Relaxing in Arequipa

After a couple of days back in Cusco it was time for another excursion – this time to a new and unknown area of Peru. I’ve been interested in traveling to Arequipa since I got here due to the inspiring pictures of the palm-treed city with snow-capped volcanoes looming in the distance and the mouth-watering descriptions of the local cuisine. So, we packed our bags once again and bought tickets on Cruz del Sur’s overnight bus that would leave Cusco at 8:30pm and arrive in Arequipa at roughly 6:30am.
Side note: although more expensive than other bus line options, Cruz del Sur offers unsurpassed amenities for a bus trip including a private, clean, well-lighted terminal in Cusco, clean bathrooms, seats that can be fully reclined into beds, meals, movies, and wi-fi. If you are booking a package tour that includes a bus trip this is most likely the bus line you will be taking and you should be very, very glad.

Stepping out of the bus station I was immediately impressed by the views of the volcanoes, and how close they and the additional peaks surrounding the city seemed. A short cab ride took us to Hotel Posada del Parque that, mercifully, had a room available for early check-in – where we promptly passed out for a few additional hours of sleep. When we felt recharged we decided to take a walk around the city, and maybe hit a few of the museums or cathedrals. We started with the Plaza de Armas, an impressive line-up of ornate colonial-era buildings constructed from the white volcanic rock silar, centered around a lovely manicured plaza complete with massive palm trees and a fountain. Restaurants and shops line the plaza offering local dishes such as rocotto relleno, a baked pepper stuffed with a mixture of meat, vegetables, and spices, as well as more basic café fare. The second and third floors of the buildings are generally reserved for restaurants/bars that offer impressive views (and somewhat inflated drink prices).

We decided to narrow our museum visiting to the Museo de Santuario, home to the world renowned ice princess “Juanita”. Discovered during an archaeologist’s mountaineering venture in 1995, Juanita was one of four children believed to have been sacrificed at the same time on the 21,000ft summit of Ampato as an offering to the gods, most likely after a series of eruptions or similar natural disasters threatened the people. But of these four, it is Juanita who captured the world’s attention and attractions many thousands of visitors each year. For 20 soles you get admission to the museum, a highly dramatic film documenting the discovery interspersed with re-enactments of the arduous journey and ornate ceremonies that proceeded the childrens’ deaths, and a guided tour that builds up to a close up viewing of Juanita. I won’t say more about what it’s like to see an almost perfectly preserved 500+ year old body in order to leave some mystery for you to discover should you to visit. There are also a number of other interesting artifacts including the ceremonial offerings the children were buried with on display.

After our time in the dark museum dwelling on child sacrifice we were ready to dive into the more festive side of Arequipa: it’s amazing culinary scene. If you come to Arequipa, and all you do is eat, I would still say you made great use of your time – because the food here is incredible. Arequipa’s proximity to the coast make the seafood dishes particularly delicious. We chose a place off the pedestrian alley that runs behind the cathedral called Mixto’s that offered a fairly expansive menu and reasonable prices. We ordered a seafood stew, a mixed seafood ceviche that included squid and octopus as well as the white fish corvina, and a layer-cake style tower of potato and a well-seasoned shrimp and fish mixture. Needless to say, we did not leave hungry.
If we had spent more time in Arequipa I may have rendered myself unable to walk by stuffing myself to the gills, so it’s actually good that we had to move on the next day.