Sonccollay, a pre-Inkan restaurant

Amy didn’t really like the idea of cuy and politely avoided looking at it. She ordered alpaca, which she enjoyed. It’s a good thing that she’s a great companion since it took well over 1.5 hours between ordering and seeing our food! We drank a local fermented drink, called chicha de jora, made from purple corn. It was a very lightly alcoholic mixture.

My friend, fellow teacher Amy, and I decided to splurge a bit and try what seems to be a fairly unique restaurant, not just in Arequipa, but in South America. Sonccollay is located on the Plaza de Armas and is listed as a “pre-Inkan” restaurant, serving the traditional foods of the Andean region. I was most interested in the cuy–local guinea pig. I’d had it earlier in the week, but it was fried and I wanted to try a traditional roasted dish.

One of the side dishes including tomato, cape gooseberry and avocado.

Amy and I had each met the owner, while we were on separate free walking tours. The tour ends at the restaurant, which has an impressive view of the plaza below and the surrounding mountains. The owner is personable with a commanding voice, but seemed quite disheveled and stressed both times I saw him. He seems to run the restaurant almost entirely alone!

Here’s the cuy, dusted with herbs and roasted in the oven. As a farm girl from the Midwest, I couldn’t help but think that the cuy (guinea pig) looked a LOT like squirrel. It had been roasted in the oven with a weight on top to keep it flat. There was surprisingly little meat on it and if it hadn’t been fairly fatty to start with, probably would have been quite dry. As it was, it tasted like dark meat chicken. Most of the fat had dripped away, so it don’t think I over indulged, too much. On the other side of the cuy are two small alpaca steaks which Amy said were quite tasty.

While I had a good time (mostly because of good company) and enjoyed the food, I’m not sure if I can recommend the restaurant. It was a bit over-priced and we waited almost 2 hours to eat, despite being one of the few diners. They also took almost all my cash, since they had “trouble” accepting credit cards, though the menu had indicated that they did. I also felt the owner was openly disappointed with our orders–we hadn’t spent enough money to satisfy him. I won’t go back.

This is the land of potatoes, so you’ll usually see them served with any dish. These included three varieties of potato–white, purple and a sweet potato that was tasty, but beige in color. The corn is the local, native variety, called choclo. The kernels are large and it’s not terribly sweet. Honestly, it always tastes a bit like field corn to me.

Do not expect beef, chicken, garlic, onions or cilantro when eating here. The main meats are alpaca, cuy, duck and “river shrimp.” And everything is a little charred, typical of the use of stone and wood logs. Most of the reviews I read simply raved about the food, but I thought it was good, but not fantastic. Of course, I’m really put out by being expected to wait a long time to order and receive food in what was clearly not a busy night. I also felt I was slightly over charged based on the menu prices.

There are highlights, however. The restaurant seats diners on a second story balcony over looking the Plaza de Armas. It’s great for people watching and we even observed the ceremony to take down the flags in the courtyard. The owner will give you a brief tour of the kitchen, which should not be missed. And the view from the roof is simply spectacular.

Misti Volcano is visible from much of the city.
I met Amy on the corner of the park, near the bridge where the alpaca are. I’ve grown quite fond of them. They remind me of a cross between a sheep and a long necked teddy bear.


  • Address: Portal de San Agustin 149 | Terraza de la Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
  • Location: South America  >  Peru  >  Arequipa Region  >  Arequipa
  • Phone Number: +51 54 281219

Municipal Museum of Arequipa

I’m doing a LOT of walking while I’m here in Arequipa–trying to get between 2-4 hours of walking each day. It’s part of my training for the Annapurna trail in Nepal in November. But I do more than walk–I see the city, too. Sometimes, my walking includes visits to my favorite plaza, such as the Plaza de San Francisco. There’s a small, free museum there that I also saw this week.

The Municipal Museum of the city of Arequipa focuses on informing visitors of the history of Arequipa, but you may want to brush up on your Spanish before visiting. There’s no English signage. But it does cover, though briefly, architecture, ethnology and art of the area.

The exhibition is divided into seven wards: Prehispanic Hall, Room Emancipation of the Republic Hall, Room Vinatea Reynoso, Room Naval Architecture Hall, Room Arequipeños Illustrious and the Pinacoteca.

My favorite was the last room, displaying landscapes of the area, most with a view of Misti in the background.

