Bus nightmares became a bit of an unfortunate recurrence during our travels through Peru, with our journey from Lima to Arequipa being no exception. We booked tickets with Civa, one of the most popular Peruvian bus companies, and went for their Econo Civa bus option – their most budget bus in their range. We decided to go for the seats at the very front, thinking that the bus would be a double decker like all the other buses we had been on so far, so we could enjoy the view from the full windows at the front.
We got to Lima station in good time before our bus and were immediately put off by the absolute chaos – it was completely heaving with people, and the woman who checked us in unhelpfully directed us to the wrong baggage check area, so we ended up waiting in the wrong queue for about half an hour. When we finally got that sorted we were waiting for our bus – which was incidentally delayed – and watching all of the other nice, fancy looking buses pull in and out of the station. After a while a rather grotty, disheveled bus that looked like it hadn’t been refurbished since the 80’s pulled into the station, and we all clocked sight of it with a feeling of uneasiness – quite rightly, as it turned out to be our bus. To make matters worse it wasn’t a double decker bus at all, so being at the front was horrendous – we had no leg room as we were squashed up right behind the driver, and there was a funny ledge on the floor which meant we couldn’t put our feet down flat. Michelle and I had pins and needles before we even left the station!
Thankfully the journey itself was fairly uneventful, and we arrived in Arequipa at around 7 the next morning. We went straight to our hostel, Yes Arequipa, hoping against hope that we might be able to check in early – and we were in luck. The friendly receptionist showed us straight to our rooms, and the hostel itself was fantastic. Our rooms were clean and spacious, there were plenty of bathrooms for all the guests, and best of all our stay included a delicious free breakfast every morning of either banana pancakes or scrambled eggs.
Our first activity in Arequipa, true to form, was a free walking tour. We booked places with Free Walking Tour Peru, which took us on a great stroll around the picturesque downtown area of Arequipa. At lunchtime we stopped for some delicious salteñas – a traditional pastry filled with meat and a sweet and spicy sauce – and at the end of the tour we were given tasty pisco sours at a bar in the city centre. Our guide was friendly and extremely knowledgeable about Arequipa, and we thoroughly recommend this tour if you’re visiting the city.
On another day during our stay we walked up to the mirador overlooking the city, which treated us to some stunning views of Arequipa and the mountains that flank it on all sides, and on the way back down Michelle decided to try another local delicacy: queso (cheese) ice cream. Although the name is a little off putting it turned out to be delicious!
Another great place to visit in Arequipa is Mundo Alpaca, or Alpaca World. This museum tells you all about the history of alpacas in Peru and the processes used to turn their wool into the beautiful soft clothes that are an iconic feature of the country. There were also a number of resident alpacas, but sadly visitors aren’t allowed to play with them!
There are of course many highly recommended gringo hot spots in the city, two of which quickly became firm favourites with us: Burger Chulls and Pasta Canteen. At Burger Chulls you can mix and match ingredients to make your ideal burger, the portions are massive and the burger combos come with drinks and fries included. Pasta Canteen also lets you make your own food from a combination of different pastas and ingredients, but also features a “pasta of the day”. On the two occasions we visited we got to try spaghetti carbonara and lomo saltado spaghetti – combining the traditional Peruvian beef dish of lomo saltado with spaghetti noodles, which was amazing!
A beautiful, sunny and charming city, Arequipa is a great place to spend a few days when travelling through Peru. We could easily have stayed for longer (mainly for the burgers and salteñas) but all too soon it was time to make our way to Cusco ahead of our big Peruvian bucket list experience: Machu Picchu.