Trip Start Mar 26, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Peru  , Arequipa,
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We got to Arequipa at about 5.30am on Wednesday 13 July, after a 9 hour bus from Cusco. Arequipa is the second biggest city in Peru, though the part we saw around the old town made it seem more like a big town, and is most famous for being close to Colca Canyon, which is the deepest canyon in South America (third deepest in the world).  Arequipa has a reputation for being a dodgy enough spot (lads rent taxis off taxi drivers just to pick up tourists and bring them somewhere and rob everything off them) but we had no trouble at all during our stay.  The central square of the town is nice, with a massive volcano called El Misti in the background and two other volcanoes visible as well.

We stayed at a guesthouse called La Casa de los Pinguinos, which I'd recommend to anyone travelling through Arequipa except maybe those travelling alone as their isn’t really any opportunity to meet others staying there.  The hostel is run by a Dutch woman who was unbelievably helpful in recommending stuff to do in Arequipa – literally everything we did here, from tours and sightseeing to booking buses, was on her recommendation.  She also seemed to know an awful lot about travelling through the rest of Peru and Bolivia, and we spent a fair bit of time chatting to her while in the guesthouse.

We went back to bed for a short while after getting to Arequipa as there was little sleep had on the bus, and then spent the rest of the day at the two main tourist attractions within the city itself.  The first was the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, an old convent established in the 16th century and opened up to the public for viewing in 1970.  The convent takes up a whole block of the city and is like a city within a city, with streets and everything around the place.  The nuns living there seem like a pretty strict order, all of them having taken vows of silence and depriving themselves of food and all sorts of stuff.  The convent itself hasn’t changed in parts since its foundation, apart from where earthquakes meant that it had to be rebuilt in places.  The most famous nun to have been there was Sister Ana who apparently made a load of predictions about stuff that ended up coming true – it wasn’t explained to us what these predictions were, or how she even made them given the vow of silence and the lack of communication with the outside world, but it was supposed to have been impressive anyway.  Afterwards, we went to the Museo Sanctuarios Andinos, which is a museum set up around a body of a girl that was discovered in 1995 who had been sacrificed by the Incas to the volcano god over 500 years ago.  The body was perfectly preserved at the top of the volcano in ice, so seeing the body was really cool if not a little creepy.  The girl was named Juanita, and there is nothing in the museum other than her and the stuff that was found around her, as well as a half hour video of her discovery.  It was well worth a look though.

That night, on the recommendation of our new Dutch friend, we went to a restaurant called Zig Zag in Arequipa.  If anyonereading this is ever in Arequipa, go there – it was unreal, so good we went back the next night!

On the Thursday, we went to visit the Colca Canyon.  Most people do a hike down here for a couple of days, but we were kind of in a rush to get to Bolivia at this stage and hadn’t heard the best things about the hike, so we decided to do a one day bus tour instead.  The downside to this was that we were collected from our hostel before 2.30am for the tour.  The tour itself wasn’t great to be honest – it was a five hour journey there and five hours back again, and many of the stops were pretty unimpressive - we saw alpacas, llamas, some decent views, but none of these were that great.  The highlight of it though was visiting Cruz del Condor, which is a view of the canyon from an altitude of 3800metres at a point that the canyon was 1200metres deep, with 6 or 7 condors gliding about the place below us.  The condors were really cool to see, three of them perched on a rock about 20 yards in front of us, another one flew about six feet over our heads.  It was a pretty amazing sight, and about the only thing that made the trip worthwhile.  I also managed to get pictures taken with an eagle perched on my arm and head, and on the way back we stopped at a point at an altitude of 4800metres where we had a decent view of four different volcanoes in the distance.

We were up early again on the Friday morning and caught a bus from Arequipa to Puno.

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