The cathedral of Arequipa

The cathedral in Arequipa is am impressive building, made of local sillar (a white volcanic stone), facing the Plaza de Armas.

The Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa takes up one entire side of the square Plaza de Armas of the city of Arequipa (located in the province of Arequipa), Peru. It is the most important Catholic church of the city and perhaps the largest church of the area.  The cathedral is also considered one of Peru’s most unusual and famous colonial cathedrals since the Spanish conquest.

The view of Chachanee, an extinct volcanic range. The name means “wife” and this range, though larger and higher, is considered the wife of the single, still active, Misti volcano.

I’ve set out to see the cathedral at least three other times, but the Plaza de Armas is also a popular spot for protests, which always close the church. There’s a fee of 10 soles to enter, plus another 5 for a guided tour, which is well worth it.

Our quide stands along the railing with one of the two bell towers behind. This is the one that fell during the last major earthquake in 2001. It fell toward the left and completely through the ceiling into the chapel below. It took a year to repair the damage.

I couldn’t take photos of the museum, which has previous silver and gold object, some decorated with semi-precious stones. The most notable pieces included a “bread holder” in silver, shaped like a swan feeding her young from the exposed heart (in red stones) on her chest. The guide’s English was quite good, but she kept referring to the bird as a pelican. There were several crowns, made to adorn statues of the Virgin, most silver, coated in gold and covered in colored glass or semi-precious stones. The most impressive was the solid sliver monstrance, with over 1000 diamonds.

The altar

The City of Arequipa was founded on August 15, 1540 by Garcí Manuel de Carbajal. The Cathedral started construction on this very date. In the “Act of Foundation” of Arequipa, it can be read: “…in the name of its majesty Governor Francisco Pizarro, founded the beautiful village in the valley of Arequipa, in the Collasuyo section, above the river edge, in his name he put the cross, in the location signaled for the Church; He put the pike in the Plaza of the village, which he stated would do in the name of its majesty…”

This impressive building has weathered, sometimes unsuccessfully, many earthquakes, so there’s been lots of rebuilding. The entire edifice has been reduced to ruble more than once. The last major earthquake was June 23, 2001: The 2001 southern Peru earthquake measured 8.1 on the Richter scale. The left tower was destroyed and the right tower suffered major damage.

The organ.
Inside the cathedral.
The old, wooden pulpit, no longer needed now that there are microphones.
This was quite an unusual “sun spot”. The wooden figure is at the bottom of the old (and no longer used) pulpit. It’s a figure of the devil, half man and half dragon. He seems to be shielding himself from a ball of light.
The altar

Top of the cathedral with Misti volcano in the distance. There was an odd weather front that moved in two days before this photos. The clouds are all that remain of it. It raised the humidity (which often hovers below 20% this time of year) and even felt like rain, but there was none. These are among the first clouds I’ve seen since arriving in late July.
From the top of the cathedral.
We were able to walk right under the three bells in this tower.
Close up of how the largest bell is attached.
Our quide stands along the railing with one of the two bell towers behind. This is the one that fell during the last major earthquake in 2001. It fell toward the left and completely through the ceiling into the chapel below. It took a year to repair the damage.
A view of the Plaza de Armas from the top of the cathedral.
A view of the Plaza de Armas from the top of the cathedral.
You can see the top of the church. This section of the roof was entirely rebuilt in 2001 and 2002, after an earthquake that damaged both towers.
A closer view shows three bells. This is the bell town that fell during the 2001 earthquake. The bells are rung by hand, but the other tower has bells that a rung with the clock, by an automatic mechanism.
This is an impressive, wooded side door, leading away from the Plaza de Armas.
From the top floor, looking into the sanctuary.
On top of the cathedral, there are two bell towers.

Tasting cuy and alpaca

Both of the meals described here were eaten at Wayrama, located near the Plaza de Armas, Santa Catalina Calle, 200, Arequipa, Peru.

Those who follow this blog probably also know my slogan: “Traveling the World, one bite at a time.” I’ll taste almost anything at least once. This week, I’ve crossed two more culinary milestones off my list: Cuy and Alpaca.

I started with a beer, the local brand is Arequipena. These roasted corn nuts are are served everywhere–very dry and salty. Perfect in bars to get the customers to order a second. Or third.

