Arequipa, Peru

Photo: CIRQA – Relais & Châteaux

All you need is a quick stopover. Your Southern Peru itinerary is already packed. You’re going to Nazca to find the Nazca Lines etched into the desert sand, Cusco to hike into the Andes en route to Machu Picchu, and Puno to see the floating islands on Lake Titicaca. Arequipa didn’t make the cut. You’re only stopping there because of its somewhat centralized location and easy access to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest gorges in the world. But nothing is set in stone, right?

Good—because you quickly realized your mistake. You knew Arequipa as the second-largest city and the legal capital, thanks to the Constitutional Court, of Peru. You didn’t understand that it’d be a gorgeous place that’s considered the culinary capital of the country. Arequipa is surrounded by three volcanoes: Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachani. The center of the city is called La Ciudad Blanca (the White City) for its colonial-era buildings made of sillar (white volcanic stones). It’s wealthier than Lima, less touristy than Cusco, and more European than anywhere else in Peru. While local restaurants, called picanterías, bring rustic food from the countryside into the city.

Photo: CIRQA – Relais & Châteaux

One of the 16th-century buildings, which used to be part of an ecclesiastical complex, in La Ciudad Blanca has been turned into a chic hotel. CIRQA’s exposed sillar walls and vaulted barrel ceilings remain untouched. They’ve been sectioned off into 11 rooms and a salon (a combined sitting room and dining area). The rooms are minimal and a bit moody with sturdy furniture and neutral decor. Smart TVs and wireless speakers keep things high-tech. Plus snacks and drinks are delivered in hampers. You select a Bóveda room solely for its freestanding bathtub.

The restaurant is also a refined space with floor-to-ceiling windows and two huge crystal chandeliers. You can order the chef’s signature dish, stuffed baked peppers, and a Peruvian white wine from marble-topped tables inside or little wooden tables on the terraza. The quiet outside space features small seating areas, manicured plants, and, at night, lots of flickering candles. You’ll also find a heated stone plunge pool in the second courtyard.

You’re starting to look pretty comfortable for someone with so many plans. It might be time for you to slow down, stop chasing a checklist, and really get to know Southern Peru. Set that in sillar.


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