After a comfortable overnight bus ride from Cusco, we arrived in Peru’s second biggest city: Arequipa. This was one of those places that we had hardly heard of before leaving on this trip, but it came highly recommended by most other travellers we had met along the way. Arequipa was also the largest city near the Colca Canyon – a beautiful natural attraction that again had received high praise from other travellers. The idea therefore was to spend two nights in town, then go hiking in the Colca Canyon and then come back to town for two more nights.
We spent our first two days in town exploring the city and indulging in some of its culinary delights. Being much closer to the Pacific coast, seafood was featured much more prominently on its restaurants’ menus. We had some delicious shrimp and prawns, but the piece de resistance was unquestionably the ceviche (raw fish “cooked” in salt and lime juice).
After a relaxing couple of days in town, we boarded a fairly well-travelled bus to Cabanaconde, the small town where we would begin our hike in the Colca Canyon (for any would-be travellers, Reyna was the bus company). The Colca Canyon was a spectacular sight – it is actually twice as deep as the Grand Canyon (though not quite as sheer). We were both very excited for this hike that descended all the way to the bottom of the Canyon as it could easily be completed unguided and without camping equipment. At the base of the canyon there are a multitude of small towns with basic eateries and accommodation.
Our bus’ 8:30am departure from Arequipa got us into Cabanaconde at 2:30pm – plenty of time for a quick lunch and the hike into the canyon before sunset. It took us about 2.5 hours to hike from Cabanaconde (3,300m) down to San Juan (2,200m), the tiny town where we spent our first night. Apart from finding the trailhead, which locals were all too happy to assist with, the path was easy to follow. Greeting us in San Juan was Gloria who quickly ushered us to her basic, but more than adequate accommodation. Everything at Hostel Gloria cost 10 Peruvian Soles (about 4 CND dollars) per person, the bed and the dinner (breakfast may have been less…). Anyhow, it was cheap, clean and comfortable. We were fed alpaca steaks for dinner for goodness sakes. And of course the setting was superb, the sunset was breathtaking – life was good.
On day 2, after devouring Gloria’s chocolate crepes, we headed off to Llawar (2,100m). Unfortunately, the trail climbed back up another 600m before eventually descending back down to Llawar, which was little more than two hostels on the bank of the river. We left San Juan at about 8:00am and arrived in Llawar at about 12:30pm, we had made better time than expected. Once we arrived in Llawar, we opted to stay in the hostel that had hot springs right beside the river – it was a good choice. A sunny afternoon simply slipped away after a dip in the river and hot springs and, of course, a nap.
On day 3 we started hiking at 6:30am as we had the task of climbing all the way back up to Cabanaconde in time for an early afternoon bus. By 8:00am the sun was beating down and it was getting hot, but the scenery continued to amaze us. We arrived in Cabanaconde at about noon and jumped on the first bus back to Arequipa (6 more hours…).
Back in Arequipa for two more nights, we ate more delicious food and partook in a rather uneventful walking tour of the city. On our last day though, we signed-up for a Peruvian cooking class where we cooked ceviche and fried fish. After all the cooking and eating, we headed upstairs for a lesson on making Pisco Sours (the classic Peruvian cocktail). The whole day was great fun.
Overall, Arequipa was less impressive than we had anticipated (too much hype perhaps). Certainly a nice enough place, but the city and its natural surroundings lack the wow-factor of Cusco. Arequipa’s saving grace is its gastronomy and nightlife. We also can’t figure out why Arequipa has become the de facto starting point for the Colca Canyon – they’re 6 hours away from each other! If coming from Cusco, you’d be better off stopping off at the Colca Canyon en route to Arequipa rather than going straight to Arequipa then backtracking to the Colca Canyon (there’s our travel tip for this post).
Where we stayed: Azul Colonial – definitely worth the walk from the centre.
Top eats: ZigZag, Paladar 1900 and Qaya
Best activity: Cooking class with Peruvian Cooking Experience – so much fun! Skip the free walking tour in Arequipa.