I’ll start with the Alpaca. It was a steak filet (lomo), grilled (asado) and served medium with a fresh vegetable sauce and french fries (papas fritas). Alpaca is a very lean meat, much like deer, so roasting needs to be slow. Overcooking could quickly dry out and toughen this meat. Fortunately, my chef was an old hand and I suffered neither issue, though it seems to be a naturally tough meat and I neede a knife to cut it. Despite the outward resemblance to deer, the meat was mild with no gamey taste. It was much like beef, frankly, and I’m not sure I could tell the difference. It was flavorful. I can recommend it!

This is alpaca (lomo de alpaca) with fresh vegetables. Every dish in Peru is served with potatoes, usually papas fritas (French fries), like these. The meat was a tad tough and very lean, like deer. But the taste was very close to beef, mild and not “gamey.” It was served medium and I assume more cooking would have dried it out and toughened it even more.

The cuy was not quite as I was expecting. First, let me explain that cuy is guinea pig, native to the Andes and once a staple in this area. I was ordering from a menu entirely in Spanish, so sometimes I’m a tad surprised by the resulting dish. Good thing I’ll eat almost anything. I’d expected the cuy to be roasted, which is traditional. This was deep fried filets, dipped first in cornmeal. I suspect the same cornmeal is used for trout. Tucha is very popular here and it’s usually deep fried. I detected a fishy smell with the first bite, which was disappointing. This turned out to be a very fatty piece of meat, so deep frying made for a somewhat greasy, heavy dish. After a few bites, I pulled away the breading and fatty skin and just ate the small amount of meat remaining, which, tasted like dark meat chicken. Isn’t that always the way? The saving grace to the meal was the creamy “Andean herb” sauce. It looked like it might taste too “green” but proved mild with a hint of mint. I used a couple of the ubiquitous french fries to sop up the last of the sauce, though I left most of the fatty skin and breading.

I’m going to have to give cuy another try, but find a roasted dish. I’m dining with a friend Sunday, so may try it then.

A free month in Peru!

Yes, that’s Misti Volcano, but two things have changed. First, no snow. It’s really warmed up here and I’ve had to take two of the three blankets off my bed. The second is the clouds. In the entire time I’ve been here there have been none, but last night these clouds rolled in. Feels like rain, which would also be a first. (By evening the clouds rolled out with no rain)

The short version is that I wasn’t enjoying the school here in Arequipa. There were broken promises, which I’ve discussed. I had a 33 teaching hour work load, 15-20 additional hours of preparation, the worst classroom in the school (for a second month in a row), and a cold that was making me miserable. No amount of discussion seemed to be able to improve the classroom (three of four light bulbs needed replacing, but nothing was ever done) and I’d asked for a lower teaching load (this was promised, but I had the same number of hours on the next schedule). The final straw was an all day Student’s Day event we were required to “volunteer” for. It was even assumed that all teachers would be participating, even serving on at least one soccer/volleyball/basketball team. I’m not interested in sports and have no ability in this area.

Though there are fewer flowers here in Arequipa than in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, they are still welcome. It’s so dry here that watering is required all winter and spring. It’s not rained even once in the time I’ve been here.

Possibly, I should have tried to discuss a more reasonable compromise. That does seem like the adult thing to do. Except 1) I’d had no success with previous communications or promises, 2) I’m not getting paid much for my work anyway and 3) I was so sick I just didn’t care anymore. I turned in my books on the third day of classes and gave up. I slept for most of the next two day, and awoke feeling better and much less stressed. I should have done it earlier. Don’t get me wrong, this school isn’t any worse than most of the others, but I’m just tired of allowing myself to be treated badly. And I simply don’t want to work on a tourist visa with a contract that calls me an “intern.”

Always a problem–gaping holes in the sidewalk. Always watch your step.

In the meantime, I’ve recovered from the cold and am dealing with a large block of uninterrupted time for the first times in years. I’m truly efficient with small blocks of time. I fit the saying, “When you want something done, ask a busy person.” I know how to schedule my time and get things done under pressure. But dealing with a large swath of free hours with no plan each day is new to me. And a little overwhelming. Lazing around for a day or two is probably good for all of us once in awhile, but a month or more and I fear I’ll fall into a deep depression. To combat it, I’ve set myself a daily “to do” list. The major categories are exercise and Spanish study.

