Arequipa was originally selected as a place to stop for a few days to break up our travel from Nazca to Cusco, but it turned out to be one of our favorite places on the whole trip. We took the night bus from Nazca to Arequipa to try and make some use of the over 9 hour trip. I really didn’t want to waste that much daylight, plus night buses allowed us to save money by not having to rent a hotel. I can’t say it was the most restful night I’ve ever had, but we arrived in Arequipa at daybreak with enough energy to explore a little.
Our hostel didn’t provide transportation so it was on us to negotiate with a taxi, which I wasn’t too thrilled about. I’m not a good barterer. It just doesn’t really mesh with my personality and so therefore I have always avoided doing it, but this trip was to be different. We made a decision beforehand to push ourselves and one of the areas we challenged ourselves was the act of negotiation. So I stepped out of the bus station prepared to negotiate to what I thought would be a fair price for the taxi. However, there was no need, the driver quoted a price lower than the one I was shooting for, so we happily hopped in. We would have time to practice negotiations later.
Depending on who you ask, Arequipa is either the 2nd or 3rd largest city in Peru. Apparently, they are constantly battling with Trujillo for the second spot after Lima. Having a small taste of big city bustle in Lima and small town malaise in Paracas, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It turned out to be that I was Goldilocks and that city was just right. It actually sort of reminded me of our hometown of Tampa, not so small that there isn’t a variety of places to go while also not being too big and feeling crushed by the mass of people.
Arequipa sits at the base of a volcanic mountain named El Misti and its snow-capped peak provides a wonderful backdrop to the city. The area around the volcano also provided the materials needed to build this city into a unique place to visit. The volcanic sillar in the area was used to build most of the buildings in the city and gave it very distinctive style. The sillar is white and can be see most everywhere, especially around the Plaza de Armas including the iconic Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. The distinctive style is especially noticeable inside the Cathedral where the sillar combined with a very light shade of yellow paint gives the inside a heavenly glow. The Cathedral was easily one of the most airy well lit cathedrals I have ever set foot in even at night. While the white stone stands out on its own, paint provides even more distinguishing characteristic. The Monastery of Santa Catalina is a perfect example of what different shades of paint can create. The inside of the monastery is painted numerous colors and each color has its own unique flair, thanks to the sillar underneath. The blues, reds, and oranges seem to be shades that I’ve never seen before. We spent hours taking pictures of the walls trying to capture their uniqueness. As usual our pictures don’t do it justice. That just means that you’ll have to go and see for yourself.
Walking along the streets also provides a bounty of bright colors lighting up the normal drab look of most cities. Shops, hostels, and even office buildings all had a unique stylishness to them. City-wide there didn’t seem to any real consensus to the colors chosen giving it a very eclectic look. Some of the buildings would mix bright white and bright colors which definitely caught my eye. We enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets, taking in the sights around us as we visited this marvelous city. In the next post I’ll go over some of the must-see sights and other tips on touring this unique city.