The drive was long, slow and for the most part painful. As mentioned in Andrew’s previous blog it took 16 + hours to arrive to our destination of Arequipa. When we finally arrived at the city’s bus terminal the owner of the hostel that we would be staying at was there to greet us and to take us back to her lovely abode. This was an incredibly nice gesture and overall our stay at this place was incredibly pleasant. If you ever do choose to visit Arequipa I highly recommend the Sol de Oro hostel. Okay, now that I am done giving free promotional plugs, let me move on…
Arequipa located in Southern Peru is the second largest city in Peru after Lima. It was nicknamed the “White City” because of its colonial era Spanish buildings that were built with Sillar, a white volcanic rock. The city is in fact, surrounded by volcanoes most notably Chachani and El Misti, which rises 5,822 meters above sea level making for incredible panoramic views from most parts of the downtown area. It is an incredibly popular tourist area, not only for its own unique landmarks such as the Santa Cantalina monastery, the cathedral of Arequipa and of course the volcanoes but it also the Colca Canyon is also quite close (100 km.) These factors as well as the city’s close proximity to Cusco make Arequipa a much targeted destination for travelers. So much in fact that tour agencies, which provide treks up the volcanoes and down into the canyon floor, take up a majority of the storefronts surrounding the Plaza de Armas.
While visiting Arequipa, Andrew and I decided that it was part of our duty as tourists to join other fellow visitors on a long, jam-packed expedition to the Colca Canyon. Now, I only sound negative about the experience purely because I hate the feeling of being herded from place to place only because I am not from the area and therefore need a short leash to admire the sites. Tours are simply not for me. That being said, the Colca Canyon and seeing the endangered Condors fly above was breathtaking.
Along the way, to and from, the Colca Canyon we passed through a region which hosts Incan agriculture terraces. The terraces are basically plantation fields on the sides of mountains used for growing crops and potatoes. Because there is very little flat space in this mountainous region the Incas decided to transform the mountain sides into levels of agricultural land and used aqueducts with water from the summit of the mountain to irrigate. This method of farming proved so successful that farmers today are still using the terraces to cultivate their crops and not much of the system has been changed since. Viewing these terraces was truly a site to behold- not only was it really cool to see the landscape but it also left me to ponder the talent and hard work that went in to building the terraces.
Another great attraction of Arequipa, which I have not mentioned yet, is the amazing food that comes out of this region. Arequipa has it’s own style of cuisine which is seasoned much differently than anywhere else in Peru. This style of cuisine can be found at the local Picanterías; traditional restaurants in the region. As the name of these restaurants suggest most of the dishes are spicy, generally with aji (chilli pepper.) Rocoto Rellena, is an emblematic dish of Arequipa and is also one of the most popular to try while visiting. Rocoto, is a red pepper, very similar in appearance to a red bell pepper but in fact quite hot. For this dish the pepper is de-veined and seeded in order to reduce the heat that is produced from these elements. It is then stuffed with a mixture of spiced ground meat, onions, peanuts, olives, egg white and then cooked in the oven with potatoes covered with cheese and milk. Absolute deliciousness- I liked it so much that I had to have it twice in the 3 days that we were there.
All in all Arequipa is a great place to visit. The city is very inviting; always sunny and has many options of sites to see. If you’re like me it might be hard to succumb and do the tours but I believe that is the only way that you can really go and see the Colca Canyon. If you do plan on visit at some point make sure that you get to see the agricultural terraces and of course eat some local cuisine.