For travelers looking to explore a different part of Peru, the city of Arequipa presents a great combination of history, natural beauty and freedom from mass tourism. It’s the country’s second largest city behind Lima and retains a great deal of its Spanish Colonial history. Arequipa also makes a great starting point for some of Peru’s other natural wonders in the area including the Colca Canyon (over twice as deep as the Grand Canyon) and Lake Titicaca (the world’s highest navigable lake).

What to see
The Santa Catalina Monastery, for nuns not monks, is a city within a city. We spent a few hours exploring this unique place, which was well-funded over the years by the rich families whose daughters were sent here to live. Founded in 1580, the Monastery is still occupied by an order of nuns. After visiting the Monastery, we also enjoyed walking around the city’s Yanahuara neighborhood.
One of the highlights was our trip to the large and colorful Mercado San Camilo, the city’s main food market. It was fascinating to see all the exotic food, along with meat like llama and guinea pigs. The whole experience was brought to life by our guide Blanca, who stopped at every stall and explained what they were selling. At many places, she would buy some of the fruit or vegetables and pass it around for us all to eat. We left the market and took a walk around the city and the area around the Plaza de Armas.
My favorite museum in the city is the Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of the Andean Sanctuaries). This museum is most famous as the home of Juanita, the Ice Maiden, a young girl who was sacrificed 600 years ago. Her perfectly preserved body was discovered in 1995, 20,000 feet above sea level buried in the ice. The museum includes other mummies and great collection of Inca artifacts.

Where to eat
It’s hard to find a bad meal in Peru and my rule is to always follow the people. If you see a food cart or restaurant filled with locals, try it out. Our group had a fun lunch at a restaurant called Sol De Mayo, a hundred year-old place that calls itself the cathedral of Peruvian food. Our group lunch was served in the beautiful courtyard, outside on a lawn. Several of our braver group members tried the cuy (guinea pig), which was a bit dry without too much meat to eat. While we dined, a band played Peruvian music. It was also a great experience as we were the only tourists there. This was a local restaurant, in a residential neighborhood of Arequipa, a city not very popular with tourists to begin with.

Where to stay
I stayed at the Libertador Arequipa, located just up the street from the Plaza de Armas. The hotel has a nice, comfortable, homey feel to it. My room was big and spacious, with a flat screen TV and large bathroom. Outside there’s a big pool and spa. The staff was very friendly and the food was excellent. We had two big dinners at the hotel’s Los Robles restaurant, both were really good as was the breakfast served each morning. Rooms start at $152. per night, with online booking.

Getting there
Arequipa is Peru’s second largest city and many air carriers serve it from various South American cities. Connections from the US are usually made through Lima, Peru’s capital, which is served by many international carriers. The Lima to Arequipa flight is only about 90 minutes. I flew on LAN, which has direct LAX to Lima flights. The airline provides a very comfortable travel experience, caring, professional staff and I enjoyed flying with them. They are a oneworld carrier, so you can earn or redeem Aadvantage miles on LAN flights. I visited Peru as part of a small group Discovery Tour from Gate 1 Travel and our adventure started in this Southern Colonial City.