With a bounce we awoke on the sunny Arequipa tarmac. I love he mountains but not the rain, so I’ve been looking forward to Arequipa. Famous for its cuisine and climate, Arequipa sits at the same elevation as our Tahoe home, and is bowl-bound by three great volcanos – the perfectly conical El Misti, Chachani and Picchu Picchu. Here the mountains fume and shake… indeed the Arequipeños prefer a regular tremble to accumulated stress. The volcanoes influence the architecture… this Unesco World Heritage site is built from volcanic sillar stone, thick and squat to withstand los terremotos.
Cheapskate Tom had reserved the Carloza Hostel – close the central Plaza de Armas – but during our Lima all-nighter we found the TripAdvisor reviews had panned it so we teed up a few backup options. I asked our Taxi driver to swing by backup #1 first, which looked fine if a bit above our budget. Then on to Carloza, where the crestfallen look on my weary boys’ faces confirmed that we needed to abandon that booking… option #3 felt like a compromise, so back to budget-bending Los Torres del Ugarte we went. It was the right call, not only because it was spotless, airy and charming, but the rooms were ready, so we checked in, dropped backs, crawled under the covers and went back to bed.
I rolled out of bed at 11AM to get some cash and scout Colca Canyon tour options. Here the big attractions are out of town adventures – volcano and canyon treks, rafting, biking, sand-boarding, fishing… and for every outing there are 10 tour originators. We used TripAdvisor to separate the cream from the crop and settled on Colca Trek which seemed to offer the best fitting tour and value. We lacked lead time and they didn’t have a trip on our timing, but we worked it out by swapping a day in Titicaca for a day in Arequipa, which seemed like a good trade given the happy setting, fair weather, comfortable room and good food. I decisively booked tours through Puno to Cusco, and in so doing bought time and reduced travel stress.
Foodie Sue had lined up our dining hit list so I met her and the boys at nearby Crepismo – our first taste of Arequipa’s famously fine food. Even adjusting for travel-weariness, that might have been the best coffee and crepe of my life. We let the boys remain in the cafe’s comfortable game room while Sue and I did a short tour of the local streets.
Heat and hard travel had spawned some sibling rivalry, so to defuse tempers I peeled Ben from Max and we explored town a bit before reconvening in the pretty Plaza de Armas. No panhandlers or pickpockets here… Arequipa is a sophisticated cut above the other latin cities we’ve visited. We like it already.
We met Sue and Max at La Catedral on the Plaza’s north edge, then joined a sober but competent guide who toured us past Peru’s largest organ and up to the roof for views over the Plaza de las Armas and greater Arequipa. Just 4 stories up we still tower over the stout sillar town.
We’re still tired so Sue and I escort the boys back to the room and point them towards some homework. Then I venture out to withdraw cash for the tour operator, and to evaluate diversions for Thursday and Friday. La Nina has limited our options – rutted roads and swollen streams conspire against rafting, biking and fishing… I avoid advanced bookings but learn how to bypass the tour originators and call the operators directly for better information. Thus I rule out fly fishing and sand-boarding… rafting is my best hope but we’ll have to watch the water levels.