We liked Arequipa much more than Lima, which we found to be a big, gritty city with perpetually foggy weather, congested traffic, and poor air quality.
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city, but it’s not that large. It’s calmer and cleaner than Lima, but still has all the modern amenities one may need, including nice Airbnbs and a glorious supermarket in the center. It’s also 20% cheaper than Lima.
The old town square may be the most beautiful in Peru, with grand old buildings and views of volcanos.
As we walked into the Plaza de Armas, our first reaction was, wow, someone must have spent a lot of money here.
The weather is warmer and sunnier due to the increase in elevation, but the altitude is not so high that it’s uncomfortable. In fact, it’s a good place to stop and adjust on your way to Cusco, which is at very high altitude. If you fly straight from Lima at sea level to Cusco at 3399 meters, you’re more likely to experience altitude sickness than if you stop in Arequipa at 2335 meters on the way.
The population is also more indigenous than in Lima, which is reflected in the terraced landscape, artisan crafts, food, and language. We met many people whose first language was Quechua, the language of the Incas.
There’s a surprising amount to do in Arequipa, from visiting alpacas to a multitude of open air museums. We visited the Moral House, a preserved mansion built around 1730 in the Andean Baroque civil architectural style.
Next to the Moral House is the most popular attraction in the old town, the Santa Catalina Monastery, a colorful 16th century “city within a city” that once housed 450 nuns.
You can see alpacas and traditional weaving at Mundo Alpaca, get cheap eats at the San Camilo Market, where we bought a pound of sweet ripe figs, and take in city views from Plaza de Yanahuara with its tall palm trees.
My favorite place to get a vegetarian empanada was at Cafe Dulceria La Miel, which also sells fancy cakes for reasonable prices.
I really wanted to visit the Museum of Virceregal Art Santa Teresa because I saw a photo of an exquisite doorway at this museum, but we ran out of time.
You can easily spend a week in Arequipa. Our only regret was spending a week in Lima and only 4 days in Arequipa. If we had known better, we would have done it the other way around!