I spent three weeks in Arequipa in March/April 2018. As I combined work with travel, as usual, I only did one activity a day. However, all places listed here are situated within walking distance from the Plaza de Armas which means that it is very well possible to do several things on one day if you don’t intend to spend as much time in Arequipa as I did.
1. Plaza de Armas
A Plaza de Armas can also be found in other Latin American countries but Peru is full of them. Almost every major Peruvian city has its Plaza de Armas and the one in Arequipa is especially beautiful. On one side, it is framed by the majestic Cathedral, on the other sides, you find lots of travel agencies, souvenir shops, small restaurants and cafés. When you come from Calle la Merced and turn right, there’s also a supermarket. If you need to exchange money, you have lots of options when you turn into Mercaderes and then immediately right into San Juan de Dios. A quick tip as far as money is concerned: You can always choose whether you want to withdraw soles or dollars. The maximum amount of dollars is US$300 plus a fee of US$ 5.50. The maximum amount of soles is 400 and the same fee, so withdrawing dollars and then exchange them into soles will save you some money.
2. Museo santuarios andinos
Address: Calle la Merced 110 (just a few meters away from Plaza de Armas)
Costs: 20 soles (app. US$ 6) + tip for the guide
Expected time needed: 60 – 90 minutes
In the 1990’s, several corpses were found on top of the volcanos around Arequipa, the most famous being “Juanita”, a girl of 12 or 13 years who was sacrificed by the Incas in the 15th century.
The museum is quite small but exhibits a great selection of artefacts which were left with the sacrificed children.
The museum may not be visited alone. You start with a short film (20 minutes) which tells you some interesting details about the expedition which led to finding Juanita and the other corpses and also about the possible reasons why the Incas sacrificed the girls on the volcano and how the ceremony was held.
Once the film has finished, the guides will ask you if you’d like to join the Spanish or the English group. I opted for Spanish and was the only one – well, it was 10 am which may have been the reason. When you buy your entrance ticket, you’ll be told that they expect you to tip the guide. I gave mine 5 Soles and hoped that she’d have a real group next time.
There’s also a small exhibition about volcanos in Peru and volcanos in general which you can visit on your own before you leave.
3. Jesuit Church and Cloisters
Address: General Morán 114 (that’s the church, the entrance to the cloisters is a few meters to the right when you leave the church)
Expected time needed: 40 – 60 minutes
I’m not a huge fan of churches but the old baroque building in combination with the modern glass door caught my attention. Inside the church, there are some interesting pieces of art. Be aware that the church is not always open.
When you leave the church and turn right, you will find the entrance of the former Jesuit cloisters after a few meters. When I first went there, I felt as if I were in the south of Spain, Sevilla perhaps. There are some souvenir shops selling mainly alpaca stuff but it’s a very quiet place and I sometimes went there to sit down at the fountain and read a little or just relax.
You will find some information about the Jesuits in Peru, written in Spanish and English and there’s also a small exhibition of paintings.
4. Mundo Alpaca
Address: Óvalo San Lázaro (follow Calle Santa Catalina from Plaza de Armas to the end and cross the street, there you are)
Expected time needed: 60 minutes
In some reviews, it said that they’d push you to buy something but that was not at all the case when I was there. On the other hand, it also said that it was possible to feed the alpacas and llamas and watch some women weaving. Well, when I went there on a Monday afternoon, it wasn’t possible. Perhaps only on weekends.
It was nevertheless a nice experience. They have about 8 alpacas and llamas in a garden and you get some idea how much variety there is as far as colour is concerned. There’s also a small museum with old machines to produce textiles and a café in the courtyard.
5. Casa Museo Mario Vargas Llosa
Address: Avenida Parra 101
Costs: 10 Soles (app. US$ 3)
Expected time needed: 90 minutes
Being an admirer of Mario Vargas Llosa for decades, this museum was my personal Arequipa highlight. BUT: You need to understand intermediate to advanced Spanish, otherwise, it’s a waste of time. Some familiarity with Mario Vargas Llosa’s work is also helpful.
So if you speak Spanish and like Mario Vargas Llosa, go and visit the museum. It’s located in the house where he was born and much more than just a museum. You will be accompanied by two guides who will lead you from room to room. Each room represents a stage of Mario Vargas Llosa’s life, starting with the actual room where he was born and finishing with his Nobel Prize speech. You will see short movies and holographic images of Mario Vargas Llosa and each room is decorated with original items the author donated.
6. Plaza de Yanahuana y Museo del Vino y Pisco
From Plaza de Armas, it’s a 20 minutes walk to Plaza de Yanahuana. From there, you have a nice view of the city and the volcano. It’s a great place to relax or you may want to have a look around at the small handicraft and souvenirs market. From the market, you can step down to the Wine and Pisco Museum. For some reason, it was closed when I was there, it was only possible to have a look around the courtyard. However, two Peruvian security guards told me that the entry is free.
A walk to Plaza de Yanahuana is definitely no must when you visit Arequipa. However, when you have some time left, you won’t regret going there.
7. Santa Catalina Monastery
Address: Santa Catalina 301
Costs: 40 Soles (app. US$ 12) + 10 Soles for the tour guide
Expected time needed: 2 – 3 hours
Visiting the Santa Catalina Monastery is the most expensive activity on the list but it’s totally worth the entrance fee. I also recommend joining a guided tour (takes about one hour) as you will learn a lot of interesting facts about the life of the nuns. As I was really impressed by visiting the monastery, I wrote an extra article about it. Please continue reading here if you’d like to know more about the Santa Catalina Monastery before your visit.
8. Parque Selva Alegre
From Plaza de Armas, it will take you about 15 minutes to get to the Selva Alegre Park. It actually consists of three parks. The first one is basically a children’s playground with a lake. They’ll charge you 1.5 Soles entrance fee (US$ 0.50). Entrance to the other two parks is free. Selva Alegre Park is a great place to take a walk, enjoy the sunshine and relax.
9. Museo de la Catedral
Address: Plaza de Armas
Costs: 10 Soles (app. US$ 3) + 5 Soles for the guide
Expected time needed: 1 hour
I hadn’t been sure whether I wanted to visit the museum or not but one day, I spontaneously decided to do it and don’t regret it. The tour starts with the actual Cathedral and you’ll then be led to the rooms where the treasures are kept. It’s not allowed to take photos there. Ok, I’ll be honest. Seeing all that silver, gold, diamonds and other precious stones tends to make me angry. The Catholic Church is so god-damn rich and at the same time, there are still so many people on our planet who are starving or facing huge problems to live a decent life. It doesn’t seem to be fair but I don’t see a solution, either and the topic is simply too complex to be discussed in this context.
Well, the best part of the tour is that you can climb onto the cathedral’s roof from where you have a great view of the city. You may also have a closer look at the church bells and touch them.
10. Mercado San Camilo
Entrance Mercado San Camilo
Address: Calle San Camilo
Costs: free unless you buy something (what you should do)
Expected time needed: at least one hour
At Mercado San Camilo, you can virtually buy everything, food, souvenirs, fruits, vegetables, cheese etc. Just have a look around and enjoy the atmosphere.
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