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Photo-Essay Arequipa, Peru : Discover the beautiful white city

After our time in Cusco and visiting Machu Picchu, we headed south to Arequipa, also known as ‘La Ciudad Blanca’ (the white city).  It gets its name because many of the buildings, especially around the main plaza, are made from silla, a white volcanic stone.  Arequipa has a rich history and gorgeous colonial architecture and is now a Human Heritage UNESCO site.  The setting is quite dramatic too, with the stunning El Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu volcanoes looming in the distance.

Arequipa offers up a nice array of things to do for the visitor.  Its compact nature makes strolling the streets and gazing at the architecture effortless.  If shopping is your thing, there are a bevy of handicraft markets, specializing in high-quality Alpaca, to choose from. Arequipa is considered to be the world capital of this valuable material and although you have to be on the look-out for fakes, there are plenty serving up the real deal.

If you are after local food, Arequipa has some unique gastronomic offerings.  A trip to the central market will allow you to sample the cheese famous in the area as well as the highly recommended special papaya jam.  Scoring a bag of locally produced olives, which are seriously the best I have ever had in my life, just sweetens the deal.  And you cannot miss a visit to the picanterias, a great place to sample the best local dishes, chupe de camarones or rocoto relleno.

Here are some of our favorite things about the city.

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_IMG92531. La Ciudad Blanca

Arequipa is known as the white city and it’s truly striking the first time you behold the colonial architecture made of this unique volcanic material.  It’s also one of the reasons UNESCO has name it a Human Heritage Sight.

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_IMG9264_IMG91342. La Catedral

Located in the main plaza, the cathedral is one of a kind.  The façade is composed entirely of silla and the inside resembles more of a museum than a church.

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_IMG8726_IMG87893. Visit the Monestario de Santa Catalina at dusk

The Monestario is one of the most visited sites in the city.  People  often describe it as a city within a city and for many years, the areas richest nuns lived here.  Now, only about 20 nuns remain in one part of the monastery while the rest is open for tourists.  The entrance fee is cheap and for a nominal fee, you can get a guided tour to learn more about the fascinating history.  I highly recommend a  visit on Tuesday evening when they light the entire monastery in candlelight.

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_IMG92084. The fruit section of the San Camilo market

This market is located just a few blocks away form the main plaza.  It’s brimming with colourful, exotic Peruvian fruits but don’t miss the olive and cheese sections too.  Grab some papaya jelly on your way out-it’s made from the small Arequipan papaya, an exclusive, local flavour.

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_IMG91715. Picanteria, the best way to eat in Arequipa

Picanterias are a type of restaurant found in this area.  These are casual restaurants places where the locals go. Often they are large, sometimes eating as many as 600, with communal seating and quality food with set, cheap menus.  It’s a great place to sample the regional foods and meet some locals.

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_IMG90906. Chupe de Camerones, a regional dish

Along with rocoto relleno con pastel de papa, chupe de camerones is the other most famous (and delicious) local dish to try.  It’s basically a chowder with a deep, rich flavor from the local river shrimp (crayfish).  Corn, potatoes, tomatoes and aji round it out.  It’s topped with a poached egg and several crayfish.  You need every utensil to eat this, including your hands.  Not to be missed.

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_IMG9217_IMG92677. The Chicha Morada

Chica morada is found all over Peru but we thought Arequipa had the best.  A beverage made from purple corn (maiz morado) may sound strange but trust me, it’s refreshing and delicious.  This chicha is unfermented and usually boiled with pineapple or quince and spices like cinnamon.  It’s pretty sweet but not sickly and has a pleasant aftertaste.  Peruvians drink this like water but I would have it in place of a soda.  Not to be confused with chicha de jora, the fermented chicha, that is more like corn beer.

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_IMG9220_IMG92348. Amazing landscape around Arequipa

The city is surrounded by stunning El Misti, Chachani and PichuPichu volcanoes which provide a dramatic backdrop during twilight hours.  If you are really adventurous (and hike well in high-altitude), you can use Arequipa as a jumping board for many outdoor trekking adventures.  There are also tour agencies, in the city, for making trips to nearby ColcaCanyon.  Stay tuned for our upcoming post on how we organized our own trip to the Canyon.

Click here to see all our pictures of this amazing city

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