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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 . 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 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 , 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 . 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.

Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

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.

Monastery, Arequipa, Peru

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.

Practical Info

Where I stayed: Wild Rovers
Where I ate: (for a well-worth it splurge), (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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42 Comments...
  • Shaz
    December 2 2013

    Happy belated birthday! That colourful drink looks delightful and Arequipa sounds like a lovely place to spend such an occasion.
    Shaz recently posted..

  • Emily
    December 2 2013

    You think you failed at capturing the city through the camera lens?? If that’s the case then the city must be even more impressive than your pictures show (which wowed me!). I’ll be putting Arequipa on my to-see list for April!
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Well, perhaps that has to do with the number of pictures I took! Outside of the monastery I think I had less than ten pictures of the city — pretty pitiful compared to my normal numbers! I was just not on the ball this time…

  • Laura
    December 2 2013

    Happy birthday! I’ve heard great things about Arequipa and it looks like a beautiful city to celebrate your birthday! Love the shots of the monastery.
    Laura recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Thanks Laura! It was perfect — well, minus the lack of decent cheap day spas 😛

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    December 2 2013

    Happy Birthday Meihoukai!! Arequipa looks like a great place to spend it. Although pretty much anywhere that a travel buddy buys you your age in shots could be good I guess 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Ha, I think that’s a VERY true statement! And at Peru prices, even better 🙂

  • Dave
    December 2 2013

    I never made it to Arequipa, though I wanted to visit. I ended up spending 6 months in Lima instead. Still want to go back one day!
    Dave recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I didn’t realize you spent so long in Lima! I spent six days here and people were telling me that was a lot…

      • Dave
        December 6 2013

        That’s a common reaction! I only stayed for two months at a time, using it as a base while visiting other places (Cusco, Tambopata, home for Xmas, other countries in South America).

        I found it a good place to get work done. Food is awesome. Cost of living is pretty low. Nightlife is similar to Colombia (which I like).
        Dave recently posted..

  • Beth
    December 2 2013

    Happy Birthday!! Arequipa looks like such a great city! Glad you had a great place to celebrate.

    The colors of all the walls are just so pretty!
    Beth recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I think I might have to base the next room I decorate on that color scheme! Maybe I should wait until I find a place I want to live in again before I start thinking about decorating, though… 🙂

  • egwg
    December 2 2013

    Nice pictures of Arequipa. I thought it was very charming as well.

    How did you get an elevated picture of the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa?

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      It was from the restaurant I mention in the “Essential Info” box; Restaurant on Top. Quite the hike, but great views!

  • Samantha
    December 3 2013

    Happy Birthday! It seems like you had quite an experience in Arequipa. Thanks for all the info.

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Happy to help, Samantha! Happy travels!

  • john bourke
    December 3 2013

    Oh Meihoukai, ….from birthday celebrations to the convent. Be sure not to stop at the FABULOUS HOTEL DEL REY in capital, San Jose, Costa Rica on your return. That will be the end of a perfect trip…I dare ya !Your aunt Karen, had a great Thanksgiving w/ family,…said she misses you… a special lady…a rascal who could no doubt pass on some good wisdom…very brilliant ! HAPPY BIRTHDAY LITTLE ONE…xojb. ps: look for interesting Ex Votos and Milagros; Silver ones, humorous, sentimental, artistic try to get antique…can be good buys and profitable…prevalent down there. I have a large collection from all over.

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I’m not sure if I’ll get to stop in Costa Rica on this trip, but if I do I’ll keep that tip in mind! Thanks John!

  • Sam
    December 3 2013

    Wow, you had a completely different experience in Arequipa to me. I still loved it, but my partner and I focused on getting work done while there, and we rented an apartment in a residential neighbourhood outside of the centre. I agree, though that the convent is best visited tour-free, just leaving yourself to wander, and despite being expensive (by Peruvian standards) is definitely worth it!
    Sam recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I think Arequipa would be a fantastic base for catching up on work! It’s the one place in Peru so far that I would have considered stopping to do so (if only the internet was better in Iquitos…)

  • Shaun
    December 3 2013

    Arequipa? Who knew! Glad to see someone doing more than just breezing through Lima and hitting up Machu Picchu.

    I wouldn’t miss going there.

