This is a guest post by Katy Stewart.
24 hours is more or less exactly the time I had to explore Peru's 'Ciudad Blanca'. People had been raving about it, but I wondered if one day would be enough to discover its charms, or whether my brief stopover would be a disappointment.
As it turns out, Arequipa had me under its spell the moment I arrived. I got to the Casa Jael hostel sometime after 10pm, to be greeted by a tiny, sweet lady who cried: "Katy! Come in, we've been expecting you!" How often do you get that kind of welcome? Although it was late, she then took the time to explain things to me and offered me a morning trip with a local tour agency at a price I couldn't refuse.
From Cathedrals to Aqueducts
The next morning, after a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and coffee, the same lady accompanied me down the road to the tour bus, introduced me to the driver and waved me off. She had booked me a seat on the open-air top deck, so I had a panoramic view of the city. Our journey began in the Plaza de Armas, where the beautiful cream-coloured cathedral stands proudly against the backdrop of snow-capped volcanoes. In the first few minutes, we drove past enough ornate churches and intricate colonial buildings to keep any history buff happy for weeks. Soon, however, we were winding our way out of the city and up to our first stop: the aqueduct which presents perfectly framed views of the city and surrounding volcanoes. If that wasn't enough, there is poetry inscribed into each arch. It is ridiculously romantic and you can't help but pose for touristy photos in front of the view.
Volcanoes and Horse Riding
From there, we continued up towards the second mirador, this time a viewpoint overlooking the farming terraces and offering another perspective of the volcanoes. Trust me, they don't get boring to look at! The place is set up for tourists, with vendors selling everything from handicrafts to ice cream, but it is fairly unobtrusive and well worth it for the views.
After visiting an Alpaca centre and the founder of Arequipa's old mansion, I thought I really couldn't be getting any more for my 30 soles. But then we were offered a final activity of horse riding around an old windmill - an incredibly tranquil experience. As we trotted gently up the hillside, spoiled with yet more wonderful views on all sides, I was in a very zen-like state.
We were back in the centre of Arequipa by lunchtime, where I only had to stroll one street away from the main plaza to find a tiny local restaurant offering a menu del dia for 5 soles - approximately £1.50. The place was full of businesspeople on a lunch break, but I managed to squeeze into a space and ate heartily.
Exploring Arequipa on foot
Feeling well-fed and satisfied, I went out to explore the centre of Arequipa on foot, wandering happily from street to street, investigating brightly coloured courtyards and interesting little museums. It was a very indulgent afternoon; I paused for coffees and decadent ice creams whenever the mood took me. It was one of the first times I had been alone in a foreign city, but I didn't feel at all lonely. Everyone, from fellow tourists to Peruvian shopkeepers, seemed happy to stop and talk.
As the sun set, it put on a spectacular show, turning the volcanoes and the sky burnished tones of orange, red and purple before dusk fell. I was walking back towards the hostel in a blissful state when I noticed the advertisements for the Russian ballet outside the theatre. It was the last night and the tickets were an unbelievable bargain, so I snapped one up and after a quick dinner, I watched the ballet for the first time ever. It was simply spellbinding.
At just around 10:30pm, about the time I had arrived in Arequipa the day before, I joined the throng of people exiting the theatre and headed back to the hostel to get some sleep before my early-morning bus. Arequipa certainly hadn't disappointed. After 24 hours there, I was besotted. I felt that I had done as much as I could in the city in a single day, but I can't wait to go back for more.