There’s a piqueria–traditional Peruvian restaurant–just up the hill from my apartment. Lunch is the big meal of the day here, so I usually get something off the “menu”–the daily specials. It’s 8 soles (about $2.30US) for a huge portion of soup (always with some meat, vegetables and a single, large boiled potato) and an entree (showed here is fettuccine with a simple sauce and a chicken leg and thigh). The soup is a meal alone, so for the price I get two meals. Hard to beat.
Two workers eating at the piqueria up the hill from me. The soup is a first course and it’s also served with a drink. When I asked what it was, I was told “agua” but it was clearly more–perhaps a sweetened tea.
Here’s the proprietor. I’m not sure if the place even has a name. There’s only a handful of tables, but it’s popular at lunchtime, which begins at noon. I learned the hard way not to come earlier.

The exercise is quite practical. I’m in training for a hike of Nepal in November. I’m already at high altitude (2,335m  or 7,661ft) here in Arequipa, though I’ll have to deal with much higher in Nepal. I fly into Kathmandu, which is at 1,400 metres or 4,600 ft. So far, so good. But it’s 18 days, hiking 4-6 hours most days and climbing to Thorung Phedi, 4450m/14600ft. High altitude has been difficult for me in the past and I’ve never experienced anything like what I’m facing. So while I really want to do this, I don’t expect it to be all pleasant. That’s why this week, I’m doing a combination of stretching, strength exercises and walking with a light pack at least 2 hours a day. I’ll increase the walking next week.

These are a special style of empanadas, considered Bolivian. They are called Salteña. These held meat (Saltena de Carne), but can contain vegetables or potatoes and cheese. They are a common street food here. Though Bolivian, they are named after the Argentinian city of Salta.                              
According to this website: “Salteñas have two main features that differentiate them from most empanadas. The repulgue, or the “braided” seam that seals the empanada closed, is placed on top, and the empanadas are baked in an upright position, rather than on their side. The filling is also different – it’s much juicier with lots of stewing liquid accompanying the meat and vegetables. This is accomplished by adding gelatin to the filling while it is still hot, then chilling the mixture in the refrigerator until it thickens. The gelatin-thickened filling is easier to handle when shaping the salteñas. As the salteñas bake, the gelatin melts and the broth becomes liquid again. It’s a nice trick that keeps the salteñas from getting soggy!”

I bought two for about 5 soles (less than $2US) and ate them on the way home. Empanadas are a bit more common, though I’m not sure I can tell the difference by taste. I can attest to the filling being more stew like–I was wearing part of it after the first bite.

These were popular in Mexico and Paula and I ate too many of them. My last 6 weeks in Mexico were depressing and I did a bit of comfort eating to make up for it. I’m still losing the pounds. Paula, however, dropped several pounds, so I may have eaten more of these than she did. Or maybe it was the street tacos?

I’m also spending more than 2 hours a day studying Spanish. Some is online (I’ve finished the DuoLingo course and am now using Tiny Cards), two different video lessons (one speaking and one listening), vocabulary review on my own, and I’m about to finish a grammar book I started in Mexico. Today, I was able to do some bargaining in Spanish, reducing the price of gifts for friends and family. I also ordered alpaca steak (my first) entirely in Spanish!

Moco de gorila translates as gorilla mucus or gorilla snot. It seems to be a hair gel, but I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a product with a horrible name like this.
Adventures at the grocery! To an English speaker, this is a truly terrible name for candy. Google translates it as “thick” but it’s probably more like “chewy.”

Also on the to do list, practicing my ukulele and drawing. I’m really terrible at both, but enjoying myself. In addition, I do some reading and watch Netflix and of course exploring the area. This week, I found a little plaza near me, tasted alpaca steak, located the traditional market, and bought a few gifts. It’s relaxing and I feel productive. Besides, it’s just a month.

The photos are from my walks over the last couple days.

Even inside this city of almost a million people, there’s some farmland.
These cows seem out of place, but happy, among the city buildings.
This is the entrance to a small plaza, new to me and not too far from the Yanahuara Plaza. It seems quite old.
The plaza inside the archway.
Adobo is a stewed and very flavorful meat dish. The cooking marinade differs from chef to chef, but what surprises me is that this is a breakfast dish. It seems very heavy to me! I’m told that if you don’t arrive before 9am, preferably 8am, no decent restaurant will have any left.
There’s always a church in these old squares.
I couldn’t find a date, but the entrance is lovely.
Church, inside
There were two huge old trees in front of the church.