Hosting weary travellers since 1540, boutique hotel Cirqa in the south-Peru city of Arequipa sure knows how to offer refuge. Whether or not you’ve spent weeks trekking and horseback riding, you’ll be met with a high level of comfort: Netflix on TVs, freestanding bath tubs, plump beds and glass-walled rain showers to wash off any volcano-scaling missions. The stay’s sillar-rock structure is set around two patios, with vaulted roofs, original stone walls, high-gloss windows and velvet armchairs seamlessly switching between Middle Ages and modern. A roof terrace – showing off the city, cathedral and that circling series of peaks – is coming soon.
Get this when you book through us:
A cocktail each on arrival, plus early check-in and late check-out (subject to availability)
Double rooms from £404.30 ($511), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include buffet breakfast.
The building may be several hundred years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fully 2020 in terms of tech: you’ll be furnished with an Internet-supplying dongle to ensure you’re never offline if you don’t want to be, plus an iPad to ask staff questions (or just have a chat) on WhatsApp.
At the hotel
Free WiFi throughout. In rooms: minibar filled with free local goodies, organic bath products, smart TV with Netflix, internet dongles, iPad, wireless speaker, air-conditioning and free bottled water.
Our favourite rooms
It may not have been the case when the parador’s monks were opening their doors to weary travellers centuries ago, but these days the bathrooms are a lot more luxe: rest your head in the freestanding bath tub in the Bóveda and Aposento rooms, or marvel at the modernity of the glass-box rain showers in every suite. Since this is a 16th-century building, the architects couldn’t get fussy with views – all rooms face inwards onto the courtyard.
There’s a small courtyard-set plunge pool that’s more for show than cooling swims, but dip your toe in if you need to.
Don’t forget sensible shoes if you’re planning on doing some volcano scaling; and twitcher-approved binoculars if you’re passing through Colca Canyon on a condor quest.
Unfortunately, the historic structure isn’t easily navigable for wheelchair users.
All ages are welcome, but there’s not a lot for little Smiths to do. Rooms can have twin beds on request.
The hotel’s produce comes from local farmers, ensuring it’s in season. It also does its best to minimise plastic waste.
Go for a table in the grand dining room and feel refined by the presence of chandeliers and a huge fireplace.
Pay homage to your monastic forebears with puritanical colours (a flowing, latte-hued wares, say), or just keep your hood up.
The Salón chef is spinning traditional Peruvian dishes and Andean ingredients with a little European influence and lots of local spice. We were big fans of the fish curry; other dishes include parrilla-grilled crayfish and fava-bean chowder. Breakfast will set you up for Arequipa adventuring: treats like house-made pastries, corn tamales, pancakes and quince jam are delivered to your table, with pre-noon sips of champagne and Bloody Marys positively encouraged. Don’t miss afternoon tea, held daily. A rooftop restaurant with an organic garden and full-circle views of the city, cathedral and, of course, all those volcanoes and peaks, is coming soon.
The Terraza bar has a nightly cocktail hour, with fire pits and candlelight doing the illuminating once the sun’s gone down.
Breakfast hours are 7am to 10am; lunch is from 12.30pm to 3.30pm; and dinner service is between 7pm and 10pm.
Things like avocado on toast, the quiche of the day, and various pastas and platters can be ordered up to your room.
Cirqa is in the south-Peru city of Arequipa, a block back from the Plaza de Armas and next-door to the San Augustín church on Calle Sucre.
Arequipa’s Alfredo Rodríguez Ballón Airport is a half-hour drive from the hotel. Transfers cost US$30 each way. Most international arrivals are likely to connect in Lima.
Arequipa is Peru’s second biggest city, so a car will come in handy – especially if you want to get out to the volcanoes that encircle its limits – but walking tours of the colonial sights are also possible. There’s no parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
If you haven’t acclimatised to the altitude yet, head out to the terraza to take it easy (don’t forget the sunscreen), admire the mediaeval-meets-modern design or settle in for a drink at the Salón. Arequipa is one of Peru’s prettiest cities and doesn’t get the numbers that Cusco does – stroll the quiet streets with El Misti the volcano watching over you, taking in the Plaza de Armas and its colonial cathedral. Other volcanoes worth a day trip out of town are Mount Chachani and Pichu Pichu Peak. Yanahuara is an Arequipa neighbourhood worth checking out for its buildings made from sillar, a white volcanic rock – as well as its mirador, which lets you look out over the city and El Misti through poetry-inscribed arches. It’s a good three-hour drive north, but the Colca Canyon is the day trip for you if you want to spy soaring condors (and the world’s second-deepest crater). The Santa Catalina Monastery was built in 1579 and the colourful, volcanic-stone complex of living quarters, cloisters and a chapel is still inhabited today.
For sourdough and coffee that will make an East Londoner proud, head to Arequipa’s San Lázaro barrio and straight for Masamama, or visit the city’s Mercado San Camilo and barter with the best of them. If you’re a vegan and you love sushi, dreams do come true: no animals were harmed in the making of the raw ‘fish’ rolls at El Buda Profano on Calle Bolivar. There are definitely some animals on the menu at Chicha, which celebrates regional produce and traditions with dishes such as corn tamales, sea urchin on toast and (vegetarians look away now) grilled guinea pig.
For a cosy café-style wine bar with a fairy-light-strung courtyard, live music and snacks – look no further than the Cafe Y Vino for your evening-drinking needs.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in Peru and unpacked their binoculars and walking boots, a full account of their high-altitude break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Cirqa in Arequipa…
The monks have moved out and the Andean Experience Co’s dream design team has moved in to Cirqa, a parador in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa, originally founded in 1540. Way back when, the local religious brothers would host travellers overnight – so in some ways not a lot has changed (although we doubt they had glass-walled rain showers, freestanding bath tubs and Netflix to offer their weary guests then). It’s still a refuge, where you can return from days out – scaling volcanoes, scouring the skies for condors or just strolling around colonial city streets in the shadow of El Misti, Arequipa’s most famous volcano – to be met with afternoon tea, cocktail hours and fabulous food. There’s no shortage of molten-rock ruptures around here: the landscape around the city limits also stars Mount Chachani and Pichu Pichu Peak. The crowds are up in Cusco – leave them to it as you enjoy off-grid Arequipa all to yourselves. And, if you really want to channel those mediaeval monk days, locate your dressing gown, which has a pleasingly monastic hood. Chanting optional.