After an 11 hour, sleepless night bus ride from Nazca we arrived in the early morning in Arequipa. It’s been dubbed he city of eternal spring, because of the wonderful climate at 2.600 meters altitude. The city of Arequipa holds many attractions for visitors, but for us by far the most interesting was the Santa Catalina Monastery, which is so big it’s like a city inside a city.
Santa Catalina Monastery
For people who know us the appeal of this sprawling late sixteenth century religious landmark is obvious. We like color and with three red and blue colored cloisters that comprise this monastery built in the mudéjar (Moorish) style we really got spoiled. Beautiful frescoes on the pillars and ceilings of archways and being able to enter living quarters, open space kitchens and courtyards with original furnishings added to the appeal.
At its height, the monastery housed approximately 450 people, about a third of them nuns who came from upper-class families and the rest servants. After an earthquake in 1960 destroyed most of the buildings the nuns moved to a new accommodations next door. The original structures were restored and opened to the public.
We wandered around on a self-guided tour for about three hours before discovering the rest of the city, that in our opinion paled in comparison to the Santa Catalina Monastery. But maybe we were just tired from a night without sleep… Getting around Arequipa was easy. It is a walkable city, the city center being mostly flat, with most popular sights within walking distance.
Other things to see and do in Arequipa
♦ Plaza de Armas, the central square surrounded by colonnaded archways and balconies and flanked by Arequipa’s cathedral. Locals gather on the benches here to while away the time, street hawkers try to sell their goods, sunglasses being offered to us every few steps we took. Regretfully the cathedral was completely covered in scaffolding during our visit because of ongoing restoration work.
♦ Yanahuara, a neighborhood 20-30 minutes walking distance from the city center. It has nice views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes, like the ever present El Misti.
♦ Museo Santuarios Andinos, with the mummified corpse of Juanita, an Inca girl that got sacrificed to the gods at the age of twelve and whose corpse was found high up in the Andes over 500 years later. We didn’t visit, so can’t comment.
♦ Arequipa is a good place to try one of Peru’s signature dishes. We sampled Aji de Gallina (a chicken stew with yellow peppers) and anticucho (beef heart anyone?). The restaurants on the balconies surrounding the Plaza de Armas are a little pricy, but the views on the square at night can’t be beat. The food was ok, but not great.
♦ And many, many churches and convents. As Arequipa abounds with beautiful religious structures, visiting a lot of them can result in some kind of religious fatigue, especially when traveling for an extended period of time in Central and South America. We limited ourselves to the Santa Teresa Monastery and the Iglesia de la Compañia.
Travel tips Arequipa
Sleep – We stayed 2 nights at the Flying Dog Hostel, 1 night before and 1 night after the Colca Cañon Tour. While on the tour it was possible to leave our big backpacks at the hostel. We had a nice en suite double room with a good hot shower, but wifi could be better. The hostel is 10 minutes walking distance from the Plaza de Armas.
Transport – We traveled with Peru Hop, the stretch from Nazca to Arequipa was covered by night bus and took about 10,5 hours. The bus had reclining seats so you could stretch out to sleep.
Tour – There are many tout agencies in Arequipa and their most popular tour is the two day trip to the Colca Cañon. We booked our tour through Peru Hop and it was OK considering the price we paid, about 30 euros (including breakfast, excluding lunch and dinner).Report of one day in