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Introducing Arequipa

It’s hard playing second fiddle to Cuzco and Machu Picchu on Peru’s international tourist circuit, not that this little detail makes the average arequipeño jealous. Other Peruvians joke that you need a different passport to enter Peru’s second-largest city, a metropolis one-tenth of the size of the capital Lima but pugnaciously equal to it in terms of cuisine, historical significance and confident self-awareness. Guarded by not one but three dramatic volcanoes, the city enjoys a resplendent, if seismically precarious setting – earthquakes regularly wrack this region, the last big one causing significant damage in 2001. Fortunately, the city’s architecture, a formidable ensemble of baroque-mestizo buildings grafted out of the local white sillar rock, has so far withstood most of what Mother Earth has thrown at it. In 2000 the city’s central core earned a well-deserved Unesco World Heritage listing and the sight of the gigantic cathedral, with the ethereal image of 5825m El Misti rising behind it, is worth a visit alone. Pretty cityscapes aside, Arequipa has played a fundamental role in Peru’s gastronomic renaissance; classic spicy dishes such as rocoto relleno, chupe de camarones and ocopa best enjoyed in the city’s communal picantería restaurants, all hail from here. Arequipeños are also a proud people fond of intellectual debate, especially about their fervent political beliefs, which find voice through regular demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas. Not surprisingly, the city has produced one of Latin America’s most influential novelists, Mario Vargas Llosa, the literary genius who ran unsuccessfully for the Peruvian presidency in 1990.