We only stayed in Arequipa for two days, book-ending our hike down Colca Canyon, but we really enjoyed our short stay. The colourful city had the most noticeable Spanish flair of any we visited in Peru, and we had a nice time simply walking through the cobblestone streets. The area near the Plaza de Armas has lots of cute and funky cafés to check out, as well as a monastery. The Plaza itself is a great place to spend a beautiful sunny afternoon people watching, and the view of the mountains behind the cathedral are something to behold. If you plan on hiking the Colca Canyon, make sure to plan to spend a few days in Arequipa as well!
How to Get There
Cusco to Arequipa
We bused from Cusco to Arequipa with Oltursa bus company for 70 soles. It took just over 8 hours to make the trip overnight. We were super comfortable, with seats that reclined almost all the way back, and blankets provided. They played an Adam Sandler movie with english subtitles, and gave us a small okay meal of pesto pasta, chicken (looked a little sketchy) and yoghurt. The bus left from the Terminal Terrestre in Cusco; you can buy tickets there. You will also need to purchase your bus tax before boarding at a small booth marked “TAME” in the middle of the station.
Arequipa to Colca Canyon (Cabanaconde)
This is a 6 hour local bus trip that leaves from the Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa. Our hostel owner booked a taxi for 10 soles to pick us up early in the morning in order for us to catch the 3:30 am bus. Buses seem to leave at 1:00 am, 3-3:30 am, 9:00 am, 10:00 am, and 2:00 pm, but schedules change often so the best thing to do is check at the bus station when you arrive. We took Empress Senior de los Milagros (a purple and white bus) for 17 soles. We also needed to pay a 1.5 soles tax at the main blue booth in the middle of the bus station. We had a 45 minute stop in Chivay between 6:45-7:30am, then had an option to hop off at Cruz del Condor, then arrived at Cabanaconde at 9:30am.
Colca Canyon (Cabanaconde) back to Arequipa
Our bus ride back was on Reyna (green, gold and white bus) and also cost 17 soles. The Milagros bus also makes the trip back, and both companies change schedules all the time. Best thing to do is check out the bus schedule going back to Arequipa when you arrive in Cabanaconde, and book a ticket before making your way to the canyon. We were able to leave in the early afternoon.
Arequipa to Ica (Huacachina)
We bused from Arequipa to Ica in order to spend a few days in the backpacker desert oasis that is Huacachina. We also took Oltursa for this journey, and the 12 hour trip took 90 soles. Again, we needed to pay tax at the middle booth, this time 3 soles. The movie Ride Along played with english subtitles and we were comfy again except the temperature was really variable this time. In Ica we were dropped at the Oltursa station, each company has their own station in Ica, there isn’t a communal Terminal Terrestre. From there we paid 10 soles for a taxi ride into Huacachina.
Where to Stay
- Casa de Sillar – This was a cool place, with a very local feel as opposed to a modern hostel feel. A few cute dogs were wandering around with sweaters on, and the main area was a nice place to chill, with books to read. We paid 80 soles for a double bed and private bathroom. The wifi was great, and the room included a free breakfast with eggs! It was within walking distance of the Plaza de Armas, and really close a great wood fired pizza place! You can book this awesome hostel online here.
What to Do
- Plaza de Armas – This was one of the biggest and most beautiful Plaza de Armas’ we visited in South America. The view of the mountain over the cathedral was awesome. The surrounding area is packed with cool cafés, restaurants and bars, so take your time exploring this area.
- Monastery Santa Catalina – This monastery was established by a rich widow in 1580, and occupied mostly by nuns. Now it’s open for tourists to wander it’s colourful halls that span a whole city block. It’s basically a historical city within a city. You’re able to wander the monastery yourself with the informative pamphlet they provide as a guide, or join an hour long guided tour. Entry is 20 soles.
- Mondo Alpaca – This is a fun spot north of the Plaza de Armas where they sell super expensive alpaca clothing. However the main draw is the 6 -7 different types of alpacas that live here, which you can visit for free!
- Hike the Colca Canyon – This is the closest big city to the Colca Canyon, and you’re able to hike the second deepest canyon in the world with a DIY overnight trip, or an organized tour. Check out our post on how we hiked the canyon without a guide here.
Where to Eat
- Los Lenos Pizza – This was an amazing wood fired pizza spot that we loved so much we went back here for a thanksgiving pizza dinner! Drinks are reasonable and the pizza is amazing.
- Las Gringas – This was a more touristy spot near the monastery that served up craft beer and flatbread pizza. The vibe was cool, unfortunately it was a little overpriced and the service wasn’t great.
- Mirador Misti – Great spot in behind the cathedral to grab lunch and a few drinks! The rooftop patio gives you a great view of the cathedral, and people watching down the shopping street below.
- Hatunpa – This place is all about potatoes, and serves up a tasty plate of carbs flavoured and garnished with pretty much anything you can imagine. You can also learn a ton about potatoes, including how to say potato in a bunch of different languages. If you’re looking for something different, and local, Hatunpa definitely provides that.