The Splendors of Arequipa

Seeing is believing in southern Peru

By: Marissa Tinloy

This is the first Image
Volcanic mountain ranges surround
Arequipa’s white, sillar-stone buildings.
Arriving in Peru’s second largest city, I found a place unlike any I have ever known. Where one might expect to find the high-rises and crowds of a major metropolitan area, I found, instead, a distinct fusion of aesthetic beauty and the poignant rhythm of everyday life. Amid the clear blue skies and striking natural terrain of Arequipa, the effortless atmosphere of the White City will make every traveler looking for an authentic experience feel right at home.

Nestled on the edge of the Andes, Arequipa offers a unique combination of natural wonders and cultural artifacts. Located just a few hours drive from both El Misti, the striking volcano that serves as the city’s backdrop, and the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest places in the world, the region offers a plethora of opportunities for both outdoor exploration and cultural enjoyment.

As I emerged into the city of Arequipa, I was met by refreshing mountain air and bustling cobblestone streets. Ambling through the city’s distinct districts and making acquaintance with more than my fair share of the city’s delicious panaderias (bakeries) on the way, I came upon one of the country’s cultural highlights, the Santa Catalina Convent.

For a fee of $7.50, visitors are invited to explore the former Spanish monastery, an impressive maze of columns and cloisters located just blocks from the city’s center. Deemed a “small city within the city” by Elisabeth Hakim, director of PromPeru, the convent’s Mudejar-style architecture constructed in brilliant white sillar as is much of the rest of the city dates back to the 16th century. According to Ms. Hakim, “&when you visit the Santa Catalina Convent, it seems that time has simply stopped.”

In exploring other cultural sights throughout the city, I was most fascinated by the archaeological findings dubbed “Juanita, the Ice Princess.” Exhibited at the Museum of the Catholic University of Saint Mary, also in downtown Arequipa, visitors are invited to view the well-preserved body of a 15th-century mummy, a 12- to 14-year-old girl thought to have been sacrificed in the peaks surrounding Arequipa. Johan Reinhard uncovered Juanita in 1995. Following an informative video that runs every 20 minutes, multilingual guides lead small group tours, discussing the mummy and other artifacts in great detail.

In the Natural Terrain
After a few indulgent days in Arequipa, which largely consisted of reading in the sunny Plaza de Armas in the center of town and exploring the city one delicious restaurant at a time, I found it difficult to believe that anything beyond the white walls could lure me away. However, as I soon discovered, the area surrounding Arequipa, which is best known for its fantastic terrain, holds its own allure a natural, thrill-seeking appeal that may cater to a different brand of travelers.

In order to make the extreme landscape readily accessible to visitors, many tour operators offer a range of packages that cater to different athletic and environmental interests. E.E.I. Travel, a division of Europe Express, offers the Colca Canyon Overnight package, which disembarks from Arequipa and heads into the heart of the canyon. The package includes condor watching at 15,000 feet, late-night thermal baths under the stars and four-star accommodations (one night; starting at $369).

Likewise, Pan American carries packages such as the Colca Canyon: Kingdom of the Condor Tour, which also stops at the scenic Cruz del Condor and, in addition, provides guided tours and accommodations through both the city of Arequipa and the Colca Canyon (four days; starting at $639).

For those interested in traveling to Arequipa and its surrounding region along with other areas of Peru, there are companies, such as Sunny Land Tours, which include Arequipa on its extensive itineraries. The Best of Peru package, a comprehensive trip for the Arequipa and Colca Canyon region, includes 11 days, 10 nights, and starts at $2,799 (including airfare from Miami).

On my last evening in Arequipa, happily exhausted from a venture to the canyon, I watched the sun set from the roof of my hotel. As the fading orange of the evening light made a dark silhouette of El Misti and the lights of the city began to twinkle, I couldn’t shake an old cliche from my head. When it comes to the splendor of Arequipa, you have to see it to believe it.


Santa Catalina Convent
C Santa Catalina 201, 2 blocks north of city center
Daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tours available

Museum of the Catholic University of Saint Mary
Calle La Merced, downtown Arequipa
Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

E.E.I. Travel

Pan American

Sunny Land Tours