We arrived in Arequipa around 6pm on August 15th. As I discovered whilst reading the Lonely Planet on the bus, it was ‘Arequipa Day’, pretty much their biggest festival throughout the whole year. As a result, many of the roads in the centre of town were closed so getting a taxi was a bit hard work and we ended up stuck in traffic for ages, but eventually we arrived at the hostel, a mere four blocks from the main plaza.
We decided to head out and investigate if any celebrations were taking place. Luckily, the corner of the plaza near our hostel seemed to be the only access point to the square, and since we’re significantly taller than most Peruvians, we managed to get a decent view of what was going on, despite the huge crowds. There was a huge procession of marching bands, traditional dancers, floats and schools, all making their way through the historical centre. We got chatting to a local and he told us that the procession had been going on since 11am that morning and would continue until around 10pm that night. It was a pretty awesome sight with some spectacular costumes (many of which were rather on the skimpy side – I certainly didn’t see Rich complaining though), but unfortunately we haven’t got any photos to share with you as we didn’t take our camera out on the advice of the hostel – festival time = prime pickpocketing territory.
On the way home, we grabbed a bite to eat at one of the many Chinese restaurants lining Calle Bolognesi – mains are around 5 soles each (£1), possibly the cheapest meal we’ve had so far! Ok, it’s not exactly Michelin quality food but there’s nothing wrong with it and when you’re on a budget…
The next morning we decided to explore the town. Arequipa is known as the white city as many of the buildings are made from sillar, a pearly white volcanic rock which shimmers in the sunlight. As with most South American cities there are many, many churches and monasteries to explore but we decided just to pick a few of the highlights. We joined a tour of the cathedral, which was actually most impressive for the views of the plaza and surrounding volcanoes from the roof than anything else. I’m sure it’s a little more interesting if you’re into religion but the tour just made Richard angry about the amount of gold, silver and precious stones that were on show. Surely the church could have found more charitable ways to spend their money than building a huge golden pelican the size of a small child, encrusted with diamonds and rubies, to store their wafers in? Haven’t they heard of Tupperware?
That evening and we opt for a slightly more expensive meal (still pretty cheap though) and Rich samples some of the local cuisine – rocoto relleno – which is pepper stuffed with meat and spices, served with potatoes and cheese. Yum.
Day two and it’s back on the tourist trail, this time to the Santa Catalina Monastery, a sprawling convent, over 20,000 square metres in size. Although it is still inhabited today, there are now only a few nuns left, but you can explore the old habitations from when it housed over 400 people. The rooms get a little samey after a while but the architecture is beautiful and it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an hour or two.
On our final day in Arequipa we decided to go all out and be tourists good and proper. City tours aren’t normally our kind of thing. They’re usually the reserve of the older, fatter, silly-hat-wearing brigade, and we’ve managed to avoid them so far, but we decided to give it a go in Arequipa as it was pretty cheap and also took you into the surrounding countryside. So we pitched up at 9am ready to board the bus – there are several companies offering the tour in the main square, I don’t think there’s a huge amount of difference between them – they all cost the same and all go to the same places, that’s for sure.
We spent the next four hours hopping on and off an open-topped bus, stopping at various sites around Arequipa, including Yanahuara, where we got some great pics of Misti and Chachani (the surrounding volcanoes), a llama farm/shop, an old colonial house (we didn’t bother paying the extra 5 soles each to go in), and an old mill where you could ride horses (definitely aimed at the older tourist – more donkey on the beach than wild west). Yes, it was cheesy. But it was pretty cheap, a convenient way to see the surrounding areas of Arequipa which you wouldn’t otherwise venture to, and no obligation to participate in the optional extras so we just used it as an opportunity to enjoy a couple of beers and ice creams in some picturesque locations.
And that’s it for Arequipa. It’s been a very touristy few days but it’s also been lovely and hot and sunny and we’ve both managed to get a bit of colour after a few months of winter in Buenos Aires. Our hostel (Sol de Oro) only has a few rooms but has a massive garden complete with sun lounges so after mornings of sightseeing we’ve been taking advantage of the great garden and good weather. Next stop and it’s back to Lake Titicaca, this time for a taste of the Peruvian side of things.