So you acclimated to the altitude in Cusco,
you trekked the amazing Inca Trail
to jaw-dropping, bucket-list topping Machu Picchu - and now you’re wondering what to do next, right? Chances are, you could really use a couple of low key days of well deserved R&R. At least that’s what I was thinking when I rolled in to Arequipa last March. “Just a couple of days”, I thought, ”and then I’ll hit the road to Chile!”. And right about then I got well and truly stuck. Not actually physically stuck mind you, more like wrapped in a cocoon of good things that keeps you magnetically locked in the place where you are. That’s Arequipa for me.
The weather was brilliantly clear and sunny - hitting that sweet spot in the low 80′s every day (high 20′s if you’re metric-y). The food was outstanding – as it is all over this country (I’d go so far as to award Peru “Best Cuisine in South America!), and Arequipa was no exception. Between those two things, the friendly people, the ease of getting around the city on foot, the unbelievably cheap accommodations, and the weird nightlife – it all combined to keep me quite contentedly stalled. Besides the famous Monasteria de Santa Catalina and the allure of nearby Colca Canyon – here are a few of my favorite things in this cool little town.
Every major South American city has a Plaza de Armas – but the one found in Arequipa is hands-down the most gorgeous I’ve had the pleasure to spend time in. It is bustling with people day and night and filled with locals and tourists alike. The feeding of the pigeons though has clearly gotten out of hand. I had a Hitchcock moment when the flock nearby got startled. Oh my.
In the modern world of ubiquitous technology, where there seems to be a smartphone in everyone’s pocket (even in Peru
), who would have guessed there is still a job for letter-writers in the plaza. These amazing administrative wizards can be heard cllck-clacking away at an amazing speed on their manual typewriters. They pump out some fine-looking letters with classic old school formal formatting. No white-out in sight.
In every country, or region within a country, there are at least a few specialty street foods that are pretty unique to that area. Overall the sheer variety of cheap & delicious things that can be bought to eat street or beach-side is overwhelming. In Arequipa an interesting addition was cooked quail eggs… more for the enterprising street vendors than the taste. Most have the entire supply chain contained within their cart. The first level is the farm, the second level is the processing plant, and the 3rd level is retail - direct to the consumer! Few businesses I can think of run this self-sufficiently. Well, maybe prostitution.
What’s not to love about a city that has created a dish specifically for the purpose of curing hangovers! It’s known as “adobo arequipeño” and is usually available only on Sundays at just about every restaurant starting around 4 am and disappearing by early afternoon. Prime hangover time, am I right? This pork chop filled soup is made with simmering onions, rocoto, the cob of purple corn, peppercorn, garlic, cumin, and Peruvian spices. It’s tangy with a nice hint of spice and most always served with bread to sop up the lard-laden broth. If you like to throw down on some swine, you’ll adore adobo arequipeño.
Quirky nightlife is abundant in Arequipa. On the very same night I found two bands at different venues playing hot hot hits from everyone’s favorite American 70′s band “Deep Purple”. Wait. What? Seriously. An all Spanish band in one spot was givin’ it all moody with ”Smoke On The Water”, and across the street – an awesome rendition of ”Highway Star” replete with an enthusiastic neck bobbing crowd - Wayne’s World style. Next door to that - an all hombres quartet kickin’ a classic Doors set. I wound up my last and most memorable night in this city belting out the Beatles “Let It Be” along with the band and every single one of the hundred or so other bar patrons, thinking this city deserved far better than my off-key serenade. Well, at least it was heartfelt.
Have you ever been contentedly stuck somewhere unexpected like this? Talk to me.
If you like this article, check out Find Your Place in Peru and What Type of Sourvenir Shopper Are You?