The heritage in Peru’s second city

Peru’s second largest city is a hub of heritage – but not of Incan or ancient civilisations. This is a city of colonisers set in a challenging environment.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Arequipa, Peru

I pull in to Arequipa early in the morning. I’m getting used to these overnight buses in Peru that arrive around dawn and I quite enjoy having a full day to explore once I’ve arrived.

It’s also nice to see a city as the sun’s rays start to touch it, before the locals fill the streets, and the shops open.

The bus station here in Arequipa is out of the city centre so I jump in a taxi and ask the driver to drop me at the central square so I can get a feel for the atmosphere.

I haven’t booked any accommodation so I also need make a plan to find some… and wait until it’s a slightly more reasonable time to turn up unannounced.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

In the main square – Plaza de Armas – I sit on a bench and look around at the architecture. There are shops, restaurants and public organisations, all in historic structures. With its archways, cathedral, and colonial buildings, this is one of the most important neoclassical collections in the country.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

The centre of the square, with its fountain and grassed areas is quiet now but I know that later in the day it’ll be full. Some of the people will be tourists, but many will be locals who come here to have lunch or relax.

This is not one of the busiest parts of the country for tourism although there is a decent amount of people who pass through on trips of southern Peru.

The city of Arequipa has been declared a World Heritage Site but, unlike many of the other sites in Peru, it’s the Spanish influence that is being preserved here.

Arequipa doesn’t have Incan ruins or structures from ancient civilisations. This is a city of conquerors.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru
Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

Arequipa was first founded as a village in the late 1540s. Over the years different styles of design were brought in here. Baroque, then rococo, neoclassicism, and modern empiricism. All through the city are chapels, churches and monasteries – the most famous being the monastery of Santa Catalina.

The centre of Arequipa has a grid structure, making it easy to navigate. There are 49 blocks of the original Spanish layout

Different blocks seem to have different focuses – a shoes block, an optometrist block, a mattress block. Gates and ornate doorways stand directly at the edge of the footpath but, looking through, you can see into beautiful courtyards.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru
Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

Considering this is the second largest city in Peru, it feels remarkably quiet. That’s not to say the traffic isn’t bad and there aren’t lots of people on the street – it’s just that things are much more laidback than you might expect for an urban area of almost a million people.

It feels more like Cusco than Lima.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

Perhaps it’s the altitude – at 2,300 metres high, the air is thinner than the coast and that seems to slow people down a bit. Perhaps it’s the natural scenery. Impressive snow-capped mountains surrounding Arequipa make it feel more like an expansion of the environment.

Arequipa, World Heritage Site, Peru

And that’s the charm of the city. You can think of it as an architectural symbol of the new world the Spanish created in Peru or you can see it as a mere spot in the greater nature that has always existed.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about Arequipa when you’re here, you’ll get a lot more out of a tour with a local and there are a few that I would recommend:


Challenged by environmental conditions, influenced by indigenous crafts, Arequipa deserves its heritage listing.


I would recommend staying in the historic centre of Arequipa. It’s the most beautiful part and there’s lots of great accommodation.


I would recommend Friendly AQP as a really comfortable backpacker option.


There are lots of affordable hotels but I think El Portal De San Lázaro is one of the best value.


For something more upmarket, Palla Boutique Hotel is beautiful and has an incredible rooftop!


And when it comes to luxury, I think the nicest hotel in the city is CIRQA – Relais & Châteaux.


This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
I'm on a mission to visit as many World Heritage Sites as I can. Only about 800 more to go... eek!

6 thoughts on “The heritage in Peru’s second city”

  1. Gorgeous photos! I never made it to Arequipa, but definitely know what you mean in the comparison between Lima and Cusco- sounds like my kind of place! Thank you for sharing your insights- I’ve been missing South America and these are exactly the kind of posts I need :c)

  2. I’ve never seen Arequipa in such beautiful images before. Those Spanish colonial buildings with intricate decorative elements, I know I will love this city. As for exploring places early in the morning, that’s always the best way to beat the crowd.

  3. It seems something went wrong with my previous message. What I wanted to say is…The architecture is stunning! You shot some fantastic pictures. It’s not what I’ve seen in my mind’s eye when thinking of a city in Peru. Thanks for sharing!


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