Immersive Travel Arequipa

Immersive Travel Arequipa

Immersive Travel Arequipa is the 3rd destination of three in the Peru itinerary. The details related to planning for this destination and the others on the Peru circuit are described in The Peru Travel Planning post.

Ollantaytambo was all about Inca history, and tradition – especially because it was the gateway to Machu Picchu. Cusco was steeped in Inca history and tradition as well. Most of the old city center was built on the foundations of Inca construction, and there was a statue of Pachacuti Inca in the center of the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. Arequipa was different. There were no Inca ruins in Arequipa, and little history specific to the Inca as well. Arequipa was mostly about Spanish colonial heritage, and the evolution of the inherited Spanish traditions to the modern era.

Arequipa with one million residents is the second largest city in Peru behind the bustling capital of Lima. It’s is called the “White City” because much of its historic center was built from the local volcanic rock called sillar which contains a high level of silica, imparting the stone’s color. Arequipa is surrounded by three volcanoes which are prominently visible on a clear day. The tallest of the three is Chachani at just under 20,000 feet (6,075 meters), followed by still-active El Misti at 19,000 feet (5825 meters), and Pichu Pichu at 18,600 feet (5,664 meters). The towering snow capped volcanoes give the White City a completely different look and feel as compared to Cusco.

Arequipa suffered a massive earthquake in 1868 which was estimated to have been an 11 on the Richter Scale. The earthquake decimated and leveled the city, reducing most buildings to rubble. The city was rebuilt from the ground up using the building material salvaged from the rubble of the destroyed buildings. Arequipa looks like a mid-19th century Spanish colonial city, because it was essentially rebuilt in the 1870s. This was another noteworthy contrast to Cusco.

 

Arrival

It was a fifty minute flight from Cusco to Arequipa to start the last leg of my ten days winter break in Peru. The provincial Arequipa airport was easily navigated at the end of the domestic flight. We were in a taxi, on our way to our centrally located boutique hotel on the Plaza de Armas within five minutes of landing. The 30 soles (under $USD 10) fare to the center of town was very reasonable.

 

The drive from the airport to the center of the old town exposed the same issues in Arequipa which I earlier observed on the outskirts of Cusco. The periphery of the city was disorganized, unkempt, in various states of disrepair, and hinted that poverty should be relegated to this side of town. It was an incredible contrast as we entered the old part of town, which was clean, as if proudly groomed to be on display. The center was both organized and orderly, with municipal police forces tactically stationed, and on patrol.

 

Settling in

We arrived early to our boutique hotel on the Plaza de Armas, around 09:00 AM. The fifteen room hotel faced the Arequipa Cathedral across the Plaza. Hotel Katari had a helpful, knowledgeable, English speaking front desk person, and a bellman on duty to help with luggage. The hotel had its fifteen rooms distributed across three floors above the lobby/reception area. The roof of the building served as the hotel restaurant, with a gorgeous view across the plaza to the Cathedral, and beyond. On a clear day, stunning views of the three volcanoes surrounding the city of Arequipa were to be had.

The hotel room did have some nice views across the Plaza de Armas to the Arequipa Cathedral, with the volcanoes is the background.

In general, Peru has some infrastructure issues that all hotels, and apartments share. Most notably, the quality of the water (undrinkable), and the highly variable water pressure. While the tap water at the hotel remained undrinkable, they did provide free daily bottled water. And the annoying, highly variable, violently sputtering water pressure issue was resolved. We had normal showers, with good water temperature and pressure. It’s worth a mention because it was the first place in Peru we had this experience.

 

Discovery Trek

Plaza de Armas

The heart of the city, the plaza, is quintessential Spanish colonial architecture, with impressive colonades and balconies lining three sides sides of the plaza, and the colossal Arequipa Cathedral with its soaring twin towers at its center. The Plaza is abuzz with local activity, both day and night.

Guided Walking Tour

The pre-colonial serpentine street layout was something our local guide proudly showcased.

The homes of colonial dignitaries were designed to have three courtyards. The outermost was reserved for guests, the central courtyard was for family’s use, and the innermost was designated for the slaves.

The colonial homes in current good repair have been maintained and operated by private enterprise. For example, the Intercontinental Bank building, and various restaurants and shops. Colonial homes in the care of the Peruvian government were never kept as well,  eventually falling into disrepair.

