Altitude: 2,350 meters / 10,595 feet, Population: 864,250, Phone Code: 054
When he arrived at the site of present-day Arequipa with his army, Inca Mayta CĂˇpac declared, â€śari quipayâ€ť â€“ yes, stay here. (Another theory says it comes from Aymara: â€śari,â€ť meaning â€śpeak,â€ť and â€śquipa,â€ť meaning â€ślying behind,â€ť referring to the volcanoes edging the valley.) Nearly six centuries later, this oasis of pearly white buildings rising at the base of Misti volcano retains its captivating beauty. Arequipa is a stunning town regarded for both its colonial charm and rich cultural heritage. It has, in fact, been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Exquisite churches, convents and colonial mansions, perfectly framed by majestic snow-capped mountains distinguish Arequipa from its neighbor, Puno. The town and mountains draw culture buffs and adventure junkies from around the world.
Nicknamed La Ciudad Blanca (The White City) for its unique buildings made entirely of sillar, a white volcanic stone, Arequipa offers a relaxed, romantic atmosphere that makes it a popular rendezvous for lovers. The striking Plaza de Armas, lined with palm trees and dominated by the Catedral, is one of the most beautiful main squares in all of Peru. From here you can take a stroll to the city-within-the-city, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, and a half-dozen other churches, colonial mansions and museums full of mummies and art. Famed French architect Gustave Eiffel also left his mark here: he is credited with designing the Puente de Fierro, Mercado San Camilo and several other structures. Wherever you go in the Arequipa, you have views of the three volcanoes that overshadow it: Misti, with Chachani to its left and Pichu-Pichu to the right.
Arequipa is a base from which to launch climbing expeditions of those mountains and a score more, or for visiting the rugged beauty and indigenous villages of the Colca and Cotahuasi canyons. Other small towns nearer the city also offer native culture and hikes, as well as colonial architecture.
The Centro HistĂłrico, also called El Cercado, is where most of the attractions are. It has a low profile, due to the cityâ€™s propensity to suffer earthquakes. It is also worth strolling through some of the other neighborhoods. San LĂˇzaro, just north of the city center, is where the Inca lived when the Spaniards arrived. To the west of downtown, on the other side of the RĂo Chili, are Yanahuara, which was an indigenous barrio during colonial times and now modernizing with high-rise buildings, Cayma, and Cerro Colorado, where the airport is. To the south of the Centro HistĂłrico is the residential area Vallecito, also with beautiful architecture.