While Cusco and Machu Picchu are essential places to visit if you only have a short time, those who can spare more time really should include Arequipa and Colca while on one of our Peru tours. Arequipa lies in an oasis 1000 km south east of Lima, located at 2,400 meters above sea level and surrounded by the stunning peaks of Western Andes volcanoes. The city is dominated by views of the 5822m El Misti volcano, with its perfectly conical, snow-capped summit, and its sister peak of Chachani. “The White City” is a showcase of fine colonial architecture, with the Santa Catalina convent and the elegant Plaza de Armas foremost among its attractions. The city also offers a great base for exploring the Colca Canyon and Cotahuasi area.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Arequipa is celebrated for its wealth of colonial buildings and churches, beautifully preserved or restored. The historic center of the city was named a UNESCO world heritage site in 2000, in recognition of its beauty and historical integrity. The city is the nation’s second most-important city. It is also the capital of the Arequipa Region and the Arequipa Province. The city enjoys about 300 days of sunshine a year and subsequently makes for an excellent agricultural center.
Santa Catalina & La Compania
Principal sights include the Plaza de Armas and the Jesuit church of La Compañía, with its intricately sculptured façade and ornate altar. The Convent of Santa Catalina which has not changed in 400 years is also a highlight. This enclosed city-within-a-city with cerulean blue walls contrasting with sillar paving stones and terracotta court-yards, is a haven of tranquility. At each turn, narrow cobblestone alleyways lead to tiny stone flights of steps, sparse wood-smoke stained cells, or flower-filled cloisters. There are actually still some nuns living there away from public view and they make delicious cakes and biscuits which are on sale. They have taken a vow of silence so you will not actually see them though.
One of the city´s most famous residents is “Juanita” – the mummified body of a young girl who was sacrificed on the summit of Ampato volcano some 500 years ago. Her remains or those of other sacrifices are found in the Museo Santuarios Andinos. She was discovered by Miguel Zarate a local guide and Johann Reinhard an anthropologist who had been searching for mummies on mountain tops for some time. She is not the only one to have been discovered and in order to preserve here she is occasionally put into storage, away from the public view. But she is replaced by a different mummy found in similar circumstances. When you visit there is an impressive exhibition telling all about the discover and re creating her last days. For her family it would have been an immense honor. Additionally there are many fine churches and colonial building some of which have been turned into museums and you spend quite a long time wandering.