Arequipa | Things to do in a Full Day
My day in Arequipa was fleeting. It was not nearly enough time to enjoy this beautiful city and surrounding area.
I really only had until 6pm that day, but I made the most of it! In this guide you’ll discover Arequipa. Things to do include visiting the beautiful Santa Catalina Monastery and getting a glimpse into the city life. I’ve also provided recommendations on accommodation and transportation.
GO IF YOU LIKE:
Charming street walks | Spanish Architecture |Colourful Buildings | Walkable cities
One Day in Arequipa
Morning: The Santa Catalina Monastery
Afternoon: Lunch at Zig Zag
Late-Afternoon: Plaza de Armas and enjoy some queso helado
The Santa Catalina Monastery
Let me start by saying, this was one of my favourite visits in Peru. Entering the Monastery, off the busy streets of Arequipa, hit me with silence.
It’s easy to lose sense of orientation and time wandering through the colourful roads and buildings. It feels like a scene from Spain or India, but no, it’s Peru.
At the entrance of the Monastery you’ll find designated guides. You’ll notice them because they wear bright red jackets.
For only 20 soles they will take you through the Monastery, explaining the historical significance of certain rooms, and giving you an idea of how the nuns lived. After about an hour with them you are free to explore everything again on your own.
Originally built in 1570 the Monastery stretches over 20,000 meters and is cut off from the outside with its high walls. You get a sense of how removed from Arequipa the nuns would have been, even though they were right in the middle of the city.
The structures are made from sillar, a highly-porous volcanic rock which shows the wear and tear of time. This, coupled with being located on a seismic zone, has meant that the monastery requires much love and reconstruction. After three earthquakes it’s still in great shape.
The nuns who used to live here came from predominantly wealthy families. Those who could pay larger dowries would get more lavish rooms than the other.
Beyond the bedrooms you’ll see the kitchen, laundry area and chapel. All interspersed with beautiful cloisters painted with vibrant colours.
Since portraits were frowned upon, there aren’t many of the nuns, however, when they passed away they were allowed a portrait to be painted. You’ll see lots of these as well.
Hours of Operation: Monday-Sunday (9am-5pm), Tuesday and Wednesday (9am-7.30pm)
Ticket Price: 40 soles ($12USD)
Photography TIPS for Santa Catalina Monastery
If you’re interested in photography, here are some of my learnings:
Plan for your Light
Unfortunately it opens at 9am so you can’t get any golden hour, sunrise shots but on Tuesday and Wednesday it closes later so you may be able to capture some evening light. I didn’t notice any photography restrictions other than no flash on the paintings. My shots were from roughly 12pm and I battled with harsh shadows and highlights.
Get There Early
Getting there as soon as it opens is your best chance to beat the crowds. In November there weren’t a lot of people and I was there around noon. The monastery itself is large, so if you’ve got a shot in mind, wait it out, it will eventually clear up.
The cloisters are beautiful, but you’ll need a wide angle to capture them. Even with my 16mm (APS-C) I struggled to get the full wide shots.
Look at the detail
The paintings, textures on the walls and artifacts throughout the monastery are great subjects to shoot. Move away from the obvious shots and get creative.
Look for the Light
When you’re inside rooms like the kitchen, it will be very dark. Some of these rooms have doorways, or small openings so think about using them.
Spend a few hours
The tour lasts about an hour, and you’ll capture some shots along the way but if you really want to do it justice consider spending additional time exploring on your own. Depending on the light, you may want to explore first then take the tour.
Grab Lunch at Zig Zag
I am a lover of local cuisine but after two weeks of Peruvian food I was craving a change. Zig Zag gave me just what I needed. The restaurant offered juicy steaks delicious pasta and even fondue. Yes, it wasn’t very Peruvian, but it was delicious.
Visit the Plaza de Armas
Like most major cities in Peru, you’ll find the great historical buildings at the Plaza de Armas, a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
At the Plaza you’ll see a ton of locals hanging by the fountain, enjoying the city life. The largest and most impressive building is La Cathedral. Having suffered several earthquakes and a major fire, it’s been reconstructed several time.
Similar to the monastery the building is is made out of volcanic sillar, but in this instance it’s not painted bright red or blue.
After seeing it, and taking in the streets, it’s clear to see why Arequipa is known as “The White City”.
Fill that Belly
La Lucha Sandwhiches
You know how every once-in-a-while you just want a satisfying sandwhich? Well La Lucha is the answer to that. And if you don’t have time to eat there, don’t worry there’s one in the Arequipa airport (though I have to admit it was lacking compared to the original in the city).
Cheese ice cream, sounds odd right? Well, Arequipa is the master of this unique frozen delight and it’s not entirely made of cheese either. Instead of cream this dessert is made using three types of milk. It’s mixed with several spices, the predominant one being cinnamon, and sometimes has eggs. We found a woman selling it on the street. We can confirm there were no sickness issues, which is something I am weary of when it comes to food with ice.
Getting Around Arequipa
Arequipa has its own airport about 30 minutes outside of the city. If you’re an anxious flyer like me, check out my interview with a pilot, where she helped put my mind at ease.
From the Airport
Taxis are affordable in Peru, so between them and hiring a driver through your hotel, you’re all set. Expect to pay around 30 soles for a driver (roughly $11USD).
Around the City
Everything is very walkable in Arequipa. Depending on where your hotel is located you can either walk or take a taxi. I usually ask my hotel or restaurant to order me a taxi, just to be triple safe.
Where to stay in Arequipa
Some links below are an affiliate link, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a booking. As always, I only recommend products and services I trust.
This was a great find. It's about a 15-minute walk to the Plaza de Armas, and it's a nice walk at that. The hotel is owned by a friendly couple, the husband is French and his wife is Peruvian. They made us feel welcomed and safe.
We had a delicious breakfast with ripe papaya and the rooftop of the hotel is a great place to de-stress. It's equipped with shaded lounge chairs and views of the volcano.
Safety In Arequipa
The city center of Arequipa is fairly safe, though, like other big cities in Peru, you should be vigilant for pickpocketing, robbery and scams.
Keep your bags on you at all times. This means, even when you’re sitting down for a nice meal, keep your bag attached to you and never on the back of your chair or under your legs. Some restaurants will have belts to fasten your bag to the chair.
I’m always extra cautious with transport and I tend to ask my hotels or restaurants to order me a taxi. Scam taxis do exist and target tourists.
Avoid roaming the streets at night, especially if you’re a solo female. I have also read that solo females should take extra caution with their drinks. All of these are common safety precautions when travelling, no matter the destination.
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