One of Peru’s most attractive cities, Arequipa is a good place to acclimatise to the altitude of the country’s high mountain peaks, located at just under 2,400 metres above sea level. Catch your breath among the whitewashed colonial buildings that give the city its nickname – La Ciudad Blanca, or ‘the White City’ – and take in the stunning views of the trio of surrounding mountains, El Misti, Pichu Picchu and Chachani, before travelling higher into the Colca Canyon.
Multi-centre Peru itineraries often include Arequipa thanks to its striking architecture, as well as its proximity to the mountains. Arequipa’s historic centre is home to a large central square, Plaza de Armas, dominated by palm trees and ornate fountains. Café culture is a big part of life in Arequipa, and its streets are lined with market sellers and coffee shops packed with tourists and locals alike.
Arequipa was founded by the Spanish in 1540 and the best way to discover the city’s colonial past is with a visit to the Santa Catalina convent, built in 1579 and closed off from the world for 400 years. Now open to the public, the convent offers a step back in time with an impressive refurbishment including period antiques, cobbled streets and original artworks. The convent museum is home to ‘Juanita’, the Incan mummy known as ‘the Ice Maiden’, who was discovered atop Mount Ampato in 1995. Sacrificed in an ancient Incan ceremony and perfectly preserved by the chilly temperatures of the high Andes, Juanita has remained on display in Arequipa for the last 20 years.
Explore Arequipa by train
One way to experience Arequipa in style is on board Belmond’s new sleeper train, the Belmond Andean Explorer. Travel through the breath-taking scenery along one of the highest rail routes in the world, traversing the Peruvian Andes from Arequipa to Cuzco via Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca. The fully-inclusive service travels up to 4,800 metres in altitude and visits key sights of the Inca empire.