After enjoying Ica’s contrasts and Nazca’s mysteries we went to beautiful Arequipa. It’s Peru’s second largest city, a colonial masterpiece in the shadow of three volcanoes, the biggest of them El Misti (5822 m). Luckily, the city’s fine architecture survived the ordeal of several earthquakes. It is lovely strolling around the city center with beautiful plazas and baroque buildings!

Popular highlight: Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Our first day we tackled the well-known sights, of which Monasterio de Santa Catalina the most impressive. This fascinating religious complex stretches over 20.000 sq m, like a city within a city. We loved wandering around the colonial cloisters, courtyards and brightly painted streets dotted with plants. On Tuesday and Thursday the monastery is opened till 8 pm (instead of 5 pm), allowing you to enjoy the meditative atmosphere by candlelight. Must be stunning!

Off the beaten track: Laguna de Salinas

On our second day we scheduled an off the beaten track destination: Laguna de Salinas, a salt lake at 4300 m above sea level. It’s a beautiful destination to spot flamingos and Andean water birds during the rainy season (January to May) and vicunas during both rainy and dry season (May to December). As soon as we arrived we spotted vicunas. It is forbidden to kill or keep these elegant beauties, so you can only see them in the wild. The view of the white salt flat was breathtaking too. It is guarded by three volcanoes: El Misti, Pichu Pichu and Ubinas. Ubinas is the easiest one to climb, but erupted in 2011 and exhales toxic smoke ever since – so better to stay on the ground.

It wasn’t easy nor cheap to get there. Laguna de Salinas is a 3,5 hour drive from Arequipa. The public bus leaves only once a day, with no guarantee on a return. We went to every single tourist office in Arequipa center and none of them offered a tour. Our only option was a private driver, which a handful offices could arrange. It’s always a good idea to shop around: prices went from anywhere between 400 soles to 1200 (per car)… We went for the ‘cheapest’ option with a 4WD and Spanish driver, arranged by Tahuantinsuyo Tours S.A.C. on Plaza de Armas.

Happy to say we think Laguna de Salinas was worth the hassle!

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