Another one of Peru’s many pretty cities, Arequipa was a place we’d not planned to spend as much time as we did. With a number of good restaurants for both carnivorous and friends of salad, Arequipa’s got it all. Now finding a taxi here is virtually a no brainer as the population of them far outweighs the number of non-taxis and their pretty easy to identify.
Staying at the Point Hostel with their friendly staff, chilled bar, pool table and drinks specials was a good cheap choice…though the kitchen is shitty and only opens after the (shitty) free breakfast period. They allowed us early check-in though, giving us the opportunity to head out for the morning.
The main attraction in town, countryside excluded, is the Santa Catalina Monastery (40 Soles). Inhabited by the nuns of the Second Dominican Order its door are opened to the public and you’re free to walk, with or without a guide, in and out of former dwellings with attached kitchens. You’ll also find pocket gardens hidden in entrance ways, orange trees in courtyards, many potted plants contrasting against the vivid blues and reds slashing against the less than plumb walls, adding to the charm.
Leaving the saintly sanctuary we skipped through the manicured Plaza, a constant in Latin America and a place of pride for the locals who congregate at all hours of the day. Managing to waste a few hours wandering the streets thinking that it’s too early for the pub (is it ever too early?) we re-trace our steps half way back to the Monastery as we’d noticed this earlier in the day….
Upstairs, Chaqchao have a wide selection of solely Peruvian Microbrews from the likes of Barbarian, Zenith, Magdalena and Maddock. The Zenith Amber was the stand out, whilst the Barbarian Chill was a letdown.
That night we treated ourselves to a culinary treat. Previously that afternoon we’d made reservations for Zig Zag, a restaurant we’d previously read and heard about. Rolling up at the appointed time the staff joyfully greeted us, leading us to our window table overlooking the action of the street below. Now, if you only want to try llama steak once in Peru then Zig Zag is the place to be.
Opting for the largest portion of steak 450g (enough to share) along with a serving of the delicious quinoa based gnocchi with pesto sauce. We complimented this with a bottle of Tabernero Peruvian Cabernet Sauvignon adding to the already consumed beverages earlier that afternoon. The food arrives, we’re half tanked, craving a feed and the waitress plants a sizzling tray topped with a succulent strip of steak (flag and all) that immediately induces the salivary glands into overdrive. Accompanying this is a bowl of boiled potatoes, four sauces, a salad and the obligatory bread rolls. The atmosphere is cosy with its mood lighting and we peacefully, bar the happy birthday sing along, enjoy the nicest meal on the trip thus far.
Craving a return to nature away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and its vices, the Colca Canyon is easily accessible from Arequipa by either bus or contracted van. You can chose to take a pricey tour that will include a stop at the Condor look out (make sure they schedule for the early morning as it’s the best time to see them…if you’re lucky). There’s an option of a two, three or four day hike to the bottom of the canyon and back starting off from Cabanaconde.
As we’re not for the tour group thing when hiking and thinking of budget, we opt for the local bus at 3am in the morning, regretting having that second bottle of wine over dinner (totally unnecessary). The bus eventually arrives 7 hours later in Cabanaconde. Best thing we did was to buy our return tickets back to Arequipa for two days following as not to miss a seat through the incredible landscape. Eating a small breakfast and having them prepare a couple of sandwiches on the cheap, the owner was happy enough to point us in the right direction. Over breakfast we get talking to a Germany couple who promptly inform us that there’s a bus strike in the area planned for the next few days.
Surely the he would have said something when we booked our return trip?
Heading back down to the corner shop we have a faint realisation that it’s highly possible there will in fact be a strike (there are plenty of strike threats that never develop) the following day. On entering the man ends his phone conversation with the knowledge that yes, the strike is going ahead the following day. Shit. A little dusty from the previous days/nights alcohol consumption, we’ve got no choice other than to change the plans, heading for the canyon floor and the oasis of Sangalle, then about turn and back up the same canyon wall that day for the bus back at 10pm that night. Otherwise we’d miss our connecting bus to Cusco.
Heading out the sun climbs, the heat rises as we descend into the canyon. Originally we’d planned to complete a circuit through some of the villages, though alas those pesky strikers had other plans for us. Sangalle has several option for eating or lodging for those wanting to spend time here, which we’d recommend. The first place had us greeted by a surly host less than interested in offering a verbal menu. Asking what the other couple sitting at a table adjacent were eating, he promptly replies
Finding Tropical Lodge further toward the river, the welcoming staff are more than delighted to take us in. With time a factor for returning, we take a drink and walk around the grounds which offer both private or tent (you can bring your own) accommodation. Complete with a landscaped swimming pool we left a little disappointed about having the return trip to Arequipa that evening.
For the fit ones that don’t mind a challenge, Sangelle can be reached and returned within one day. It’s not easy but you can do it. Finishing the walk happily before sundown and in need of a hot cup o’ tea and a place to relax before our bus, Panchmama offers cosy couches, good food and a fire place in a dim lit environment. Allowing us to shower had to be the best bonus of all (cost of course) followed with a cup of mate to sooth our hungover, exerted bodies.
Deciding to spread the wealth we head into the small town centers plaza for a feed in one of the restaurants that surround it. Las Terrazas with it’s slow inattentive service gave us concerns that the food was bound to disappoint. Much to our delight the lasagne’s big enough for two (or one fat, hungover Matt) and even though the llama steak couldn’t compare with Zig Zag’s, they more than satisfied all the same.
Back in Arequipa super early, we had bus tickets booked for that night to Cusco so instead of paying for a bed the guys at Point Hostel are kind enough to allow us to crash on their couches for the morning. Finding time to relax for the day, watch some protests, visit Iglesia de la Compania, we finished the night sat around the hostel bar with others in stitches of laughter over South Park the Movie, forgetting that no matter how much older we become, Terrence and Phillip’s ‘Arses of Fire’ still manages to bring tears of immaturity to the eyes. That evening we arrive to an unusually deserted bus terminal. Yep, strikes got us two days in a row.
Instead of letting it bother us the following day we feast on Festi Burger (5 out of 10 – Cheap, good crunch with the Aji sauce the kicker), a buffet vegetarian restaurant by the name of El Puente, followed by a visit to the Mercado San Camilo for a vitamin boosting fresh juice. Dinner is the highlight of the day at Dalmacia for its old school wooden interior, where we’re served a mean chicken pasta soup for starters followed by BBQ pork chops and breaded chicken Milanese.
Thank you strikers for taking the Sunday off allowing us to vacate Arequipa.
- Tours to the Colca Canyon offer two, three or four day trips. After talking to many whom did the tour the general consensus was that the two day tour has you walking long days with no time to chill out at the oasis on the canyon floor. The best option is to take the three or four day tour.
- Do yourself a favour and tuck into an amazing meal at Zig Zag. A Swiss chef brings the local cuisine to the table.
- On top of Zig Zag there are restaurants galore so get out there and gorge.
- Again book your bus tickets through Cruz del Sur’s Spanish webpage for discounted seats.