    Happy bday!
    Shaun recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Actually, tomorrow marks two months I’ve been in Peru! I feel grateful I’ve had so much time to do all the things I’ve done. This is certainly a country worth not just the breeze through!

  • Hogga
    December 3 2013

    how is Alpaca meat?

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Being able to taste them all together like that was great for comparison. Personally I didn’t love it as much as the beef, but I’m glad I tried it!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    December 3 2013

    24! I always forget you’re such a baby. (That’s a good thing as you carry yourself so maturely!)

    Happy late birthday, pretty girl, and I think you captured the city pretty spectacularly. Honestly, I never had a desire to go to Peru until seeing all your colorful photos!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      That’s quite a compliment, Kristin, thank you! I would LOVE to see you post about Peru. And yes, people have always been telling me I’m an old lady stuck in a young person’s body. Just not everyone says it so nicely 🙂

  • Sally
    December 3 2013

    Happy birthday Meihoukai, sounds like you spent it in an interesting place!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    December 4 2013

    Slowly but surely I’m compiling a list of countries in South America that I could actually envision ditching Asia for! 😉 The food here in Asia is tough to consider leaving, but I do love how bright and cheery Arequipa seems to be! That nunnery in particular is so gorgeous. (Also, I bet you never imagined at 24 you’d be checking out the convent life… 😉 )
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      Ah, I can’t even think about Thai food right now! That said I have found plenty of Peruvian dishes that I really loved, and thankfully (or maybe not?) the people of Peru share my insane sweet tooth. But still… Thai food!

  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels
    December 4 2013

    Happy birthday! looks like you had an awesome time. I love the architecture there, which is something i usually dont notice at all, but i’d love to get one of those buildings and turn it into a cute little home! the possibilities for decorating are endless.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I know! Zoe and I discussed our desire to run out and buy some sky-blue paint after that visit…

  • TammyOnTheMove
    December 5 2013

    Arequipa looks so lovely. I think I might spend a few more days there than planned actually. I love colonial cities like this.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 6 2013

      I can’t wait for you to get to Peru… you’ll go crazy with love for it 🙂

  • Teri
    April 29 2015

    You make everywhere sound so great lady!

    Quick question: I have a short 12 days in Peru, I absolutely must go to Machu PIcchu/Cusco(3ish days), Huacachina(2-3 days), and trying to decide where else to divide my time. Leaning towards the Amazon but I hear Iquitos is better than Puerto Maldondo (but it’s so far!), but wondering if Arequipa, Colca Conyon, Lake Titicaca, etc… would be a better/easier/more worthwhile choice. What do you think?

    • Meihoukai
      May 1 2015

      Hey Teri! Sounds like you have about seven days to play with. If you want to see as much as possible you could split that remaining time between the jungle (if you want to go to Iquitos from Lima and time your return flight to connect with your international flight, but I enjoyed Puerto Maldonado immensely as well! check out my posts for what I think the strengths of each are) and Lake Titicaca. I adore Arequipa but the lake is such a unique experience, I feel like it can’t be missed — and doesn’t take much time to enjoy. Hope that helps!

  • Teri
    May 1 2015

    Thanks for the helpful advice! I was worried if I went to Puerto Maldonado (which is more convenient) instead of Iquitos, I’d be missing out. I’m actually very shocked that you a) respond at all and b) respond so promptly. Such discipline!

    Also, I see your latest posts are from Nicaragua. I LOVED it there. Had the best trip of my life there last November. I’m planning on going again this year. You NEED to check out Rise Up Surf. Amazeballs experience. Nicest people own and work there, intimate, gourmet, healthy food, great balance of downtime and activities. You’ll even love waking up at 5am to go surfing. They may be closed for holidays right now b/c it is their down season but middle of Nov is a great time.

    • Meihoukai
      May 3 2015

      I respond to comments every day 🙂 Emails on the other hand… my inbox is a mess! But glad to hear you have sorted it out — check out my posts on Puerto Maldonado for convincing that you won’t be missing out at all!

  • Michelle
    December 14 2015

    Heading to Peru for the Salkantay in January and will most likely head to Arequipa for my friend’s birthday the week after – you’ve convinced me! Thank you for keeping this blog and all the beautiful pictures. Love following every step of the way through the good and bad!
    Michelle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 15 2015

      Thank you Michelle! That is such a sweet thing to say. I might be biased, but I think Arequipa is a great place to celebrate a birthday 🙂 Enjoy!