Arequipa, la Ciudad Blanca, or "White City," is one of Peru's most culturally and industrially important cities. It is often said that the city's name evolved from the Quechua phrase, "Ari, quepay," meaning, "Yes, stay." Others contend that the name stems from the Aymara words "ari" and "kipa," which together translate to "near the mountain." The largest city in the Peruvian Andes, Arequipa is also the most beautiful.
Arequipa lies in the shadow of El Misti, a breathtaking and active snow-capped volcano. It is nicknamed the "White City" because many of its buildings are built with sillar, a white rock formed from petrified volcanic ash that is both beautiful and resistant to the earthquakes that plague Arequipa. El Misti looms above the city, attracting mountain-climbers from around the world. The volcano is visible from nearly every spot in town, but is perhaps best viewed from the rooftops of the labyrinthine Convento de Santa Catalina .
Arequipa is a modern city that offers everything necessary for an unforgettable trip. It contains more Spanish colonial architecture than any other Peruvian city, but is also firmly rooted in the Indian traditions of the antiplano. The city boasts mysterious and majestic monuments and exceptional geography, with wonderful green landscapes, luminous valleys and impressive geological areas. Arequipa's clear mountain air is often filled with the music of Andean pan pipes, which famously inspired Simon and Garfunkel's hit song "El Condor Pasa."
The districts and villages that surround Arequipa are also well worth a visit. These include:
Yanahuara A traditional district located about two kilometers from downtown. It is an old, established village—which today is part of the city—of Indians from the valley of the nearby Chili River. It has colorful, narrow and aged side streets, houses with family orchards and a church of baroque facade from the year 1750 in the main plaza. But the most outstanding feature here are the arcs of sillar of the famous Mirador of Yanahuara, from which the entire city can be appreciated; the arcs made of the whitish volcanic rock sillar, sport engravings with the philosophy of life and inspiration of the Arequipeños.
Sachaca Located five kilometers from downtown, it has some of the oldest homes in Arequipa, and is located between green and beautiful countryside. What makes this inspiring district famous are its picanterías, which are typical restaurants where the best regional dishes are served, always accompanied by Creole music and impressive views. In addition, we find the Casa Goyeneche , a fortress of neoclassic style with heavy walls and a moat.
Cayma Located three kilometers from downtown and past Yanahuara, this district, on the right shore of the Chili River, is called "The Balcony of Arequipa" because from its heights one can see the entire city. Its main plaza has a church which houses the image of the Virgin of the Candlemas, donated by King Carlos V.
Carmen Alto A district with many pre-Columbian features, and in whose fields it is possible to camp. It was also the site of battles during the Arequipa civil war and has a modest museum that illustrates those historical battles.
Characato This is a town 14 kilometers from the city. The Merced Church and an old manor house from 1795 are located in the main plaza. Characato also features an observatory and a geomagnetic and seismic station as well as another that tracks satellites.
Socabaya The most interesting aspect of this town, located 10 kilometers from the city, is its wonderful landscape, which has been a source of inspiration for Arequipean poets and painters. Visitors can hike and camp the in the natural caves of Las Peñas.
Chilina Only a 10-minute drive from the city, this district is for many the most beautiful and romantic of the Arequipean countryside. Out of its fields rise two volcanoes and the most splendid dawns. It also has perfect fields for camping trips and hiking to observe the precious wildlife and plant life of the region.
Tiabaya This district, nine kilometers from downtown, offers countryside with delicious traditional pear trees and picanterías (traditional restaurants).
Yura Synonymous with medicinal-mineral or thermal waters, this locale is 30 kilometers from the city. In its swimming pools, for multiple and individual use, visitors can acquire therapy for a variety of ailments. In addition, it has diverse recreational centers for camping or sports, and a hotel properly equipped for tourists.
Socosani Seven kilometers from Yura, we find another assembly of thermal waters, which is bottled for drinking, appreciated throughout the country. In addition, it has impressive waterfalls and immense fields for camping. It is flanked by hills suitable for hikes and rock climbing.
These are the most outstanding districts of Arequipa. The downtown area is also considered a district, El Cercado, "The Surrounded One," where the historical center of the city is located as well as several colonial churches and manor homes. There is also a great diversity of stores and cultural centers that feature art from this wonderful region.
Arequipeños love food. Arequipa offers a wide variety of international and criollo restaurants. Southern Peru is also well known for its brandy, called pisco and distilled from the white muscat grapes grown in the coastal town of Pisco. It is often served with lime juice, syrup and egg whites in what is called a "pisco sour."
Indigenous foods, la comida criolla, rely heavily on meat. Peruvians are perhaps most famous for eating guinea pig, which are often served barbecued. There are several good barbecue restaurants in Arequipa, including El Viñedo, Argentino Grill . Another place to sample Southern Peru's indigenous foods, including mazamorra, a traditional pudding dessert, is Las Quenas , where the food is accompanied by live performances upon the Andean pan pipes.
Chinese and Peruvian cultures are famously integrated, and Peruvian Chinese restaurants, los chifas, are delicious evidence of this fusion. Ka Hing, the best chifa in Arequipa, offers Chinese classics as well as some Chinese-influenced criollo dishes such as tacu-tacu, lomo saltado, and arroz chaufa.
The Peruvian sea is one of richest on the planet, and while the northern coastal cities, such as Trujillo, are better known for their seafood restaurants, Arequipa's selection of seafood is formidable.Cebiche (a marinated seafood dish) eases the anxieties of strangers and locals alike. Also common are fried fish, steamed fish, black shells and fried calamari. Arequipa's seafood restaurants are often busiest during breakfast.
Despite their love of meat, more and more Arequipeños have opened vegetarian and health food restaurants in recent years. Noteworthy choices include Govinda and Lakshmivan .
The most picturesque restaurants in town are those on the Plaza de Armas. Several of these are located above ground-floor souvenir shops and tour agencies, and require patrons to hike up rickety staircases to reach them. However, they offer open-air balcony dining with stunning views of El Misti and the cathedral, and should not be missed.
Arequipa is one of the best places to enjoy Andean cuisine as well as international flavors. There are enough restaurants in the "White City" to satisfy every tourist and sportsmen looking to conquer El Misti.