Peru’s port of Matarani is a gateway to one of the country’s most fascinating cities: Arequipa, which sits 2,335 meters (7,661 feet) above sea level in an Andean valley 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the Pacific. In the background is the nearby volcano El Misti, which looms over the city at a height of 5,822 meters (19,101 feet). Spanish conquistadores founded Arequipa in 1540, but due to its remote location, it developed a distinct identity, known for its outspoken politicians and spicy cuisine such as the stuffed pepper dish rocoto relleno and the pork stew adobe. There's also a vibrant intellectual life. Nobel Prize–winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was born here and donated personal writings and 7,000 books to the public library on Calle San Francisco. Nicknamed the White City for the pearly volcanic stone used to construct many of its buildings, compact Arequipa is ideal for walking. At the heart of the UNESCO World Heritage district is the Plaza de Armas, dominated by a twin-towered 16th-century cathedral with 70 Corinthian-style columns along its facade. Behind the cathedral is a pedestrians-only street lined with alpaca shops and cafés, and the entire area is filled architectural wonders, including colonnades, courtyards with flowers and fountains and restored colonial casonas.