📍Arequipa – The White City 🏜⛪️
Leaving behind the shores of Lake Titicaca, we jumped on a 6 hour bus to Arequipa. This is the second prettiest city in Peru behind Cusco, with a clean central plaza surrounded by historic architecture. However, it’s actually called the White City for the skin tone of the occupants back in the day, where wealthy families would send their children to religious studies accompanied by native and African slaves.
The Activities ⛰
We ventured to the two main historic landmarks of the city viewing the huge central Cathedral and the famous convent Monasterio Santa Catalina . The cathedral has fallen down a few times in the past years with the city very prone to earthquakes from neighbouring fault lines, and tremors from the Misti volcano overshadowing the city. The museum in the cathedral housed a huge arrangement of precious jewels and gold ornaments fit for a girl to feast her eyes on, from diamonds to rubies to onyx it didn’t seem like the founding families were strapped for cash. The convent built in 1579 is massive, covering over 20,000sq metres with super colourful walls and courtyards. We learnt that families had to pay a dowry equivalent to about $150k US today for their daughter to enter the convent, and they were never allowed to leave.
The highlight and reason for coming to Arequipa was definitely our 2 day trip to the Colca Canyon. Deeper than America’s Grand Canyon and home to the Condor eagle our tour through hostel Friendly AQP wound its way through snowy mountains to reach the lush valley below. The walk to the Canyon oasis accomodation was 17km, of downhill and a spot of cliff crawling with rain washing away track. The next morning bright and early at 5am we climbed 1200m vertical over a winding 6km of straight uphill sweatiness. There were definitely a few moments where I considered flagging down the passing mule escorts, but the view at the top was well worth some serious leg burn.
The Kai 🍗☕️
Teaming up with our Irish partners in crime, we headed along to the Peruvian Cooking Experience. The further north we go the more flavoursome the cooking has been, and I am more than happy to see some spice being added not just bland old salty salt Bae! We started with a fresh twist on a potato cake, followed by traditional lomo saltado (Asian flare on fried beef) and finished with a quinoa pudding. Also worth the shout out was a tiny two table coffee shop called Palicios. Phill finally had his coffee cravings satisfied, with beans freshly roasted in the shop and coffee pour even measured to perfection 🙏
Now there’s no emoji for a dune buggy, but considering the huge roll cage carts for ripping up the sand dunes sound like tractors then that’ll do. Huacachina is a man made desert oasis 10min out of the nothing town of Ica, surrounded by massive sand dunes and draped in sunshine. We stayed at the Banana hostel which as well as having a pool includes the region famous activity as part of your stay. Our dune buggy driver was crazy, hooning through the sand dune mountains to jump off the top and drop onto what felt like nearly vertical faces on the other side. We got to test out our skills sand boarding on 3 hills, the last being so steep you had to lie on the board. Let’s just say that I well and truly bet Phill on our downhill race!
Most people just stay here for one night in transit to get their dose of dunes in, but since we had time to kill and a pool to keep us entertained we stayed two nights getting another free activity thrown in. We headed along to our morning Pisco tour, the grape based alcohol which will leave a Peruvian and a Chilean arguing about its origin for hours. Turns out it’s actually really similar to wine making, with grape squishing and a fermentation process undertaken for a couple of weeks in huge clay vases before being distilled to take the middle liquor for drinking. Cheers to too many pisco shots at 10am on our tour !
📍Paracas 🏖 🍹
Now, as much as we had been enjoying the sights and unique culture of the Andes mountain spots, I loooooove the seaside so we jumped on an short hour bus to Paracas for some sun swamped chill time.
💡 A handy tip for fellow adventurers – Cruz Del Sur bus from Peru through to Colombia is the nicest bus company we have come across. The cama (bed) seats are legit comfy, with TV sets in each headrest and food/drink was even served on our one hour bus ride.
The Activities ✈️🏊🏻♀️
We stayed at the well recommended Kokopelli hostel, right next to the main beach and town. The hostel has a sweet pool area, with different drink specials and activities each night. On entry to the hostel you get to spin a prize wheel, and Phill pulled up the 2 for 1 paragliding so we were set! Our pilot and ex rally driver sped us in his people mover through the national reserve to the top of the sand dunes for an amazing view over the bays. Harnessed in and just told to not stop running, we were off down the hill and sailing through the air in no time! We also tried to head out kite surfing with the same guys, however the wind wasn’t in our favour. Such a shame with a beautiful cove in the reserve to ourselves! But least we got an amazing spot for an afternoon dip.
Paracas is also well visited for trips to the Ballestas islands for super wild life watching. But with our upcoming trip highlight looking forward to Galapagos we gave being crammed on a ferry with 40 other people trying to get the same snap a miss.
The Kai 🍙🍑
Yes. The emoji does not lie. We found top notch Japan worthy sushi in the heart of Paracas. Run by a young guy from Lima, he whipped up fresh sushi rolls with a Peruvian twist, with our favourite being the cerviche. Now while it’s obviously only a hint Peruvian, I throughly enjoyed a spot of alternative food for a change! The local frozen juices at Fruzion were also a massive hit and welcom relief from the baking sun, and even offered soy milkshakes. I could seriously have a mango juice every day for the rest of my life 😍
Next stop 🔜 Cusco for the Inca Trail!