Exploring the Ruta del Sillar (Sillar Route) is one of the best trips you can do from the city of Arequipa in Peru. Along the Ruta del Sillar in Arequipa, you’ll find the astonishing Canteras de Sillar (ashlar quarries). Perhaps, the most impressive quarry is Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco (Añashuayco Ashlar Quarry), which features a mesmerising sculpture carved out of the sillar (ashlar). Or, maybe, the most amazing part of these quarries is the epic ravine at Quebrada de Culebrillas (Culebrillas Gorge), which features petroglyphs from the Wari culture.
Either way, in this travel guide, we’ll explain how you can explore Ruta del Sillar independently. But, we’ll talk about why this isn’t the best option. By way of comparison, we’ll point out the benefits of doing a Ruta del Sillar tour, which is perhaps the most ideal way to visit. So, what exactly are the Canteras de Sillar found along the Ruta del Sillar? Let’s find out below.
We hope you find this guide useful. For another amazing trip from Arequipa, you should visit Colca Canyon.
Table of Contents
What is the Ruta del Sillar?
Basically, the Ruta del Sillar refers to two different things. Firstly, it’s a specific 2km trail located at the site of the famous Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. But, the Ruta del Sillar is also referred to as a touristic route collectively exploring numerous Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa. Confused? Yes, we were a bit perplexed too. Let us explain in more detail.
Basically, the Ruta del Sillar, otherwise known as the Sillar Route, was established and opened to tourists in 2014, at the site of Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. Famed for its amazing wall carving, the trail involves exploration of this one single Canteras de Sillar. However, over time, the Ruta del Sillar evolved to become more than this one specific trail. As Ruta del Sillar tours became more popular, tour companies started to visit other quarries around Arequipa. In particular, most Ruta del Sillar tours also include a visit to Quebrada de Culebrillas – another Canteras de Sillar, about 20km away from Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. So, eventually, the touristic route exploring numerous Canteras de Sillar would be referred to as the Ruta del Sillar.
FYI – more commonly, the Ruta del Sillar is referred to as the collective touristic route exploring multiple Canteras de Sillar. So, to try and keep things simple, we’ll refer to Ruta del Sillar in this way.
Canteras de Sillar (Ashlar Quarries) in Arequipa
Overall, there are 15 active sillar quarries located outside of downtown Arequipa. Indeed, there’s a long stretch of unique quarries that are rich in sillar (ashlar), which is a white volcanic rock. It explains why many of the buildings in Arequipa are white. They’re made from the sillar that has been mined from these quarries for centuries. Indeed, by exploring Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa, you’ll appreciate the mining processes used by stonemasons to extract the white mineral. The practices used by the quarrymen remain unchanged for over hundreds of years. It’s fascinating to see the traditional methods of sillar mining, which don’t involve the use of any modern machinery.
Certainly, Arequipa is well-known for many things. It’s Peru’s second most populated city. Foodwise, it’s known for its queso helado (cheese ice cream). In addition, it’s a popular city to visit, because it’s close to the sensational Colca Canyon. But, it’s possibly most famous for its white stone buildings, whether it be monuments, churches or temples around the historic centre. There’s no wonder Arequipa is known as the ‘white city‘. Of course, it’s the Canteras de Sillar that we have to thank for this beautiful architecture in Arequipa.
Ruta del Sillar Arequipa Location
The Ruta del Sillar tourist circuit is located roughly northwest of the city of Arequipa. As mentioned, most Ruta del Sillar tours specifically visit Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco and Quebrada de Culebrillas. To that end, Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco is located 15km northwest of downtown Arequipa. Whereas, Quebrada de Culebrillas is around 25km west of downtown Arequipa.
Exploring Ruta del Sillar Independently
Of course, this guide will explain why you shouldn’t explore Ruta del Sillar independently. Personally, Beck and I chose to visit Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco independently. After a few group tours in Cusco, we were keen to explore some attractions in Peru of our own accord. Indeed, we enjoyed being the masters of our own fate by exploring independently. But, as we found out, logistically, exploring independently had its drawbacks and challenges. Let us explain how to get there independently below and you’ll see that it’s not so straightforward.
How to Get to Ruta del Sillar Independently
Basically, it’s near impossible to explore Ruta del Sillar with public transport. We’ve heard about various combinations of colectivos from downtown Arequipa, that will only get you as far as Cerro Colorado. From there, you’d still need to walk around 4–5km to reach Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. Of course, that’s just one Canteras de Sillar that makes up the touristic Ruta del Sillar in Arequipa. To then get to Quebrada de Culebrillas, you’d need to walk back to Cerro Colorado. From there, you won’t find any buses heading to Quebrada de Culebrillas. Nor will you find any buses heading to Quebrada de Culebrillas from downtown Arequipa. So, essentially, don’t rely on public transport for exploring numerous Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa.
