We spent the last week in the south west of Peru, basing ourselves in the countries second city, Arequipa. We arrived here after taking an overnight bus (10 hours) from Cusco, with Peru’s main bus operator – Cruz del Sur. It was a very luxurious bus with big arm chair seats that reclined 170 degrees, personal airline style TV’s that showed on demand movies in English, and meals served to your seat by a friendly steward. The only bad thing was that we arrived in Arequipa at 6am, which was to early to check into our hotel (we did drop off our bags) and before most cafes were open. Nevertheless we had a little walk around the picturesque main square (Plaza de Armas) until we found a place to have breakfast. Arequipa is known as La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) as a lot of it’s architecture is built from the white sillar stone from the surrounding volcanoes that tower over the city. With lots of colonial architecture it has a nice feel to it.
Later we visited the Museum of Archaeology, which was full of old pottery but had a few Inca era mummies on display, which were much more interesting! We also visited the Convento de Santa Catalina, which is a monastery of nuns built in 1579 by the Spanish and still in use today. It’s a big place that has a Mediterranean feel to it, and it made a nice escape from the busy streets outside.
After lunch at a restaurant on a terrace overlooking the Plaza by the mid-afternoon we quite tired and gladly checked into our comfortable (much nicer and cheaper than the one in Cusco) hotel, Tambo del Solar, on a quite alley near the Plaza. We ended up relaxing there for the rest of the day.
The following day we attended a Peruvian cooking experience in the lovely garden the Casa de Avila. Our teacher was a friendly lady confusing named Lady! From a choice of three menus we chose to prepare the ‘Andean’ option, which included:
Soltero de Queso (Salad with beans, corn, sweet potato, tomato, onion, and cheese)
Rocoto Relleno (Spicy pepper stuffed with meat and cheese and topped off with meringue)
Pastel de Papa (Potato bake)
It was all really fresh and tasty and Lady’s enthusiasm made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience, which we would highly recommend.
After the food we had a go at making the local drink of choice, Pisco Sour, a refreshing cocktail of Pisco mixed with lime juice, ice, and egg white (I preferred it without) perfect for a hot day on the sun loungers in the garden.
Arequipa is the gateway for a visit to Colca Canyon, which a depth of 4160m it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA . To get a good feel for the canyon we opted for a two day one night trekking tour into the canyon. It was an early start as we were picked up at 3:30am from our hotel in Arequipa, which was because it’s a 3 hour drive to the canyon and we had a long day of trekking ahead! No worries though we slept most of the way until we got to our breakfast stop at Chivay and from there it was only a short drive to the canyon, which at first sight was stunning.
Driving along the southern rim of the canyon the first stop at was the Cruz Del Condor (3500m), which as the name suggests is a lookout point for Condors – one of the main reasons we wanted to visit the canyon. Despite the crowds of tourists here we weren’t disappointed as we could see Condors flying along the canyon as the bus pulled up. We spotted at least five Condors, I think two adults and their offspring, majestically soaring along the canyon and also perched on a rocky outcrop right in front of us.
Stunning to see and well worth the early start!
After half an hour watching the Condors we, sadly, had to move on and start trekking a little further along the canyon from Cabanaconde. We met up with our guide, a local named Remi who spoke pigeon English (Lisa was my guide!), and a Dutch couple to make up our group of four. The trek started with a step three hour descent to the bottom of the Canyon, with the sun now blazing it was hot, dusty, and hard on the knees but the views made it worthwhile.
We were tired and happy to reach the bottom and after crossing the Colca river we had a welcome lunch (chicken and rice) cooked for us by a farmer in his pretty garden. The lunch perked us up and the afternoon trek was an easier undulating walk along the canyon. The views were awesome as we passed through several villages and over rickety bridges (Indiana Jones style).
We walked 18km that day (I’m not sure Lisa realised what she was letting herself in for!), so tired and dusty it was nice to reach the refreshing greenery of the Sangalle Oasis, located at a bend in the river, where we stayed the night in a little wooden hut.
It was basic accommodation but there were (cold) showers to wash off the dust and a little bar/restaurant. We drank a beer whilst admiring the night sky above us – if only the sky looked like this back home!
It was early to bed through as we were up at 4am (no such thing as a lie-in in Peru!) to begin the up hill trek out of the canyon, it would be to hot to do this with the sun blazing. It was a 3 hour slog up endless zigzag switchbacks, but we took it slow and steady and made it to the top as the first rays of sunlight hit the uppermost section.
The trekking in the canyon was arguably tougher than the Inka trail. We were tired and hungry so wolfed down breakfast back in Cabanaconde before taking the bus back to Arequipa. We stopped on the way at several viewpoints the highlight of which was Patapampa at 4900m, which offered views of many of the areas volcanoes such as El Misti (5825m) and Chachani (6075m) that overlook Arequipa city.
It was a fantastic couple of days, and well worth the effort if you visit Peru. Back in the city we treated ourselves to a posh meal at the restaurant (ChiCha) of Peru’s answer to Jamie Oliver, Gastón Acurio, expensive by Peruvian standards but the food was very good – I had Chupe de Camarron (a typical dish of the city, prawn soup).
After the trek we took the next couple of days easy and concentrating on the gastronomical aspects of Peru. We visited the San Camilo Market, which is set in a building that was designed by the guy who also designed the Eiffel tower (Gustave Eiffel). It is a colourful and bustling maze of stalls thatsell just about anything – they will put a live frog in a blender for you so you can drink it for supposed health benefits :S
Local restaurants in Arequipa are called Picanterias where traditional food is served, typically from 9am until 5pm. We were recommended one called La Nueva Palomino in the Yanahura district (not Miraflores as there is a street there with the same name that we went to first!). It’s a really characterful place that caters for both locals and tourists with traditionally dressed waiters, a live band, and good food, we opted for the local favourite dish of chicharron (fried pork with corn).
We felt really full after that, but it was very tasty! Afterwards we had a walk up to the lookout point in Yanahura, which has some good views over the city and of El Misti volcano.
We swapped hotels for our last day to the Casa de Avila (where we did the cooking class) as we wanted to take advantage of their lovely garden, which as the weather has been hot and sunny is a great place to relax – the first ‘holiday’ feeling we’ve had in Peru!
We couldn’t leave Peru without trying Ceviche, raw seafood cured with lemon juice and salt. There was a great little restaurant, Las Conchitas, near our hotel, which served up some lovely local prawn and fish Ceviche – I was a little sceptical about eating raw fish but this was really good.
We really enjoyed our time in Arequipa, it gave us a different vibe to Cusco. We flex back to Lima late last night, and stayed in the handy hostel by the airport again. Today we are flying to Buenos Aires in Argentina, where we will spend the last week of our trip – I’m looking forward to some steak and wine!
There’s a few more photos from the last week in Arequipa and Colca Canyon here.