Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible for us live in our Airbnb desert oasis in Ica forever. The next stop on our journey was to Arequipa, Peru. A city considered to be the second most important city in Peru.
Roller Coaster Bus Ride
As soon as we left the bus station in Ica, our week of relaxation came to an end. We set off on the bus for our 14 hour overnight bus ride. What a ride it was. Either the bus drivers were too comfortable with this route, or they had some daredevil in them. Riding up through the mountains on roads that were barely wide enough for the bus, in the dark, doing about 70kph, with minimal to no guardrails didn’t make for a relaxing ride. We all tried to get some sleep but that wasn’t much of an option as it felt like we were on a never ending roller coaster. We made it to the Arequipa bus station around 10am and quickly rounded up our backpacks and found a taxi to take us to our hostel in the historic center. Our hostel, Los Andes, was located just 500 meters from the center square and features large rooms and roof top balcony with amazing sunset views of 3 local volcanoes.
Arequipa, “La Ciudad Blanca” (the city of white), named for its baroque buildings constructed from sillar, a white volcanic stone. The historic city center is anchored by the Plaza des Armas, a stately main square flanked by a 17th century Basilica Cathedral on the north end, a staggering provincial government building to the south, commercial buildings with stately balconies to the east and west. All this surrounding gardens and a water fountain in the center. Outside the city, 3 volcanoes, one of which is still active, tower over Arequipa. El Misti, Pikchu Pikchu and Chachani. Seeing these giants of nature up close was awe inspiring. Then when we realized that they weren’t as close as they appeared. WOW!!
Our days were spent wandering the streets of this beautiful city, looking through the local shops, and tasting some delicious local cuisine .We were able to fully explore the incredible architecture of days gone by as there are many little squares and nooks that are still original hidden among the restaurants and shop facing the streets. On one of the days we had lunch at the local McDonalds as a little familiar food can help ward off the homesickness we have all experienced on this trip.
Guided Walking Tour
On our second day, we decided to take advantage of the free walking tour that some cities in Peru offer. We wish we had done it on our first day, as the tour was led by local tourism students who showed us their city, and taught us about the history, as well as sites we should visit while in Arequipa. We visited La Compania Jesuit Church which was built between 1590 and 1698, they took us to the San Camilo market, the largest in the city, that sold everything from fruits and veggies, egg, bread, meats, trinkets and toys to herbs, potions and llama fetuses for shaman offerings. That’s right, llama fetuses. Don’t worry though. The fetuses were already dead from natural causes before being used as offerings to Pachamama (Mother Earth). The ceremonies are apparently quite complex. We have yet to see one, but we were told that they are quite interesting.
The next stop on the tour was to Mundo Alpaca, a small Alpaca farm in the middle of the city that makes clothing from the fleece of these amazing animals. We learned the process from the time the alpacas are shaved to the finished products. Alpalca fleece is used to make everything from scarves, mittens, sweaters, coats, etc… There was also a man raised in old Andean traditions, weaving tapestries just like they did hundreds of years ago. Talk about talent and patience.
Once we finished at the farm, we headed to a local chocolate factory, Chaqchao, where you can learn how to make chocolate from scratch. We didn’t take the class, but we did get to sample some real organic chocolate which was different from what we’re used to but very delicious. There was a little cafe and micro brewery upstairs that served a beer made from cocoa.
We finished off the tour at a lovely little restaurant where we were all treated to Pisco Sours, a local drink, that is absolutely delicious. The kids didn’t partake but were given fresh lemonade, to toast with.
Family Fun Valentines Day
The following day was Valentine’s Day, and what better way to celebrate the day than with the family at the chocolate factory cafe. We all shared a chocolate brownie, a piece of chocolate cake, and hot chocolate. The micro brewery made a hard cider called Crazy Alpalca that we had to try. The chocolate was a bit too bitter and rich for the kids, so that left more for us adults.
The beautiful architecture and friendly locals of Arequipa definitely left a big impression on us and we look forward to returning to this regal city one day.