Why Arequipa is Awful for Children

I spent Christmas in Arequipa with the in-laws. Wife was there for two weeks with the children, but I set my limit in AQP to seven days. So if she wants more she has to do it without me, which she does with plenty of family to help.

I limit my time there under the guise of my need to work. An Airbnb pad will not have an office where I can blockade myself off from wife and children.

But now I have a new excuse: Arequipa is awful for children.

That’s almost counter-intuitive because one of the things you always hear Arequipeños say is how Arequipa is better for families, and of course Lima is dangerous. But this is what you see on Day 1 pushing your baby in the stroller.

Narrow streets, narrow sidewalks and these little go-cart taxis known as “custers” flying around.

And you’ll inevitably come across a corner like this. You sometimes have to go up the curb in a hurry in order to get out of the way of oncoming traffic, which will sometimes come in at speed to teach obnoxious pedestrians a lesson.

This is a more egregious example of completely insufficient sidewalks unfriendly to pedestrians and impossible for the handicapped or baby strollers. Here you see a two-feet-wide sidewalk with one step at the corner and two more steps halfway up the block. Not at all uncommon.

The icing on the cake. To further complicate the difficulty in navigating Arequipa’s sidewalks with child, a vendor set up shop and took half of the already-insufficient space. To get around this newsstand with a stroller, I was forced to go into the street a little. If that motorcycle had parked a few feet back, I would have had to go to the left of the motorcycle, or of course hold the baby while I fold up the stroller to walk between.

So up until this point, I am only ranting about infrastructure which is inadequate for anybody with a small child in a stroller. But the lack of things to do is another problem.

Wife went one week ahead of me, and despite the fairly regular complaints about Lima it was only a couple days in Arequipa before I started hearing, “The children are bored.”

Yeah, just like I would be if I had to spend more than a week there.

Big cities are like playgrounds for adults. But they’re also fun for children. Lima has more family-friendly options than you can realistically visit every year. Here are some of my faves:

Each one of those destinations will have the children entertained for hours. They’ll cry because they don’t want to go home.

In Arequipa there is almost nothing. The more conservative, provincial culture prefers to keep the children indoors.

Tingo is a public swimming pool with slides and whatnot, but the boy doesn’t like to swim and the baby is a baby. So no Tingo for us for a few years.

El Molino de Sabandia is a 17th-century mill with animals. Horseback riding, llamas and alpacas, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks and of course mosquitoes. Even a fighting bull. It’s fun for a couple hours. We go every time we’re in Arequipa, not because it’s that fun but for lack of other options. On this visit we went twice.

Plaza de Yanahuara in the heart of Arequipa’s moneyed district is a common stop on the tourist beat. I couldn’t believe how small it was though. Literally half the size of Parque del Bombero, a Lima square we sometimes take the boy to play and run around. Flanked by street traffic on three sides, Plaza Yanahuara is not big enough to “run around.”

But then this gem, just below the Yanahuara mirador. That’s a 20- to 30-foot drop behind this bench which is easily accessible for any walking child. Not exactly the place to “run around.”

Here’s a doorway at the end of the mirador. Imagine your beloved boy or girl sprinting through to see what’s on the other side! A two-foot sidewalk and cars flying up and down … SPLAT.

Parque Selva Alegre downtown is one of very few urban parks in Arequipa. The east side of the park has no playground or children’s attractions. It has two llamas which are let out every day to graze from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. That’s fun for almost an hour.

But of course the city has to make even this one difficult for families. This is the crosswalk at the Parque Selva Alegre entrance. Note two curbs on each side of the street, and even a bit of grass to navigate. The traffic comes down from the right side at around 30 miles per hour with no stop sign.

The west side of Parque Selva Alegre would be a great park for children. It has a pond with fish and paddleboats, inflatable slides, two playgrounds and a few rare animals like parrots and monkeys. But it’s only open on weekends and public holidays! It’s closed most days of the week. And on the days it’s opened, it’s PACKED.

