We spent our last week in Peru hanging out in Arequipa, the second largest city, and as we found out, the perfect place to get a lovely mix of sightseeing, eating, partying and hiking.
The city’s most talked about sight is the Santa Catalina monastery, which covers more than 20,000 square meters and was built in 1580. It used to house hundreds of nuns but now only 30 live in the complex. Luckily for us, the remaining area is open to the public. It’s a wild combination of colors, history and intense silence.
A view of El Misti, the nearby volcano, from the top of the monastery:
But Arequipa wasn’t just about playing tourist. It was also about being completely lazy after our roller coaster of a time in Cusco. Our hostel has a beautiful backyard equipped with ping pong, billards, darts and lounge chairs, which made for a lovely day of doing absolutely nothng.
And as most of you know, Eaman and I are obsessed with food–both eating it and daydreaming about it. No one mentioned that Arequipa had such a vibrant restaurant scene, but it didn’t take us long to find it out. True, we went to two restaurants in one day and found hair in both our meals–we promptly left the restaurants–but, in general, the food has been awesome. We’re particularly fond of El Turko, a fast food Turkish spot that we’ve already been to six times.
But, yes, we’ve been elsewhere. Here, some highlights:
The limonada, the fun green drink below, is ridiculous in Peru:
Eaman was adventurous at the Arequipa market and had some concoction made of radishes, herbs and other crazy stuff. Looks like a tall glass of dulce de leche to me:
And, did I mention all desserts in Peru are phenomenal? Here are some traditional cookies known as alfajors, sweet powdered biscuits with dulce de leche on the inside:
And I mean…
Obviously I found the ice cream brownie sundae:
And unlike Cusco, we weren’t in bed by 10 p.m. every night. On our first night, we hit up two local clubs. Awesome music + no tourists = sweeeeet!
We also celebrated our amiga Natalie’s (far right) last night of traveling…and ended up at El Turko…for late night crepes:
Our last major to-do in Arequipa was visiting nearby Colca Canyon. About five hours from the city, the canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon with all sorts of insane trekking opportunities. In the mood for some (more) adventure, we decided against signing up for an organized tour–partly because going to all the tour companies around town and comparing prices gave us a preemptive headache.
Instead, with some advice from friends who had done the trek independently, we headed out on our own. A lot of people do this classic trail themselves, but I’m not sure whether it’s because it’s the low season or because the canyon is so friggin’ big, but we barely saw anyone along the way. It was deafeningly silent; all we could hear was the swishing of the leaves. And all I could think of was Pocahantas and “The Colors of the Wind.”
How was the hike? Maybe the most intense thing each of us has ever done. It was a little something like this:
3.5 hours of downhill
2 hours of ups and downs (couldn’t find a place to eat for lunch so we subsisted on granola bars and trail mix)
1.5 hours of uphill
3.5 hours of uphill
Towards the end of day one, we turned a corner and spotted this at the bottom of the canyon:
It’s the city of Sangalle, also known as The Oasis–and for very good reason. There are only a few hostels down there, but all have pools and feel like a slice of the Caribbean in a desert.
As soon as we spotted the pools from the top of the mountain, we were literally running downhill to get there asap. And when we did…oh boy, that was bliss.
The hostel has no electricity and this was our “room,” but it was one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed at. We played cards with some Brits and Austrians in the dark with our headlamps, and ate dinner by the candle…because that was the only source of light. To top it off, we’ve never seen the stars so crystally clear at night.
Back to the hike. We were told day two would be killer because of the uphill, but seriously, hell hath no fury like a rugged downhill hike. Our knees. Our toes. Oof.
Not that uphill was much easier. For some reason, the only thing that kept me going was singing Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Scar Tissue” and “Californication” in my head. The problem is, I know two lines from each song. So yeah, imagine singing those four lines over and over for 3.5 hours on day two.
But we did it. Up and climbing at 6 a.m., we were at the top by 9:20 a.m. And it was such a rush to finally be at the top. I was semi-delirious, hence the pose:
And this was how we celebrated our grand finish. Did I also mention that the ready-made ice cream treats are incredible in Peru?
Tomorrow we jump on an 18-hour bus to Lima and head straight to the airport for Buenos Aires, Argentina, arriving Monday evening. Can’t believe we’ll be crossing a whole country off the itinerary already.
Chao for now!