Arequipa surrounded by Volcanoes

View over Santa Catalina monestry and Arequipa, mountains in the background.

Arequipa is the only city in Peru, which we fully enjoyed. Welcoming people, positively surprising situations and beautiful architecture made the days in “White City” memorable.

Why not start differently this time?

Usually we start sightseeing with the main square in the city, a church or a museum… Arequipa, however, surprised us, because all of a sudden, we’ve got to know some of the city nightlife.

All thanks to Chamo, from whom we rented a room. Although the hostel is a little away from the center, it had good references and was not too expensive. It turned out that La casa de Chamo was our best accommodation throughout Peru. Not because of the standard, but thanks to the atmosphere which prevailed there. Chamo and his mother welcomed us almost like family members. They shared a dinner with us, and there was a kitchen with tea and snacks available all the time. And although they didn’t speak much English and our Spanish wasn’t too good either, we still had some long conversations.

Car racing in Arequipa
Car racing in Arequipa

Shortly after our arrival Chamo also invited us to join him and his family. They were going to the race track somewhere on the outskirts of the city. We did happily accept the invitation. We had a nice evening watching sports cars and got to know the local way of consuming alcohol in a group 😉

Walk in the city

The next days we spent with our traditional way of sightseeing. And there’s definitely a lot of things to see in Arequipa! It is the second largest city in Peru, which in the XIX century, for nearly 50 years, was the capital of the country. Arequipa is also beautifully located – right in the valley of the Chili river, which crosses the city from north to south. The exterior is surrounded by mountains, of which the most impressive are the volcanoes, among them Misti and Chachani. Majestic and towering on the horizon, are an integral part of the city panorama.

Volcanoes contributed also in other ways to the unique appearance of Arequipa, which is often called “White City”. Why? Due to the white sillar (volcanic rock), originating from the eruptions of the volcanoes. A large part of the buildings and structures in the city was built using it in the colonial times. But it’s not the only thing that shapes the climate of the city.

Plaza San Francisco
Plaza San Francisco

The combination of many different styles, of both religious and secular architecture, colonial and European with the native of Andean people, have created a very unique style called Escuela Arequipeña. It is not surprising that the historic center of Arequipa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An area of ​​332 hectares, comprises over 5,800 buildings, of which 500 were considered cultural heritage.

Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas

Among these 500 buildings there are many religious ones – 14 churches or temples, 4 chapels, 5 convents and 3 monasteries. Many other buildings have been adapted to bank branches, shops and restaurants. The vast majority, however, is restored and pleases with perfect appearance.

To stay true to our custom, we went to the largest market in the city – Mercado San Camilo. The market building was designed by Gustav Eiffel himself – the author of the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Statue of Liberty in New York. Here you can find literally everything – from fruit and vegetables, the meat, fish and cheese, cereal and pasta, to clothes and household items. There are also many eateries, where you can have something tasty and inexpensive, or order a drink of fresh fruit juice.

San Camilo Market
San Camilo Market

This time we got tempted by fresh fruits – colorful, appetizing and so exotic to us. We decided to check the taste of a few of them and describe our experience. You will find that soon in a separate post – Fruity flavors of Peru.

Santa Catalina

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and fascinating places in Arequipais the monastery of St. Catherine. Founded by a rich widow convent of the Dominican Sisters is a kind of city within a city. Once fenced off the wall from the outside world today is almost entirely open to the public.

Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery

In the period of its greatest splendor, the monastery was inhabited by about 450 people. Among them, only 150 were nuns, and the remaining 300 servants and slaves. It was said then that the monastery is filthy rich, thanks to the high benevolences and statues that families paid when their daughters joined it. Women from good houses initially admitted for a period of 4 years, after which they could decide whether they want to leave the convent or make the final vows.

Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery

Monastery itself is like a small town. Narrow cobbled streets, named after Spanish cities (such as Malaga, Toledo, Seville, Cordoba), leading to more than 80 buildings and many squares. Very distinctive, bright walls are a showcase of the monastery. Blue and orange paint color comes from the natural pigments of volcanic origin. Each year after the rainy season walls need to be repainted again, to keep the depth of the colors.

Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery

Visiting the monastery took us more than half a day. We wanted to see each part of Santa Catalina. In addition to the church of st. Catherine of Siena and the cells in which the sisters lived, there are also many other interesting places. Among them definitely it’s worth to visit the laundry, take a look into one of the many kitchens, get to a view-point and relax on one of several squares.

Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery

In our opinion, the most beautiful of them is Zocodover Square (with fountain) and the cloister of orange trees. The latter even today serves for religious ceremonies, e.g. recollection of Good Friday. But only the sisters, who now live in the northern part of the monastery inaccessible to tourists, are taking part in these ceremonies.

 

Practical tips:

  • Visiting the old town in Arequipa is best done walking. All the most interesting buildings, monasteries and museums are within 15 minutes from the main square.
  • A very interesting option is free 3-hour guided tour around the biggest attractions of the historic city center. All interested people gather at 12:20 at St. Francis Square. It might be better to call beforehand or send an e-mail to sign up. More information can be found at FWT Arequipa.
  • Most of the hotels and all travel agencies in Arequipa offer tours around the most interesting places in Arequipa and surroundings. There are also buses around the main square which offer such tours without prior reservations. Usually, the price ranges 20-40PEN (6-12USD), depending on the number of attractions.
  • Visiting the cathedral is not free. The admission ticket costs 10PEN. But you can visit the largest church in the city for free – by going to the service. The entrance is always secured by the guards, but if you say that you want to participate in the mass, they will let you in. After a mass there’s around 15-20 minutes for the people to walk around the cathedral, before the guards will ask you to leave before the next mass.
  • The admission ticket to the monastery of St. Catherine costs 40PEN (12USD). The monastery can be visited daily from 9:00 until 17:00 in low season and from 8:00 until 17:00 in the high season and throughout the year, every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:00 to 20:00. There’s usually no need to buy the tickets in advance but it’s better to make sure to check if the monastery will be open, because sometimes it is closed for religious ceremonies.
  • In the Santa Catalina there’s also a possibility to take a guided tour of the monastery. It will cost around 20-30PEN (6-9USD). Guided tours usually take about 1 hour, after which you’re free to explore the monastery on your own.
  • We can truly recommend the accommodation at La casa de Chamo. Inexpensive and very friendly. Chamo often takes his guests to a variety of interesting places – we just joined him to see the race track, but we know that he took other guests to some view points around the city.

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