A better option is to organise your own transport. Thankfully, taxis and Ubers are very cheap in Arequipa. Personally, Beck and I caught an Uber from the city of Arequipa to Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. The journey was around 45 minutes and cost S/21 ($5USD). Indeed, we had a great time exploring Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco independently. Sure, getting there was easy. But, the problem was getting picked up from Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. Basically, we were left stranded!
The Challenges of Organising Your Own Transportation
The Canteras de Sillar along the Ruta del Sillar are located some distance from downtown Arequipa. So, you won’t find any taxis passing by Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco or Quebrada de Culebrillas. Also, as a whole, Ruta del Sillar is still somewhat of an unknown quantity to locals. As a result, you won’t find taxis simply waiting at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco or Quebrada de Culebrillas.
When requesting an Uber at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, we waited for 30 minutes and had no bites. As we’d find out later, unless you have your own car, it’s uncommon to explore these quarries independently using taxis or Ubers. So, your chances of a taxi or Uber dropping someone off at either Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco or Quebrada de Culebrillas is unlikely. Again, this means getting a taxi or Uber from either of these places is difficult.
How to Avoid These Challenges
Luckily, we made friends with some tourists who were visiting Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco and had their own car. They kindly dropped us off at a taxi station at Cerro Colorado. Given the difficulty of leaving Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, we figured it would be too tricky to visit Quebrada de Culebrillas. So, from Cerro Colorado, we simply caught a taxi back to Arequipa for S/10 ($2.50USD). The journey took around 30 minutes. As you can see, that’s a drawback to exploring Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa independently. It’s difficult to get public transport or taxis to and from different Canteras de Sillar.
Of course, to avoid all of this trouble, we could have simply walked back to Cerro Colorado. But, in our defence, it was boiling. Also, we had recently just completed the Choquequirao, Salkantay and Ausangate treks. So, we were knackered. Perhaps, to avoid the problem of being left stranded, we could have hired a driver for the day. But, this wouldn’t be as cost-effective as doing a Ruta del Sillar tour. So, at the end of the day, perhaps a Ruta del Sillar tour would have been the best option. That way, all transport to and from the Canteras de Sillar is taken care of.
Anyway, if you’re still keen on the challenge of exploring Ruta del Sillar independently, here are some important details below.
Ruta del Sillar Arequipa Opening Hours
Both Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco and Quebrada de Culebrillas are open from 9am–4pm.
FYI – The Red de Cortadores de Sillar – Arequipa (Ashlar Cutter Network – Arequipa) are a group of the stonemasons who established the Ruta del Sillar trail at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. They basically run the show and set the opening hours, prices, etc. So, what’s the entrance fee?
Ruta del Sillar Arequipa Price
The entrance fee for both Sillar Añashuayco and Quebrada de Culebrillas is S/5 ($1USD) per person. Cheap, ha?!
Additional Ruta del Sillar Costs
Other than the entrance fees, there’ll be additional costs during your trip to the quarries. If you visit them independently, there are the taxi or Uber costs. Additionally, at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, you’ll pay extra fees to enter different parts of the Canteras de Sillar. For instance, it’s S/3 ($0.75USD) to enter the zoologica area. Also, it’s S/5 ($1USD) to enter the nativity scene area.
If you’re doing a Ruta del Sillar tour, you’ll still likely have to pay the entrance fee and these additional costs. Let’s look at the Ruta del Sillar tour in a bit more detail below.
Ruta del Sillar Arequipa Tour
After experiencing some challenges with visiting independently, we recommend doing a Ruta del Sillar tour. The tours offered by companies in Arequipa aren’t full day tours. They’re just half day tours. So, you have the option of a morning (usually 9am–1pm) or afternoon (usually 1pm–5pm) tour.
Most Ruta del Sillar tours offer the same thing. This includes roundtrip transportation from Arequipa, transportation between the Canteras de Sillar along the Ruta del Sillar and a guide. Indeed, the transportation alone makes the group tour an attractive option. Better yet, a guide will explain the history and significance of the Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa. Personally, Beck and I wandered around Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco by ourselves. We soon realised that a guide would have been helpful to understand what exactly we were looking at.
Best of all, Ruta del Sillar tours are super cheap. You’ll be looking at around S/35–50 ($9–13USD) for a tour. Indeed, when you add up the costs of exploring independently, the tour probably works out to be cheaper. It’s also far easier and more convenient.
Because we didn’t do a Ruta del Sillar tour, we can’t recommend a specific company. But, don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of travel companies in downtown Arequipa offering this tour.