La Compania de Jesus and Cloister

This Jesuit church was fresco covered, but they were destroyed during the 1868 earthquake. The Church has one of three paintings depicting the last supper with cuy (guinea pig) on the table. The church exterior was a Mistizo Gothic design incorporating European elements as well as local Quechua traditions.

Arequipa Cathedral

The impressive Arequipa Cathedral spans the entire width of the Plaza de Armas. Constructed from the same white, sillar volcanic rock as the rest of old city center, the cathedral appeals to the eye in the bright sunshine. Its towering spires have been toppled multiple times from past earthquakes, but were always rebuilt to its current state of perfection. It is the center piece to the plaza, and maybe the center of Arequipa itself.

City Bus Tour

While very touristy, this four hour tour went well beyond the city limits to some interesting sites in the area, stopping for exploration and photo opportunities. We had front row seats on the second level with an unobstructed panoramic view. Interestingly, my wife and I were the only English speakers on the bus-full of people. Everyone spoke Spanish.

Municipality of Yanahuara

An Arequipa suburb, home to little parks, and Spanish Colonial churches, and little a mirador of its own. This area felt like a gentler version of the Plaza de Armas in the center of town.

 

Mirador de Carmen Alto

A panoramic view over farmlands along the Chili River. On a clear day the volcanos are in view. There’s a snack bar serving drinks and light fare, and a zip line for the adventurous.

 

Mirador and Plaza de Sachaca

A 360 degree panoramic view from this mirador in the Sachaca district of Arequipa, really not too far from the city center, as you can tell from the video.

 

Parque de Sabandia

This little stop on the bus tour catered to gringos and other tourists offering very domesticated horseback rides, or a visit to La Mansion del Fundador, a Spanish Colonial mansion from Conquistadore times, which was closed during our visit.

Colca Canyon Day Trip

Colca Canyon is to Arequipa as Machu Picchu is to Cusco and Ollantaytambo. One can’t visit Arequipa without visiting the Colca Canyon. We had a driver and tour guide for a day, which started at 4 AM and ended with a drop off directly at the Arequipa Airport at 7 PM.

It was a three and a half hour drive through some of the most beautifully rugged countryside I’ve ever seen. We maxed out at an elevation of 16,010 feet as we crossed a high desert plateau and started our descent towards the Colca Canyon.

 

Colca Private Mirador

We stopped at a lodge close to the Mirador Cruz del Condor for breakfast. The tour company does this for their guests, and it’s not open to the public. The views here were spectacular with the clouds lifting.

 

Mirador Cruz del Condor

This was supposed to be the highlight of the Colca Canyon visit. The clouds were so low, and the fog so thick that It looked like weren’t going to spot any condors. But as the morning grew toward noon, the condors came out in spectacular fashion. We got lucky here.

 

En Route to Maca

Simply spectacular rugged outdoor scenery emerged as we made our way back to Arequipa, with some stopovers.

Maca

The highlight of this village was its beautiful church and colorful locals.

En Route to Chivay

Chivay

This was our last stop en route back to Arequipa. Most people soak in the mineral waters of the local spa. But we elected to browse through the local market. It was amazing to see the variety of potatoes grown in Peru. The majority was for local consumption. There was also an interesting hike in the area, just outside of the village.

En Route Back to Arequipa

More staggering scenery and local wildlife. It was incredible to see the variety of wildlife so high up on the plateau. We were always between 12,000 and 16,000 feet of elevation.

 

 

 

Food Scene

Capriccio

We had an early flight out of Cusco, arriving at our Arequipa hotel by 09:00, which was too early to check in. We got a recommendation from the hotel for this restaurant for breakfast. My wife went basic with the Americano, but I went native. Who says grilled pork ribs aren’t for breakfast.

Dimas

I wanted genuine local fare, and found this highly rated new restaurant on TripAdvisor. It’s was a very intimate, but grand, space with columns, high ceilings, and plenty of natural light pouring through a partial glass ceiling. The menu and the service were both upscale. I started with the grilled octopus, and had the sea bass for my main, while my wife tried the grilled alpaca. We finished with local ice cream and strawberries. It was a bit foo foo, but very good.

Katari Hotel

This was our hotel for three nights, and breakfast was included. The breakfast was served buffet style, with the usual type of fare one would expect, like eggs, bacon, sausage, charcuterie, yogurt, and so on. However, the views from the rooftop dining area were truly unexpected. Just spectacular. We just sat for an hour just admiring the panoramic eye candy after breakfast.

