The White City, Peru // © 2012 Janeen Christoff
The Santa Catalina Monastery // © 2012 Janeen Christoff
Colca Canyon // © 2012 Janeen Christoff
Woman With daughters at Mirador Cruz del Condor// © 2012 Janeen Christoff
It seemed that everywhere I looked in Arequipa and the Colca Canyon, I was viewing the scenery from a precipice. This makes sense since much of Peru’s landscape is in the Andes Mountains affording visitors scenic views of everything from volcanic peaks to cityscapes. An exploration of Arequipa and nearby Colca Canyon gives visitors a taste of this mountainous terrain.
1. Tour of Arequipa. Start your exploration of “The White City,” which is so named for its buildings made of white volcanic material (sillar), at the Mirador Carmen Alto. The traditional puebla offers views of terraced farmland, a river and the volcanoes — Misti, Chachani and Picchu Picchu. Afterward, head to the district of Yanahuara, a middle-class neighborhood with a square offering views of the city. Here, visitors will also find the Church of San Bautista. Then, head to the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and explore the Main Square before having lunch. Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru with a population of more than 800,000, so outdoor cafes offer a variety of cuisine — there is even a Starbucks, for those who need a taste of home.
2. Convent Tour. After lunch, visit the Santa Catalina Monastery. This cloister, built in the 16th century, once served as a town within itself, housing approximately 450 nuns. Traditionally, the oldest daughters of Arequipa’s aristocratic families entered the convent in their early teens and spent their lives there. The convent complex has undergone a refurbishment and currently houses about 20 nuns who live in the northern section of the convent. However, the remainder is open to the public and can be explored on a guided tour. Tours last about one hour and are offered in several different languages.
3. Las Casitas del Colca. Explore Arequipa until the early afternoon and, then, drive to Colca Canyon. Along the way, visitors will have even better views of the three volcanoes, and they may even get to experience their first alpaca traffic jam.
Once in Colca Canyon, check into Las Casitas del Colca. The hotel is located on 24 acres that include extensive bio-gardens that provide power to the property. A collection of 20 luxurious houses offer privacy and exclusivity. Each room is spacious and similar to a small house, complete with outdoor patios, fireplaces and views of the valley. The cottages have been built and decorated with the environment in mind and emphasize the use of natural materials.
Given its size and location, hotel guests can enjoy the local wildlife at the hotel. A small barn houses a number of animals such as horses, alpaca, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits and trout in ponds and fish farms. Visitors can even go fishing on the hotel’s two lakes. There are also nature trails in the region that offer hikes with beautiful views.
Located on the banks of the canyon, the 6,500-square-foot Spa Samay is an ideal retreat for the weary traveler and offers a wide range of services.
4. Condor Point. Schedule an early morning drive to the Mirador Cruz del Condor, located between Maca and Cabanaconde. The point is located at one of the deepest parts of the canyon, and it is the perfect spot to look down 3,937 feet where the condor, which has the largest wingspan in the world, can be seen circling on the morning thermal winds, silhouetted against the backdrop of the mountain scenery.
To avoid crowds, visitors will not want to stop frequently on the way to the condor viewing point. The return journey, however, should be taken at a slower pace to afford clients the opportunity to get out and photograph the terraced landscape of the valley as well as the stunning scenery. There are also several villages, farms and people in traditional dress along the road, which all justify a stop for a picture.
From here, you can remain in the Colca Canyon and return to the hotel for a hike, afternoon activities or some relaxation time at the spa. Guests can also fly out of Arequipa to Cusco to see Machu Picchu, to Puno to explore Lake Titicaca or to a range of other destinations.