Shoestring travelers arriving in Arequipa may feel a bit hogtied. Many of the museums, churches and even Colca Canyon charge entries way beyond the pockets of many who have to watch the céntimos. The Museo de Santuarios Andinos now charges $7.50 to enter and Monsterio de Santa Catalina $13. As of January 1, 2012, Colca Canyon is charging an entry fee of $26 – double what it was the year before.
But beyond the looming presence of these star attractions of Arequipa and its region, are things to do and see that don’t charge nary a cent:
The Catedral, La Compañía and other churches are free during mass hours (typically Monday-Saturday 7 a.m.-9 a.m., 6-7:30 p.m., Sunday 6:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 4:30-7:30 p.m.). Please respect the services and don’t take photos.
Two of Arequipa’s beautiful colonial mansions are free (with no guides to tip) and have art exhibits: Casona Iberry (Ca Santa Catalina 101) and Casa Tristán del Pozo (Ca San Francisco 108). Casa de la Fundación de Fierro, near Iglesia San Francisco, is now an artisans’ market (Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-6 p.m. Ca Puente Grau and Pasaje San Francisco).
More finely preserved colonial architecture, including the ancient Capilla de San Lázaro, is along the narrow streets found in the San Lázaro neighborhood, north of Calle Puente Grau. When the Spaniards arrived, this part of the valley was where the Inca nobility lived. After the Conquest, this continued to be an indigenous neighborhood.
During the Spanish viceroyalty, Yanahuara was another indigenous neighborhood. Its pleasant plaza is a mere 20-minute walk (2 km / 1.2 mi) west of downtown. Along one side is a mirador (viewpoint) of Chachani and El Misti volcanoes and along another side, a 17th century church with an intricately carved façade.
Beyond Yanahuara is Cayma, another historic neighborhood with an 18th-century church and many buildings associated with Inca writer Garcilaso de la Vega and South American Liberation General Simón Bolívar (3 km / 1.8 mi from Arequipa).
On many clear days, you can see a plume of smoke rising from Volcán Misti. It is no cloud: the volcano is active, and has registered increased fumarole activity since 2011. To learn more about this and the other active volcanoes towering over the city and the risks they pose, drop by the Centro de Sensibilización sobre los Riesgos Volcánicos en Arequipa (Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Ca La Merced 110).
Museo de Arqueología of the Universidad Católica de Santa María (the same university that runs the Santuarios Andinos museum) offers a free dose of pre-Columbian finds and dozen mummies. The collection of pinturas rupestres (rock paintings) is quite stunning (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Ca Cruz Verde 303, Tel: 221-083).
Museo Sala de Exposición Casona Editora Peru highlights the printed arts (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-5 p.m.).
Mundo Alpaca is devoted to teaching the processing of alpaca and other native fibers, from shearing and sorting, to natural dyes and weaving. Women sit in the patios, sorting the raw wool and weaving intricate designs. Live animals graze in the garden (Alameda San Lázaro 101).
Wanting to step out for a flick but can’t afford a ticket to the cinema? Check out the schedule of events at the international cultural centers around town. They often host free movies, art exhibits, theater and other cultural fare. Brazil, France, the US, Germany and Italy all have centers. Art openings, usually held on Thursday evenings, are usually a delicious feast for the eyes—and taste buds.