottomless canyons, take some time to investigate both the historic and modern cultural sides of Peru’s southern capital.