When planning my Peru itinerary, there was a very special date I had to take into consideration: my twenty-fourth birthday. I still celebrate the anniversary of my birth with all the zeal of a ten year old planning a princess tea party for all her girl scout friends, and being on the road was not going to dampen that enthusiasm.
So I settled on Arequipa as the perfect celebration destination — as Peru’s second largest city, there were sure to be ample opportunities for a great meal, a good night out, and a massage the next day to recover. It was a successful two out of three — Arequipa is strangely devoid of spas. However, this turned out to be one of my favorite stops in Peru thanks to a couple of factors, including ample sunshine, a great hostel, amazing food, and a fantastic group of people.
Sadly, I think Arequipa is also the Peruvian city I failed most spectacularly as capturing through my camera lens. Frankly, we kind of took a break from sightseeing and just took a few days to enjoy our last few days together — Arequipa was Zoe’s last stop — over guilty pleasures like pool-side breakfasts, Law and Order reruns in bed, indulgent afternoons at nice restaurants, and happy hour mojitos at the hostel. For my birthday dinner, Zoe and I grabbed Leah, a girl we’d shared a cab with that day (how all great travel friendships begin) and headed to Zig Zag. This traveler favorite had all the trappings of a special-event eatery, ie. cocktails in ostrich eggs, bibs with funny cartoons, and portions made for sharing.
The night ended, at least in my memory, with Zoe purchasing twenty four shots back at the hostel bar — they gave her a very good deal, she assured me. Our evenings in Arequipa continued in this fashion, with us getting increasingly involved in the theme nights and strange-body-trick competitions at the Wild Rovers bar. This was our first true “party hostel” of the trip and aside from Halloween in Cusco and a strange Saturday in Iquitos, this was the first time in Peru I’d actually had a proper night out.
So I guess you could say that we were ready to let loose.
In keeping with our “do little” motto for Arequipa, we spent a fair amount of time simply wandering and window shopping. Cute cafes and charming antique stores aided in this mission, and I did a bulk of my Christmas shopping within the city.
Despite being burned out on the tourist circuit there were two sights in Arequipa that we just couldn’t miss. The first was Museo Santuarios Andinos, home of the Inca Ice Maiden. “Juanita” was sacrificed to the Inca gods in the mid 1400’s — a fate made infamous when her frozen body was found in 1995 by explorers hoping that an exploding volcano would reveal artifacts in nearby melting glaciers.
The compulsory guided tour of the museum was short and interesting, and ended with a peek at Juanita herself. Unfortunately photos are not allowed within the galleries, but in my opinion it is an unmissable stop in Arequipa.
The second sight was the 16th century Santa Catalina Monastery. Here, we skipped the tour in favor of wandering at our leisure, snapping photos and admiring the peace within the walls. This city-within-a-city housed up to 450 people at the height of its influence and far from exemplified a vow of poverty lifestyle. Nuns at this monastery were infamous for their extravagant wealth, and families paid dowries equivalent to $150,000 today in order for their daughters to enter.
I felt incredibly inspired by the bold colors within the monastery. The blue interiors blended with the skies beyond, the white ceilings seemed reminiscent of snow-capped mountains, and the burnt orange walls reminded me of the red dirt of the Peruvian desert.
Though at 35 soles (about $12US) it was the most expensive tourist attraction we paid to enter throughout Peru, it was worth every centavo. I wished I had brought along a book and a bag full of snacks, as it would have been the perfect place for an impromptu picnic and a day of relaxing in a stunning setting.
Arequipa was the first place on this trip that I was truly sad to leave. Had I not had a handsome Danish man waiting for me back in Cusco, I could have pre-paid another week at the Wild Rover and happily spent the time working my days away by the pool. She may not have the charm of Cusco or the chaos of Lima, but Arequipa’s got sunshine in spades.
Where I stayed: Wild Rovers
Where I ate: Zig Zag (for a well-worth it splurge), Crepisimo (for the best sandwiches in Peru!), Restaurant on Top (for an amazing view of the cathedral)
How I got there: For the 5 hour ride from Puno we took a local bus for 20 soles (about 7US). We paid 6 soles for a cab from the bus station to the hostel.
Bonus Tip: Dress warmly for the Museo Santuarios Andinos — it’s freezing in there! Also, bring a student ID if you have one for half off the 20 sole admission.
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