I’m wary of Trip Advisor. Praise is often overstated and criticism can be downright nasty. I know from reader responses to my guidebooks that some people have funny ideas about what makes an establishment lovely or loathsome. (One man wrote to me, demanding that I remove a restaurant from Frommer’s Toronto. The reason? He’d picked up a “bad vibe” from a waitress there.) Still, Trip Advisor can be a valuable guide. It led me to Casa Arequipa, after all.
Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city, a monumental wonder carved out of sillar, a ghostly white volcanic rock (the city lies at the foot of El Misti, a volcano best described as “currently inactive”). It’s known as La Ciudad Blanca — the white city. For all of its beauty, Arequipa is probably the most overlooked inhabited spot in Peru: the standard tourist itinerary allows a day at most to visit the city’s two top attractions: the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria, home to the world’s most famous human sacrifice (Juanita, the Inca maiden whose well-preserved body was found in a frozen crevice of Mount Ampato), and the Monasterio Santa Catalina (the photograph above shows one of its cloisters). After taking in these sights, people decamp to the Colca Canyon or the Cotahuasi Canyon.
I spent four days in Arequipa in November, and I wish I’d had longer. My charming casa-away-from-home was a big part of the reason why. Casa Arequipa bills itself as a boutique bed and breakfast, and with only seven rooms in a renovated colonial mansion, the staff is devoted to caring for each guest. Breakfast is included in the rates, and it’s no buffet brush-off; meals are individually prepared. When I explained my dietary concerns to the staff, they responded with delicious omelettes, fresh ham and cheese, and fruit plates. They also surprised me with their thoughtfulness: one staff member called my next hotel to explain celiac disease to the staff there. Another staff member talked to the tour operator for my Colca Canyon trip, to make sure that I’d be able to eat at the restaurants we’d be stopping at on the way in and out.
Casa Arequipa has other charms, too: the rooms are decorated with antiques and decked out with modern amenities; the staff acts as your own private concierge service, making reservations for tours, meals, and spa treatments; and the casa is located in Vallecito, an upscale neighborhood that’s a 10-minute walk (or two-minute cab ride) to the Plaza de Armas, the historic town square.
One more thing: Casa Arequipa’s owner divides his time between Arequipa and Washington, D.C., where he operates a restaurant called Las Canteras. I haven’t checked it out yet – and I have no idea whether it will be as amenable to requests for gluten-free meals as the Casa Arequipa – but I’ll definitely be visiting it the next time I’m in D.C.
Casa Arequipa [address] Av. Lima 409, Vallecito, Arequipa, Peru [tel] 51-54-284-219 [email] firstname.lastname@example.org [web] www.arequipacasa.com