Expect: Ridiculously good looking architecture, deep canyons and condors.
What to Pack: Walking shoes, dancing shoes.
By Julia Taylor
Before arriving in Peru I had resolved to stop trying every local food in sight and hopefully make those jeans a little looser around the waist. But as soon as I walked into Arequipa I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't turn anywhere without spotting an enticing restaurant, pub or café; with not only tasty local treats but all the creature comfort foods of home too. How long had it been since I'd savoured the delicious taste of hummus or falafal? Could the massive plate of mouth-watering tortillas really only cost $3?! Should I bar hop down Calle Santa Catolina or just enjoy the happy hour with my fellow gringos in Deja Vu? Arequipa brought on the worst case of indecisiveness I have suffered since Buenos Aires.
Thankfully, as I wandered around aimlessly in the heat of the afternoon sun, struggling to decide what to eat next, there seemed to be an endless array of ornate white-washed churches, cobble-stoned lanes, museums and markets to distract me from my tummy. Even on a continent renowned for bustling central squares Arequipa's Plaza de Armas stands out as uniquely charming. Its arched walkways, flowing fountain, imposing cathedral and towering palm trees offers colonial tranquillity in the midst of Peru's most fierce landscape. As you sip an ice cold Inca Cola you might just forget that snowy volcanoes, hot springs, high-altitude deserts, salt lakes and the world's deepest canyons lie just a few hours away.
In the evening the plaza glows a surreal sepia under the retro orange streetlights that line the square. A pensive stroll through the Plaza during the cool of night is the perfect antidote to the day's hazy heat.
But it isn't just a city that looks good. Arequipa was the home of important Peruvian nationalists during the struggle for independence and has been Peru's second city ever since. The surrounding volcanoes, as I learned in the Ice Maiden Exhibition, held magical meaning for local Incan tribes. As I admired the frozen remains of a 500yr old human sacrifice to the terrifying Inca volcanic god, I was truly riveted to the spot. Long before we discovered the healing abilities of the umbilical cord, the Incans would preserve the cord after birth and include a little piece in food or drinks later in life when the person was sick. Pretty humbling hey? And to think so much can be learned from the chance finding of the frozen remains of such a young, innocent girl. It all became too much for me though.
The desire to go straight back to Calle San Fransisco was too great and after one too many visits to Fez and El Turko, the only thing I could do was remove myself from the White City (or as I called it, the City of Temptation) and take myself into the depths of the Colca Canyon. Only condors and the steep red rock of the canyon walls could take my mind off all those fiestas and feasts. Mind you maybe I should have tried the cuy (guinea pig). Just the look of my childhood pet on a stick would have cured any food cravings. Some things need to be tried - others not so much.