Arequipa, The charming colonial style city in Southern Peru
Arequipa lies in a fertile valley at the foot of the imposing volcano "El Misti".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Some of the main attractions include:
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.
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.
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.
All Images and the text have been kindly provided by Andre Gunther.
Check out his Peru Photo Galleries for more Photos.