La Palomino

This Picanteria Tradicional was recommended to us by our walking tour guide. It was a fifteen minute taxi ride – 7 soles (just over $USD 2) to get to this traditional local restaurant. I was surprised they had English menus, but wasn’t surprised that no one spoke a word of English. Picantorias serve hearty local fare, and in great quantity. I ordered the local staples: stuffed peppers, grilled pork, potato cake, and the shrimp soup. Very basic, very good.

Katari Hotel

New Year’s Eve dinner was served on the hotel’s roof-top dining area. The menu included local wines and champagne, and a variety of local fare. The food and service were both good, but the views again took center stage with impressive night scenery of the plaza and the city.

Epilogue

Reflections on Arequipa. The White City was the highlight of our Peru itinerary. The historic city center was clean and beautiful. It was a pleasure walking around, and exploring this city. The restaurants were excellent, and the infrastructure was a step up from Cusco. The day trek to Colca Canyon was ruggedly beautiful. It was a very memorable experience navigating the great outdoors. The pinnacle of the experience was witnessing the flight of the great condors at the Mirador Cruz del Condor. I was so impressed by the combination of Arequipa and the Colca Canyon experience that I would rank above the Cusco/Machu Picchu experience, and that was memorable as well.

 

Related Topics

 

Peru Travel Planning

Peru Travel Planning

Why Go to Peru –  Peru Travel Planning

Peru travel planning can be tricky because there’s tremendous variety for the first time visitor. Options include the vast, arid Pacific Ocean beaches, the steamy, and exotic Amazonia, Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable Lake in the world, the high Andes with ancient Inca secrets like Machu Picchu, and the beautiful 16th century Spanish Colonial cities of Cusco and Arequipa. Peru could easily be a traveler’s first country to visit in South America.

I had nine nights to work with for this particular itinerary, my first time to Peru. I needed to choose from all that Peru has to offer with the intent of having an immersive travel experience there. Too many destinations with insufficient time spent feels rushed, rarely leading to a memorable experience. And rushing it in Peru may have other consequences as well. Many destinations around my points of interest in Peru are at high elevations, between 7,000 to 11,000 feet. A steady pace would benefit the immersive travel experience, as well as help to avoid altitude sickness.

Where to go in Peru – Peru Travel Planning

The selection of itinerary is as much about where not to go, as it is about where to go. For example, I avoided spending time in Lima on this trip. And I also discounted visits to Amazonia, and Lake Titicaca. It simply comes down to choice, and personal preferences. I elected to go with the major themes of the great outdoors, discovering Incan heritage, and exploring 16th century Colonial Spanish cities and architecture.

With 9 nights of calendar budget over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I chose to spend 3 nights in Ollantaytambo to focus on Incan heritage sites, like the massive site in Ollantaytambo itself, and Machu Picchu, of course.

I wanted to spend 3 nights in Cusco because it was a great combination of Incan heritage, and Spanish Colonial history. Cusco was the capital of the Inca empire, situated right at its center when the empire spanned from present day Colombia to Chilean Patagonia. It was also the capital of Spanish Colonial Peru until they moved the capital to Lima, so the city is steeped in 16th century Spanish Colonial architecture.

And finally, 3 nights in Arequipa – The White City, so named because of its white volcanic rock buildings – surrounded by 80 volcanoes in the region. Still touched by Incan heritage, but to a lesser extent than Cusco and its surrounding cities, including Ollantaytambo. This destination is more about Spanish Colonial history and architecture, but also about the great outdoors with a side trip to the Colca Canyon. I expected to have an immersive New Year’s Eve celebration in Arequipa with the locals.

Ollantaytambo – 3 Nights

Machu Picchu – Day Trip

Cusco – 3 nights

Arequipa – 3 nights

Logistics – Peru Travel Planning

Airfare to Lima from my home base in Atlanta was very straight forward, with non-stop flights available. Connecting flights to both Cusco and Arequipa from Lima were not scarce. The only real decision was whether to start in Cusco, and work my way to Arequipa, or vice versa. I would have much preferred to start in Arequipa at 7,000 feet, then work my way to Ollantaytambo at 9,000 feet, and end the trip in Cusco at 11,000. This would have been the ideal itinerary to gradually acclimate to ultimate altitude of 11,000 in Cusco. Alas, I could not make the airline schedules accommodate my personal timetable around the holidays and had to opt for a Cusco/Ollantaytambo/Arequipa circuit.

