Activities

Arequipa is the center for a raft of nebulous sights and activities dotted around the high country to the north and east of the city. Trekking, mountaineering and river running are the big three activities, but there are plenty more.

Trekking & Mountaineering

Information

The spectacular canyons around Arequipa offer many excellent hiking options. Trekking agencies can arrange off-the-beaten-track routes to suit your timeline and fitness level.

Trekking solo in the well-traveled Cañón del Colca area is popular and easy, but, if you’re nervous about hiking without guides or want to tackle more untrammeled routes, there are dozens of tour companies based in Arequipa that can arrange guided treks.

Superb mountains for climbing surround Arequipa. Adequate acclimatization for this area is essential and it’s best to have spent some time in Cuzco or Puno immediately before a high-altitude expedition. Cold temperatures, which sometimes drop to -29°C at the highest camps, necessitate very warm clothing.

The Association of Mountain Guides of Peru warns that many guides are uncertified and untrained, so climbers are advised to go well informed about medical and wilderness-survival issues. Most agencies sell climbs as packages that include transport, so prices vary widely depending on the size of the group and the mountain, but the cost for a guide alone is around US$80 per day.

Although you can trek year-round, the best (ie driest) time is from April to December.

Maps of the area can be obtained from Colca Trek in Arequipa or the Instituto Geográfico Nacional and South American Explorers Club in Lima. Carlos Zárate Adventures and Peru Camping Shop rent tents, ice axes, crampons, stoves and boots.

When to Go

Although you can trek year-round, the best (ie driest) time is from April to December.

Equipment

Carlos Zárate Adventures and Peru Camping Shop rent tents, ice axes, crampons, stoves and boots.

Maps

Maps of the area can be obtained from Colca Trek in Arequipa or the Instituto Geográfico Nacional and South American Explorers Club in Lima.

River Running

Arequipa is one of Peru’s premier bases for river running and kayaking. Many trips are unavailable during the rainy season (between December and March), when water levels can be dangerously high. For more information and advice, surf www.peruwhitewater.com.

The Río Chili, about 7km from Arequipa, is the most frequently run local river, with a half-day trip suitable for beginners leaving almost daily from April to November (from US$40). Further afield, you can also do relatively easy trips on the Río Majes, into which the Río Colca flows. The most commonly run stretches pass class II and III rapids.

A more off-the-beaten-track possibility is the remote Río Cotahuasi, a white-water adventure – not for the fainthearted – that reaches into the deepest sections of what is perhaps the world’s deepest known canyon. Expeditions here are infrequent and only for the experienced, usually taking nine days and passing through class IV and V rapids. The Río Colca was first run back in 1981, but this is a dangerous, difficult trip, not to be undertaken lightly. A few outfitters will do infrequent and expensive rafting trips, and easier sections can be found upriver from the canyon.

Mountain Biking

The Arequipa area has many mountain-biking possibilities. Many of the same companies that offer trekking or mountain-climbing trips also organize downhill volcano mountain-biking trips at Chachani and El Misti or can arrange tailor-made tours. If you have the experience and wherewithal, these agencies can rent you high-end bikes and offer expert trip-planning advice to help get you started on your own. For more basic machines, try Peru Camping Shop which rents bikes by the half-day for S35 including helmet, gloves and a map of the area. It also organizes downhill cycling blasts in the vicinity of El Misti for S68 (one day) with transport.

Guided Tours

The streets of Santa Catalina and Jerusalén harbor dozens of travel agencies offering ho-hum city tours and excursions to the canyon country, most with daily departures. While some agencies are professional, there are also plenty of carpetbaggers muscling in on the action, so shop carefully. Never accept tours from street touts and, where possible, tours should be paid for in cash, as occasional credit-card fraud is reported.

The standard two-day tour of the Cañón del Colca costs S65 to S225 per person, depending on the season, group size and the comfort level of the hotel you stay at in Chivay. Different agencies may sell you tickets for the same tours, so shop around. All tours leave Arequipa between 7am and 9am. Stops include the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, Chivay, Calera hot springs, an evening peña (bar or club featuring live folkloric music; at an additional fee) plus a visit to the Cruz del Cóndor.

Courses

Want to learn to speak Spanish? Immersion is the best way and Arequipa provides plenty of opportunities to hook up on a course while practicing with the locals in the evenings. Book in with a recommended agency and you’ll be reading Mario Vargas Llosa in the original before you know it.

Sleeping

Central Arequipa is peppered with hotels of all shapes, sizes and prices. Due to the nature of the architecture in this Unesco World Heritage zone, many of them inhabit attractive, thick-walled sillar buildings. Cable TV and free wi-fi are pretty much a given in all but the bottom-rung places. Breakfast is also usually included though it is little more than bread, jam and coffee in the cheaper joints. Prices can fluctuate greatly even during high season (June to August).

Eating

Hunker down. If you want to truly ‘get’ Arequipa, you have some serious food sampling to enjoy. Start with the basics: rocoto relleno and chupe de camarones and work up to the stuff you’ll never find east of the Amazon (at least on a dinner plate) – guinea pig, anyone? Trendy upscale restaurants line Calle San Francisco north of the Plaza de Armas, while touristy outdoor cafes huddle together on Pasaje Catedral, behind the cathedral and away from the plaza.

Drinking & Nightlife

The nocturnal scene in Arequipa is pretty slow midweek but takes off on weekends. Arequipa’s nightlife is as vital as Lima’s, but confined to a smaller downtown area. Anyone who’s anyone can be seen strolling Calle San Francisco sometime after 9pm on a Friday or Saturday, and many of the bars there offer happy-hour specials worth enjoying. The 300 block (between Ugarte and Zela) has the highest concentration of places to compare fashion notes.

Entertainment

Av Dolores, 2km southeast of the center (a taxi costs around S5 one way), is where salsa and cumbia (Colombian salsa-like dance and musical style) music and dancing predominate.

Sports

Conducted arequipeño style, peleas de toros (bullfights) here are less bloodthirsty than most. They involve pitting two bulls against each other for the favors of a fertile female until one realizes he’s beaten. The fights take place on Sundays between April and December. Ask at your hostel for the location of fights – they usually take place at stadiums on the outskirts of town. The three most important fights are in April, mid-August and early December (admission S18).

Shopping

Arequipa overflows with antique and artisan shops, especially on the streets around Monasterio de Santa Catalina. High-quality leather, alpaca and vicuña (threatened wild relative of alpacas) goods, and other handmade items, are what you’ll most often see being sold.