Our first stop after leaving Huacachina was Ica and the winery El Catador. This was an included short tour and tasting arranged with Peru Hop. My only downside was that the group was too large for my taste, but the tour was short and we got to taste 4-5 different products. Their wines are wayyyy too sweet for me!
As part of the Peru Hop ticket, we had an included stop at the Nazca lines viewing tower. This is basically a massive staircase tower on the side of the main highway where people go up for typically 2min to take photos of 3 of the well-known Nazca lines. Basically, we still are unsure what they were for and how they were made, but you definitely needed to be up high to see and understand the full shape and meaning of it (although they were made way before we could fly). Quite honestly, I’m glad this stop was included in our bus ride and I didn’t have to make special arrangements to get there. It was super short and we can’t really see much from the tower. I heard from other travelers that staying in Nazca one night and taking the flight over the lines was incredible, however there is nothing really to do in Nazca after your 20min flight is over.
We stopped in Nazca quickly to get some food as take out (about 20soles for the dinner, all pre-arranged by Peru Hop) and hit the road again. Usually, this stop includes a proper stop for dinner in Nazca with the group. However, there were some strikes happening recently and farmers were blocking the roads at random hours to protests a massive government investment in mining. Our guide decided that we should make it short and just keep going and try to be in Arequipa early. Turns out we were fine, but a group who left a few hours after us go stranded for 38hrs in total (instead of a 12h trip) as they hit the strike at 2 different locations on the highway. We’ve heard that the president had heard them and was going to post-pone his decision in order to reopen negotiations. Which was good for us and meant we had no bus issue for the rest of our trip! Yay!
So we made our way peacefully to Arequipa. We stayed at the Vallecito Backpackers right in the center of the city. We were about 3 blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, which was really convenient. I really liked Arequipa, and to be honest, I could have stayed longer. I feel like there is a lot to see in town, and it has a great vibe to just relax, spend time on a patio, explore the cultural activities at night, etc. We did a free walking tour on our first day, which gave us a few ideas of things to do on our next day. We had some great food and coffee (our new favorite was Puku Puku, a local coffee store that you can also find in Lima). If you are looking to buy some good quality alpaca clothing, it seems that Arequipa has the best prices, as their warehouse and manufacture is located in the area.
During our walking tour, our guide recommended us to go watch the sunset from one of the restaurants facing the Plaza de Armas. We booked the day before for a table at 5pm at this restaurant next to the cathedral – it is on the 4th floor and has the best view of the area at sunset. Food isn’t necessarily the best we’ve had, but for the view it was totally worth it. They even give you blankets and ponchos to use as the temperature drops during and after sunset.
We also really enjoyed our visit to the Monasterio Santa Catalina. For a few more soles, you can get a tour with a guide inside the monasterio, which I think is totally worth it. The amount of information and insight you will get is helping to understand how the nuns used to live, and how their lives have been transformed as the city became bigger. Today, they still have some nuns living in a closed area of the monastery, which is not opened for visit.
After the monastery, we decided to check out the local central market. I’ve always loved going to the local market to see how locals actually get their food, and to try some local meals as well. Unfortunately, the local markets in Peru were not the highlight I had been expecting. I must admit, the level of (or lack of) hygiene visible in these markets has turned me off from wanting to get local food there. The smells were also quite strong, and my travel partners did not share my level of enthusiasm for discovering the way locals do. Once you walk outside of the historic center of the city, you are reminded quite quickly that the waste management is also not optimal in the area.
Arequipa is also the base for travelers heading up to the Colca Canyon. As we had a timeframe to respect with one of my friend, I chose to skip the canyon. We would have had to take a one day tour to the canyon, and at this point, I couldn’t be bothered with 9hrs spent in a bus in one day to walk for 1-2hrs in the canyon. Many people took a 2 or 3 days trek, however be mindful with the change in altitude. The canyon is high (up to 4500m on most treks) and Arequipa is only at 2700m or so. This means that going up to the canyon by bus to start a trek will require time for you to get acclimatized, and I have seen way too many tourists getting sick from altitude and exhaustion from the heat as they take on multiday treks without proper experience.
As we stayed in town for 2 full days, I was looking for some activities that could help us understand the local culture better. I found a cooking class through the Peruvian Experience (located in Casa de Avila) that we booked for our first evening. If you are the first person to book, you can choose the menu as well. We went with the traditional menu and were placed in a group with 3 other women who were in town to teach English. Our host was amazing and she was very patient and explained everything from how to cut and prepare the food, to the cooking, to the history of the dish, etc. We prepared and ate a Causa, as well as a Lomo Saltado for our main dish. The price was very reasonable considering that you cook the entire meal and actually eat your dinner in a nice and private setting with the group. I think 6 was the perfect size for the group, as we had just enough place to freely move around the kitchen. I definitely recommend booking this activity if you are looking for something short, fun and local!
Overall, I think Arequipa was my favorite city to visit during this trip, and I strongly suggest you add it to your itinerary!
Next up – Puno! Stay tuned!