While I tried to find apartments for each of the three destinations, there simply wasn’t any quality inventory in either Ollantaytambo or Arequipa. So I settled for hotel rooms accommodating my requirements.

Hotels and Apartments

I booked the Ollantaytambo hotel room through Booking.com. The interestingly named hotel, Sauce, was as boutique as could be, with only 7 rooms under management. It was very centrally located, just steps away from Plaza de Armas. They had a complimentary breakfast buffet included in the price of the room. And it was actually worth getting up a little earlier to hit the breakfast buffet.

I booked the Cusco apartment through Booking.com about 7 months in advance of arrival. The photos speak volumes regarding the apartment. It’s all about the views. Stunning views both day and night, which include the old part of town, and the Plaza de Armas. The apartment’s location had a minor drawback being several hundred steps above Cusco street level, enabling the spectacular views. Several hundred steps is trivial downhill, but not so much going back up at over 11,000 feet of elevation. I am glad to share that I never did take the stairs up, as Uber was so incredibly inexpensive (less than $USD 1.50) to get from the center of town back to the apartment.

I also booked the Arequipa hotel on Booking.com, making it a trifecta for this particular itinerary. The boutique hotel was centrally located right on the Plaza de Armas. It had a high quality restaurant attached, which served a fabulous New Year’s Eve menu to its guests. This was the best place to stay in Arequipa given my Immersive Travel principles.

Driving in Peru

I did not rent a car in Peru. And I am so glad I didn’t. They drive maniacally as if immortal in Peru. I personally love to drive, and have driven on travels in some places known for aggressive, if not chaotic driving – but nothing like this. I saw people passing uphill, around a hairpin turn, on a narrow mountain road, for example. No thanks. I wouldn’t recommend driving in Peru, unless you’re a daredevil with a death wish.

How get Local Currency in Peru

My approach when traveling is to use local currency for cafes, restaurants, and incidental spending. I use credit cards for major spend, for example, hotels, car rentals, and other transportation, like rail. I’ve adopted this approach over the years of traveling because it’s the most convenient, both for myself, and the various little restaurants and cafes I like to patronize.

The best way to get local currency, everywhere I’ve traveled, has been to use ATM machines associated with major local banks. They provide a very good exchange rate, and with a little planning, a minimal transaction fee. By planning, I mean that the traveler must select a financial institution in their home country that provides an international travel-friendly debit card, charging no transactions fees – and even reimbursing transaction fees other institutions would charge. I personally have two for this purpose: Fidelity Investment Services Visa debit card, and Capital One 360 Mastercard debit card. I use the Fidelity card exclusively because they reimburse other bank ATM fees, and keep the Capital One card as a backup.

Based on my previous travels, I’ve found the effective ATM currency exchange fee to be 1% or  less.  I withdrew Soles from all four of the Banks represented near the food court on the second floor of the Lima airport. Three out of the four had effective exchange rates below 1%, and were competitive. The fourth was a bank called BCP.  It was interesting that they allowed for a larger withdrawal of 700 soles versus the 400 soles the other 3 banks allowed. And moreover, they charged less for the transaction fee. But, they rob the consumer with an effective 4.5% exchange rate fee. I will never use a BCP bank ATM again, and neither should anyone with a choice.

How to Avoid Food Sickness in Peru

I have never commented on traveler’s food survival strategies previously because I had never written about any place where such a thing would be a worry, until now.

Do not drink the water. It has both bacteria and parasites that will ultimately make the unaccustomed very ill. Do not drink anything that comes with ice, either cubed or crushed. You can take the risk and ask if the ice is made from purified water, or you can be sure and simply avoid iced drinks. Do not eat fresh fruits and vegetables because they’re washed with the local water. Avoid anything that has not been cooked, and preferably eat cooked food served hot.

Do not buy food from street vendors, including ice cream.

And here’s the toughest advice: do not eat the ceviche. Are you kidding, Peru is famous for its ceviche? Fresh fish bear a variety of parasites that are only killed by proper cooking, and ceviche is raw fish marinated in citrus juices. Uncooked fish need to be frozen for a week or more to an internal temperature of -4°F to be considered safe. I wouldn’t trust a nation that cannot deliver drinkable water to have that level of responsibility in preparing raw fish for ceviche. Furthermore, I personally know someone that came down with a parasitic infestation after a trip to Lima – the cosmopolitan city of Peru, where you’re more likely to have better hygiene, and adherence to best practices for food preparation.

