I spent a total of four and a half days in historic Arequipa, Peru. It is the second most populous city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A visual aspect of Arequipa is the use of white sillar earth in construction. Due to this it is also known as the “White City”.
PLAZA DE ARMAS
The Plaza is the cultural and economic hub of Arequipa. It became the central point of my visit.
The plaza lies in historic center of Arequipa. As evidence of its importance you will find adults, school children and tourists among the elegant palms and fountain. Other visitors are the ubiquitous shoe shiners and possibly the plaza typist. The typist will have a typewriter in his lap and sitting at a bench surrounded by locals needing letters written or forms completed. Hundreds of pigeons add to the busy scene flying up and around the plaza looking for food.
The plaza is surrounded on the east, west and south with shops and restaurants. On the north it is bounded by the imposing Basilica Cathedral.
Celebrations are common in the plaza. This will often include societies, schools, the military, clubs and marching bands parading or dancing around the plaza. Each of these groups are often dressed in brilliantly colored costumes and traditional dress. During the celebrations the normally sedate plaza becomes an entertaining uproar of sounds, colors and people.
Take the Bus
The City and Country Loop bus tour is an excellent way to explore Arequipa. Although a long four hour ride it is has its rewards. These include great views, learning the history of Arequipa and a chance at some real excitement.
There are 1.5 million people living in Arequipa. A population this size creates a lot of smog and rush hour exhaust. In spite of these the tour was excellent. Largely due to the guide. She was very good at providing context to the sites and culture we experienced.
The tour includes several view points of the city and surrounding volcanoes. At the Carmen Alto view point we were given time to ride a 1000 meter zip line. See “Arequipa Zip Line” post.
On the tour I made one unfortunate observation. As we toured historic Arequipa, the dichotomy of poverty and wealth was apparent. Abject poverty and upper class communities were in sharp contrast side by side; often simply separated by a fence, road or small river.
The Ice Maiden
I highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries. The museum’s theme concerns Juanita the Ice Maiden. Johan Reinhard discovered her in 1995 on Mount Ampato. She is one of several child mummies discovered in total. All are believed to have been sacrificed by the Incas to appease their gods.
The museum tour starts with a documentary video which describes what her life and last days may have been like. The video recounts the brutality of a 12-14 year old girl who journeyed on foot across Peru and hiked to the top of the volcano where she was put to death by the priests.
After the video, the tour continues through rooms full of Peruvian and Incan artifacts. The guide is present to add stories, color and background to the examples and how they fit in the cultures. The tour ends with a viewing of Juanita.
Arequipa is known for its excellent food. I first discovered this on the plane into Arequipa. I was seated next to a friendly Peruvian woman who introduced herself as Maria.
While getting to know each other I asked her, “For what is Arequipa best known?” Maria quickly replied, “Food!” She then described some of her favorite foods and recommended places to eat.
She was correct. Fellow tour members and I enjoyed several excellent meals in Arequipa. Our favorite restaurants were the Zig Zag, The Balcony and El Goucho. Of these, we enjoyed The Balcony the most. It provides excellent food as well as a great view of the Plaza De Armas and sunsets in the evening.