Ladies – if you’re ever feeling a little bit low and in need of an ego boost, go for a little stroll around Arequipa! I’ve had enough lovely compliments from polite, smiling, friendly people to last me a lifetime!
Of course, that is not all that Arequipa has to offer. What a beautiful city! Wandering around the gorgeous cobbled streets, surrounded by pretty and varied architecture, overshadowed by breathtaking snow-capped volcanoes is an absolute delight.
On the way in from the airport, I stopped at a viewpoint on a hillside outside the city to see the famous volcanoes – Chachani, Misti and Pichu Pichu (pictured), with Arequipa below in the valley, alongside the famous terraced farmland with a big river running through the middle.
There I was given some maca root sweets; they taste like toffee and are chock-a-block with vitamins, minerals and pretty much every essential “good for you” ingredient you can think of. They’re supposed to make you strong and healthy. I tried a couple of other fruits straight from the tree, one of which was in a pod, like runner beans but bigger, and inside looked a little like blobs of cotton with a smooth black seed inside each of them – really tasty!
Peru has a fascinating agricultural history. It has so many microclimates, due to the altitude, that it holds the title of the country with the greatest number of endemic plants in the world, plants that will refuse to grow anywhere else. They also grow a stunningly huge variety of the fruit and vegetables we all know and eat in the UK, and I’m told the tastiest ones are grown here!
Arequipa’s old town is the perfect place to spend a couple of days acclimatising to the altitude before moving onto higher places. At 600 metres above sea level it’s a nice midway point before heading up to Colca, Puno or Cusco. There’s a very attractive central plaza with a fountain and hundreds of pigeons in a garden in the centre. It’s supposed to be good luck to bring your baby to this plaza and take a photo there.
Alongside the square is a grand cathedral built from the porous white volcanic rock which has given Arequipa its name “The White City”. Among the cobbled backstreets spreading from here are lots of treasures to find; markets, places to buy incredibly soft alpaca wool products, churches, restaurants and incredible views of the volcanoes. Not to be missed is the local ice cream; vanilla, coconut and cinnamon flavour- delicious or “rico” which is Spanish slang meaning “yummy”!
The jewel in Arequipa’s crown is the Santa Catalina monastery. Totally closed until 1960, it’s a beautifully restored walled village within a village. It is such an incredibly peaceful place to wander and explore. Take a guide and they’ll answer any number of questions and tell you all about the genuinely fascinating history of the place. There’s a roof you can get to which gives you a spectacular view of the city with the mountains behind – my highlight.
After spending a couple of days here it’s onwards and upwards to higher parts of Peru!