And last but not least, do not brush your teeth with tap water. No I am not paranoid, I just want to improve my odds for having a healthy, if not immersive travel experience.

How to Avoid Altitude Sickness in Peru

The altitude at the Cusco airport is 11,000 feet at landing, and the taxi ride to Ollantaytambo takes you to over 12,000 before a descent down to 9,000. People not acclimated to this type of altitude may pay a price. Altitude sickness has a variety of symptoms ranging from headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath and a variety of others.

It’s best to acclimate to high altitude by starting at the lowest altitude planned for the trip and work up to the highest. For this trip it would have been best to start in Arequipa at 7,000 feet, then to Ollantaytambo at 9,000 feet, then to Cusco at 11,000 feet. I simply could not make the airline flights available work for my schedule, but would highly recommend this itinerary because it is altitude acclimatization friendly.

How to Acclimate to High Altitude

Even with the altitude acclimatization friendly itinerary, I would highly recommend staying well hydrated. The high altitudes make for drier air, which is dehydrating and makes worse any altitude related symptoms. I would recommend a slow, acclimating pace upon arrival at the first destination, even taking a nap first thing. I would recommend taking it easy with alcohol as high altitude heightens the effects.

My full altitude sickness symptoms for 3 days in Ollantaytambo at 9,000 feet were a low grade headache, a bitter, metallic taste in my mouth, and a feeling like I was hungover – a little fuzzy around the edges. All wore off in due time, and by the way ibuprofen did not help with the headache. The local remedy for altitude sickness, among other things, was Coca tea. And I tried it, but alas it had no effect on any of my symptoms. And moreover, I found it to taste like like tea brewed from barnyard straw, so I didn’t try this remedy a second time.

It is possible to get preventative medication from your local doctor before departure. My own research showed that the medication may have more harmful side effects than the altitude sickness itself, so I didn’t go this route. But it may be worth considering for those prone to severe altitude sickness.

How to Stay Healthy in Peru

Vaccines and mosquito preparation are necessary for a trip to Peru. The short list of vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control for a visit to Peru include Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Hepatitis A & B, and Rabies. Vaccination should be an integral part of travel planning for Peru. There are no mosquitoes at higher elevations, like Cusco, for example. But elevations of 8,000 feet – Like Machu Picchu – and below can be mosquito breeding grounds. Long sleeves, long pants, and mosquito repellent with Deet are strongly recommended. The Deet should be applied to clothing to deter the aggressive mosquitos.

Resources – Peru Travel Planning

Indispensable for planning purposes: Google flights. It works well with mainstream carriers, as well as the puddle jumpers.  I use it to analyze costs related to date ranges, as well as stopover options for those destinations unreachable directly from my home airport.  

I rely on several sites for apartment rentals.  In the order of preference:  HomeAway, booking.com, and last and definitely least, Airbnb.  Some may be shocked that I prefer to avoid Airbnb, but I have good reasons to avoid them. All hotels and apartments for this trip were booked through Booking.com.

Google maps is a staple, and I use it on every trip for a variety of needs.  On this trip, I mainly used it for navigating to restaurants and points of interest while on my discovery treks.

TripAdvisor is awesome for advanced trip planning, and I find the travel forums specific to my destinations particularly useful. There’s no better advice than from someone that’s already done what I’m planning to do.

With Google translate on my phone at the ready, I fear no language barrier. I did end up in places where English was not spoken, so this phone app was very handy. It’s also very necessary for non-Spanish speakers because the locals speak little English.

 

Epilogue – Peru Travel Planning

Reflections on Peru. Peru is definitely a highlight of South America, and bucket-list worthy. The premier reason for going, and my personal highlight, was the great outdoors. From the Andes cradling Machu Picchu near Ollantaytambo, to the beautiful ruggedness of the Cola Canyon, the great outdoors were both breathtaking and memorable. The next most compelling reason to go, for me personally, was the 16th century Spanish Colonial history and architecture in the cities of Cusco, and especially Arequipa. And the last, but certainly not the least, reason is the Incan history and heritage peppered throughout the country. I should note that Peru would require a much longer visit to see the attractions I bypassed, like Lima, the coastal beaches, Amazonia, and Lake Titicaca.

 

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