Among the oldest structures in Arequipa, the historically significant Monastery of St. Catherine (Monasterio de Santa Catalina) covers an area of 15,615 square feet (20,000 square meters). The convent harbors a complete city with parks, houses, plazas, chapels, and a cemetery, offering visitors a meditative break from the busy historic center of Arequipa.
Travelers can explore Santa Catalina Monastery independently or as part of a guided tour, which provides an easy way for first-time visitors to orient themselves in the sprawling complex. Walking tours that also cover the entire historic center of Arequipa give visitors access to parts of the Old Town that are unreachable by coach or car, while express sightseeing tours by shared or private vehicle are a popular choice for visitors with limited time in the White City (La Ciudad Blanca).
Things to Know Before You Go
- Santa Catalina Monastery is mostly open-air, so be sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
- The cloister is still inhabited by nuns, so be mindful of noise and dress appropriately during your time at the monastery.
- You can hire a personal guide at the entrance of the monastery for a small fee.
How to Get There
Located on a street of the same name, Santa Catalina Monastery is a 5- to 10-minute walk from Plaza de Armas and easily recognizable due to its burnt-orange walls made from sillar, a white volcanic rock that dominates the architecture of Arequipa.
When to Get There
The monastery is open daily from around 9am to 5pm, with last entry one hour before closing time. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when the convent remains open until 7:30pm, nuns takes visitors on a tour of the cloisters by candlelight, just as they would have done hundreds of years ago.
The Highlights of Santa Catalina Monastery
If you’re exploring Santa Catalina Monastery alone and want to avoid getting lost in the labyrinthine cloisters, aim to focus on the three main cloisters. Inhale the fragrant scent of the Orange Cloister, named for the orange trees that represent eternal life; imagine taking a 4-year vow of silence in the novice cloister; and peek into the Profundis Room, where portraits of deceased nuns line the walls.