Arequipa is Peru's second largest city but despite its size, the colonial core is compact and easily walkable, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. From the imposing cathedral to the many historic mansions, the building material of choice is sillar, a white stone quarried from the lower slopes of the nearby volcanoes. The most famous of these is El Misti, which has provided a commanding backdrop to many a photograph. Unsurprisingly, Arequipeños are fiercely proud of their city and its long history. Founded back in 1540, the city has such a strong identity that other Peruvians claim you need a different passport to get in. In reality, it's an easy flight from Lima or Cusco and the perfect addition to a Peruvian vacation.
It's the perfect city in which to linger. Admire the Baroque carvings on the plentiful stone mansions, take a stroll around the vividly coloured Santa Catalina Convent or go and visit Juanita, sacrificed by the Incas over five centuries ago but only discovered in 1995. Go in June to watch the city's schools and clubs take over the main square to create artworks in sand and flowers for Corpus Christi or time your visit to coincide with the festivities celebrating Arequipa Day in mid-August. The city has a thriving restaurant scene, which will delight foodies, offering local specialties like Rocoto Relleno (spicy stuffed peppers), Chupe de Camarones (shrimp stew), and Queso Helado (frozen cheese). Numerous cafes and bars invite you to while away your time relaxing and chatting with friends. One thing's for certain, in the place that calls itself the city of the eternal spring, you won't want to leave.
This two-day itinerary provides the perfect introduction to this delightful city for a first-time visitor. It points you to the city's main sights, leading you around the historic centre, uncovering the best views, and showing you where to catch a colectivo to get out into the surrounding countryside. Whether you only have a couple of days before heading off to the Colca Canyon or simply wish to get the best out of a short city break, this guide will save you the cost of taking tours and allow you to explore on your own.