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Arequipa is a Peruvian city in the far south of the country that is nestled 2380m above sea level in the Andes, about a half a day drive from the coast. Known as the "White city", from its white stone buildings of unique architecture dating from the Spanish days, it has a very strong European feel. The city is Peru's second biggest city after Lima. We arrived here by bus from the coast which meant it gave us our initial experience of high altitude - take it easy and acclimatize gradually before you attempt to do anything!
===Plaza de Armas===
The heart and main square in the city is the Plaza de Armas and is probably the most beautiful of any city that we visited in Peru. During our stay, we saw a concert taking place there in the evening, and a demonstration during the day. Shops and cafes adorn the square and are a good place to take a leisurely breakfast. On the square is the city's colonial era Cathedral - an imposing site that is a definite must see. It is hard to give a precise age for the cathedral, since was damaged in earthquakes and fires several times in the 16th and 17th century.
We stayed in the Conquistador hotel. This was a three star hotel that was about 5 minute walk from the Plaza de Armas. It was comfortable and clean and had internet acces and televisions in the hotel rooms. The rooms currently cost US$49 per night for a twin room according to their web site and the hotel had a restaurant that served a passable breakfast that was included in the price.
We visited several restaurants during our stay, but only one stuck out as a bit different - restaurant Zigzag. It is a two-tier restaurant close to the Plaza de Armas. Meat eaters can tuck into a trio of stone-grilled ostrich, alpaca and beef steaks, and get given a stylish bib with a cartoon animal on representing the animal being eaten. Vegetarians should try one of the quinoa dishes - this is a staple seed of South America which is highly nutritious and tastes a little like cous cous. Dinner here cost about US$25 including wine.
The night life here is extremely varied. Live music was easy to find, as were bars and clubs. The restaurants are open very late, so a relaxed late dinner is another option. The busy streets felt a little overcrowded, though, and we were warned about crime against tourists in the evening - mainly pick pocketing rather than violent crime.
This is a good place to buy souvenirs, but the city of Cuzco is better, if you are visiting. Alpaca wool clothes are extremely cheap in comparison to the UK, but make sure your luggage allowance is sufficient - they are heavy. I came back with nearly twice as much luggage by weight as I went out with!
If you have the opportunity, do take a taxi out of the city to the viewing tower at Sachaca in time for sunset. From here there are unrivalled views of nearby El Misti, a snow-capped volcano that is over 5800m high. At dusk, the mountain was coloured a bright red colour, which makes for spectacular photographs. The viewing tower (el Mirador in Spanish) is a five storied high white tower located in a small village in the middle of vast flat fields, making for a stunning panorama. If you are newly arrived at this altitude, take care to take it slowly as you climb the tower - it's a fairly strenuous climb if you can't breathe as easily because of the reduced oxygen levels.
To get there, we piled four deep into the back of a taxi (and one in the front), then started a hair-raising experience that made us glad we were so tightly wedged in, since there were no seatbelts. The driving style involved veering between mini-gaps in the traffic to make progress - I'm sure they must have teleport technology installed in the cars to make such navigation possible. The driver then waited around for us and picked us up after sunset. The trip back to the city was even more alarming because the taxi had no lights after the electrics caught fire and billowed smoke from the bonnet and air vents. This excursion cost us around $15 per person.
===Juanita, the Ice Princess===
Arequipa is the current resting place of Juanita, the Inca Maiden and ice mummy. She was a young girl who lived during the Inca period around 560 years ago and who was selected as a sacrifice on behalf of her people, a ritual called capacocha. Child sacrifices occurred during important or difficult periods (e.g. crop failure) and were of the most perfect children. These children were fattened up before being taken up high into the mountains, given calming drugs and then sacrificed. Their bodies were reverently wrapped and buried or placed in sheltered places near the summit, together with many burial goods, such as dolls. This was Juanita's fate, and the year-round snowy climate can caused excellent preservation of the body in a natural mummification process. Then, centuries later in the 1990s, she was discovered by climbers. After intensive study, she was put on display in the Museu Satuarios Andinos museum in Arequipa, where I visited her. Visiting this museum costs US$5.
===Some other activities nearby===
We weren't feeling up to it because of the altitude, but mountain biking is a very popular activity around Arequipa. For the real hiking enthusiast, there are some very strenuous trails in the mountains, including up El Misti.
Deserving entire reviews in their own right are Colca Canyon and Santa Catalina convent. In brief, Colca canyon is one of the few places in the world to go to see Andean Condors (which inspired the tune El Condor Pasa, a tune that soon annoys with its omnipresence in all the cafes and hotels in Peru). The canyon is deeper than the Grand canyon, and requires a good head for heights to visit.
Santa Catalina Convent is located in the city centre and is a cloistered convent that is open to tourists to see how the nuns lived and worked in their sheltered world.
Arequipa is a beautiful and unique city that is nothing like the rest of Peru. If you visit Peru, you must come here for a few days to look at the colonial era architecture.
Review will be posted elsewhere