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