Exquisite craft in Arequipa

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If the hipster craft revival movement had a capital, it might look something like Arequipa, a southern Andean city anchored by knitters, bakers and chocolate-bar makers. With a blossoming fair trade textile industry, gourmet food workshops and even a hopping craft beer scene, Arequipa has become a beacon for maker-minded travelers.

Whether you’re a professional or hobby artisan, the city is your oyster when it comes to diving (hands-first) into craft traditions.

Handicrafts in Arequipa

Sweet aromas and local pride flow through its cobblestone streets – after all, Arequipa was once Peru’s capital. Today it remains intact as the country’s second largest city and center of the alpaca textile industry, but still hasn’t shaken its autonomous spirit. Thanks to a blend of traditions from pre-Hispanic communities and Spanish settlers that founded the city in 1540, Arequipa’s culture is as distinctive as its position below three snow-covered volcanoes. It’s earned various nicknames over the years including “The White City” for its colonial district (a UNESCO World Heritage site), with buildings made of white "sillar" volcanic stone. Now a new moniker could be on the horizon: Peru's craft capital.

Skeins of Brightly Colored Yarn

As the world’s largest alpaca fiber producer, Peru is a wonderland of wool and weavings. Once you’ve experienced chilly high-altitude mornings, you’ll likely be running to the nearest alpaca shop (Kuna is a reliable option) to buy a sweater. With the Arequipa region accounting for 99% of alpaca fiber sales, the city has become a popular destination for fashion designers on textile research trips. For New York-based knitwear designer Lindsay Degen, that involves watching wool be spun and hand-dyed in Arequipa and bonding with local knitters in the Andes.

Weaving in Peru

Arequipa’s distinctive textiles, ornamental engravings, and age-old silver trade have spilled into the world of interior design. Today it’s one of Peru’s best cities to pick up antiques. From Inca archaeological artifacts to pre-Colombian ceramics, the city is a treasure trove for decorative arts. Unique home décor items can be sourced from the many antique shops located on Calle Santa Catalina. Head to Alvaro Valdivia Anticuario to peruse hundred-year-old pottery and brightly woven llama accessories that can be repurposed as wall-hangings. For smaller trinkets, pay a visit to Arte Colonial (Santa Catalina 312), which carries Inca carvings and retro gadgets. Craft fairs touting alpaca rugs and leather goods pop up on a weekly basis. Among them is Fundo el Fierro Artisans Market, open daily, next to the San Francisco Church a few blocks north of the main square, Plaza de Armas.

Peruvian woman weaves on a loom in Arequipa

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