What to Expect on a Ruta del Sillar Tour
On a Ruta del Sillar tour, you’ll typically visit Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco and Quebrada de Culebrillas. You’ll also usually visit a viewpoint during your trip. Let’s start with that.
Some Ruta del Sillar tours will take you to a viewpoint before you explore the Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa. Surrounding Arequipa are many epic volcanoes. So, it’s likely that a Ruta del Sillar tour will involve some sort of volcano viewpoint. Expect nice views of the Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu volcanoes.
Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco
Also known as Cantera de Añashuayco, this is usually the first quarry in Arequipa that you’ll explore. As mentioned, this is where the official Ruta del Sillar trail is located. Here, the trail descends into the Quebrada de Añashuayco (Añashuayco Gorge). Along the approx. 2km trail, there are a number of sculptures, emblems and pieces of work embedded into the sillar walls. You’ll also find stand-alone statues such as animal sculptures. Of course, the most famous and photographed feature is the massive carving of the Church of the Society of Jesus. This is what your Instagram feed has been waiting for. Petra – eat your heart out!
By doing a tour, you’ll take time to observe the stonemasons in action. Indeed, you’ll learn about the cutting processes involved with mining sillar and their uses after extraction.
Quebrada de Culebrillas
After exploring Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, you’ll then head to Quebrada de Culebrillas. Here, you’ll explore a narrow ravine known as Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas. It features the famous Petroglyphs of Culebrillas. Honestly speaking, the canyon that you’ll hike through looks epic in its own right. Squeezing through the narrow path created by the canyon is an adventure. Throw in the famous snake petroglyph, along with other petroglyphs, and you have an all-round awesome Canteras de Sillar to explore. It’s believed that the petroglyphs are from the Wari people. They were a civilisation that thrived during the 6–10th Century. Indeed, they outdated the Inca Empire (12–14th Century) by some time.
Ruta del Sillar Tour vs. Exploring Independently
Visiting both Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco and Quebrada de Culebrillas is much easier with an organised tour. Unfortunately, given the difficulty of getting around the Canteras de Sillar independently, Beck and I only managed to visit Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. Of course, the large carving there is the star attraction of the entire Ruta del Sillar. In addition, Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco is the birthplace and actual site of the specific Ruta del Sillar trail. But, we were disappointed to miss out on Quebrada de Culebrillas.
Being unprepared, we thought by visiting Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, that we were ‘doing’ the Ruta del Sillar. But, as previously mentioned, the Ruta del Sillar has evolved to involve the exploration of numerous Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa. Well, in reality, the Ruta del Sillar includes a trip to just a second Canteras de Sillar – Quebrada de Culebrillas. But, this quarry is very different from Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. So, you’d definitely want to visit both quarries. That’s something which is made easy and cheap to do with a Ruta del Sillar tour. Certainly, if we had our time again, we would do a tour.
Ruta del Sillar Facilities
The facilities at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco are surprisingly good. Considering it’s a bit remote, the facilities are more than you’d expect. At Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, there are bathroom facilities, lots of parking available, sheltered areas, ice cream vendors and small stalls for food and refreshments. In comparison, Quebrada de Culebrillas is a bit more bare bones. So, make sure to use the bathroom and stock up on snacks at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco.
Wheelchair accessibility at either of the Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa isn’t exceptional. But, don’t worry, it’s still possible to explore and enjoy the quarries. At Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco, the Ruta del Sillar trail is a fairly flat path that’s wheelchair accessible. Just be mindful that the path is uneven with lots of loose rock. Unfortunately, the bathroom isn’t wheelchair accessible.
In addition, the Cantera Vírgen de Culebrillas isn’t accessible to wheelchairs. But, it’s certainly still possible to visit Quebrada de Culebrillas and learn about the quarry.
What to Wear and Pack
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
When exploring outdoors in Arequipa, you should also take water, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
For a more complete gear list, read our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Or, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a backpacking trip in Peru, check out our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- The Sillar Route isn’t a hiking trail: when Beck and I heard the word ‘route’, we were pumped for a possible hike. But, as it turns out, the Ruta del Sillar trail is more of a casual path exploring Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco.
- Peru is more than just Machu Picchu: sure, go and see the well-known attractions in Peru. But, spend time at the lesser-known places such as the Canteras de Sillar in Arequipa.
- Watch Los Cortadores de Sillar: this is a great documentary on Youtube, which shows the lives of the stonemason at Canteras de Sillar Añashuayco. If you’re visiting independently, this would be great to watch for some history and context during your visit.
Did you have better luck exploring Ruta del Sillar independently? Let us know in the comments below.