And to make things even worse, they built the sidewalk with this inexplicable cobblestone scheme to keep in line with making life hell for people with strollers. That makes a bumpy ride for the baby, not to mention slow. I folded the stroller up and carried the baby in and out.

Going back to being stroller-friendly, you wonder how a city can be this abusive to parents of small children. I have your answer.

Arequipa is in southern Peru, and in this conservative provincial culture it goes without saying that the father wouldn’t bother with caring for his children beyond financially. It’s up to the women of southern Peru, and they don’t use strollers. They use backpacks!

Arequipa: we don’t need no wheel ramps!

Last two photos courtesy of Shawn Harquail‘s Creative Commons license.

Are you going to Arequipa soon? Buy my Arequipa Travel Guide: Insider Advice from an Expat in Peru.

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6 comments

  1. We have lived in Lima for 10 years some years ago. After living in Europe, the USA and Chile, we’ve Just landed in Arequipa with no kids, they have grown up and live in different parts of the world. We love both cities. Your coments are very strong
    against this city. One should be more flexible, avoid comparisons and respect people and its culture, especially when you are married to an Arequipeña.

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  2. Hi, it is truth that the side walks are terrible, but you are only showing the ugly side not the beautiful places; most people in Arequipa use cars to move from one part to another.
    If you were member of El Club Internacional your opinion would be different or de El Golf.
    Hope you have fun next time!

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  3. Well, Here are some things you can do in Arequipa with kids: Club Internacional, Club el golf, The malls and the different kids playgrounds there is in each one of them, Characato, the dinosaur park, el molino de Sabandia, the movies, El zoologico de Jesus (is definetely not that big but one can spend the whole morning visiting and you can also bring food for the different animals), tingo, feeding the pigeons en la plaza de armas, El Sambambaias de la Joya and also there are many restaurants that have big areas for kids to play in. I agree with you is super hard with strollers but also you can take taxis everywhere. Hope this helps and next time you go to my city you get to enjoy it more. Tell your wife to plan some outings with her friends and kids, is not that people from Arequipa prefer to stay in, is just that we do lots of activities with families and friends. Also if you go around Christmas you can always take a couple of days and visit the beach towns your kids will love them.

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    1. I once did the math on a family visit to Inter. 90 soles for a weekday, 136.50 soles for Saturday/Sunday/holiday. That’s without taking any in-laws to help. Given my children are small and wouldn’t last much longer than four or five hours, I decided it’s not an option even though I have friends who are members. I’ve been in there and it’s nice for adults and older children, not good for children to justify that price.

      Malls are what the children generally do in AQP, and that means video games. Not my idea of quality entertainment. The city just doesn’t have many public playgrounds. They are few and far between, and those few are usually empty of children.

      El Molino de Sabandia is great, but how many times can you go there in a week/month? We’ll do at least once and sometimes twice in a week, and that’s enough to say Arequipa isn’t good for children.

      The dinosaur park is excellent. I have an album of pictures I thought I had uploaded to Facebook. I’ll look for those.

      Like Inter, Tingo will be good when they’re a little older (5, 3 and 2 now). But it doesn’t look too good in the the opposite way of Inter. It’s so cheap that the crowds are dizzying. Cholos como cancha if you know what I mean con todo cariño.

      Feeding the pigeons used to be an option, and it is great that they closed the streets to cars. But they don’t allow people to feed pigeons anymore. If you do, those traffic policewomen will tell you it’s prohibited.

      Mollendo is great for families (Camana not so much). But that’s only a few months per year, and it’s not in Arequipa city. My review here: https://expat-chronicles.com/2015/02/06/mollendo-peru-pictures/

      Thanks for your comment, but I’ve spent almost three years of my life in Arequipa. It’s simply not good for children. But the market seems to be responding to that. We recently spent December and first two weeks of January there, and we noticed the explosion of this indoor children’s places with padded jungle gyms and trampolines where they can bounce around. They aren’t free, or even anything special especially compared to what there is in Lima, but they are a welcome addition. Better than nothing.

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