Arequipa, The charming colonial style city in Southern Peru

White Walls

Arequipa lies in a fertile valley at the foot of the imposing volcano "El Misti".
Southern Peru is actually a very dry desert that turns into the famous Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, the driest place in the world. Nevertheless the Climate in the Arequipa Valley is very pleasant all year round.
Arequipa is one of Peru's most beautiful cities. Especially the Santa Catalina Monastery is the most beautiful of its kind and the unrivaled and most precious jewel of the city. But Arequipa has so much more to offer.
The Plaza de Armas is flanked by 2 story arcades from 3 sides and the cathedral from the forth. The Plaza is bustling with tourists and locals, portrait photographers, merchants and pickpockets. Arequipa is also the Base for popular 2 or 3-day excursions to Colca Canyon.

 

Arequipa is a good place to start a Peru vacation. It lies lower than Cusco and Puno and is therefore ideal to get used to high altitude. You can either book a guided tour of the city or explore the city on your own by foot, since most of the interesting sights can be found near the Plaza de Armas.

Arequipa Valley

Most Hotels are also located in this area and can be found no more than 5 blocks away from the Plaza. That sounds far, but street blocks in Arequipa are fairly small. You can walk this distance in 5-10 minutes. Arequipans are very proud of their city. Arequipa at some point tried to become independent of Peru. You can still buy the passport to Arequipa in gift shops in the city.

Traffic in Arequipa

Arequipa is also called the "white city". While almost every travel book claims that this is due to the white volcanic rocks that were used for so many buildings here, our travel guide told us a different story. Most buildings were painted during colonial times anyways, so that the city would not have appeared white but rather colorful. Arequipa used to be an important Hub for goods that were shipped out of the rain forest, such as woods and rubber. During that time, mostly Europeans, who put the Amerindians to work for them, settled Arequipa. Due to the mostly white population, Arequipa got called the "white city". I don't know what story to believe; I just know that after the color has been stripped from most buildings, large parts of the city do appear white.

Volcano Misti

Arequipa Sights

Plaza de Armas

Plaza de Armas

The Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful in Peru. Surrounded by two story arcades on three sides and the imposing cathedral on the fourth, this Plaza is the center of the city. The richest and most impressive colonial style buildings are in the vicinity of this square. The further you venture away from it, the less impressive the buildings become.
Palm trees, old gas lamps and a white stone fountain surrounded by benches distinguish the park in the center of the plaza. Always filled with crowds of people and pigeons it is truly the center of life of this wonderful city. Portrait Photographers stroll around looking for customers and vendors show their offerings. Please be careful here, since the safety of the crowd is very much appreciated among pickpockets.

Cathedral

San Francisco de Arequipa Cathedral

The massive twin towered San Francisco de Arequipa Cathedral dominates the view of the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral took a lot of damage in the 2001 Earthquake that hit Arequipa with a magnitude of 8.1. Amazingly only a year after one of the towers had collapsed, the Cathedral was rebuilt and opened to the public again. The cathedral was finished around 1612 and has been destroyed by earthquakes many times, even during construction.

Pulipt of the Cathedral in Arequipa

The inside of the cathedral is kept somewhat simpler than most other churches in Peru bustling with Inca gold, yet it does not mean it is less beautiful.

Santa Catalina Monastery

Santa Catalina Monastery - Oven Monastery de Santa Catalina

The 16th century Monastery is the most impressive site in Arequipa and the most elaborate Monastery I have ever seen. It was opened to the public in 1970. The Monastery is gigantic in size. It is over 20,000 square meters (over 215,000 sqft) and covers a whole city block. Within the monastery there are streets having their own street names and districts. Only nuns of Spanish families were accepted. Traditionally the second daughter of upper-class families became a nun here. They were supposed to live in poverty but in reality each nun had between 1 to 4 servants and they lived in splendor, dining of the finest porcelain and being able to have parties.
Each district of the Monastery is painted in a different color, indigo blue, red or white. Walk through the arched colonnades surrounding the courtyards and follow the alleys and streets to different sectors. Each of them has its own charm with carefully tended flowerbeds, gardens, trees and fountains.

Monastery Garden

Enter the churches and living quarters to get a feeling for the live of the nuns. You can visit a large picture gallery, a collection of porcelains and jewelry, old books and other items of comfort for the nuns. There is so much to do and to see here, that you should consider taking a guided tour. Plan at least a couple of hours, although you will probably feel rushed.
The old egg shaped ovens and other kitchen utensils are still in use today. The laundry facilities are very interesting in itself. Water runs down a small stone channel. The channel has holes above the water line, leading to egg shaped gigantic bowels. Upon blocking the water flow, the water will be diverted into one of them. They can be drained easily and filled again.

Arequipa Monastery Room

Some of the main attractions include:

  • The Cloister of the Oranges (Claustro los Naranjos). Three crosses between the orange trees are the center of the Passion of the Christ ceremony.
  • The Main Cloister is the largest in the monastery with confessionals (here confessions are made) and paintings depicting Mary and Jesus
  • The Church with a silver altar has been rebuilt several times due to earthquake damage.
  • The Silence Yard where Nuns walk saying the rosary and read the Bible
  • Cordova Street is a beautiful street with hanging geraniums reminiscent of Spain.
  • The Plaza Zocodover was the plaza where the nuns gathered to exchange their religious craft items.
  • The Laundry area
Monasterio de Santa Catalina - Confesionarios

La Compania

La Compania

On the southeast of the Plaza de Armas stands La Compania, a Jesuit Church. It is best known for its elaborate stone carvings above the entrance and for the Chapel of San Ignacio de Loyola. The carvings are a collection of zigzags, spirals, crowns, flowers birds and grapevines. Angels have Amerindian faces and one has a crown of feathers.

Sacristy Paintings

The gilded main altar inside La Compania is a masterpiece of baroque architecture. When you enter the sacristy next to the altar, enormous murals of jungle plants and animals will surprise you.

La Compania Cloister

Getting Here

Daily flights from Lima, Cusco and Juliaca connect Arequipa to other parts of the country. I recommend flying with LAN Peru or TACA. Other airlines may be less secure. I had very good experience with LAN Peru, once I was in the air. Their services on the ground are actually the worst I have ever seen, but in the air they truly excel. Their stewardesses are friendly and they even serve food on shorter flights.
The airport lies about 7km north of the city. You can get a taxi ride for about $5 to downtown Arequipa.
You can also take the bus to Arequipa or the train from Puno Juliaca, Lima or Cusco.
Bus and Train stations are a favorite hunting ground for pickpockets. Pay good attention to your belongings.

Taxis in Arequipa Portrait Photographer

Credits

All Images and the text have been kindly provided by Andre Gunther.

Check out his Peru Photo Galleries for more Photos.

Travel to Arequipa

There are NO TRAINS currently running to Arequipa from Juliaca/Puno/Cusco 

A regular traveller

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Thanks for the update!

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