Inaugurated on October 2, 1580, 40 years after the city was founded, the Monastery of Saint Catherine has grown to become a city in itself. In fact, its over 215,285-foot-square design resembles the original city streets of Arequipa. Arequipa is often called the “White City” due to the fact that many of the buildings are made of volcanic white sillar, and this structure is no exception. It’s also made of ashlar, or petrified volcanic ash, coming from Volcan Chachani which overlooks Arequipa.
Visitors are able to explore the monastery on their own, wandering through narrow streets, ambient courtyards, peaceful plazas and ancient churches. Along with the historical churches and chapels, check out some of the cloisters. There is the Main Cloister, the largest in the monastery with paintings and confessionals, and the Cloister of the Oranges, which features three beautiful crosses residing amongst vibrant orange trees.
Plaza de Armas is the main square in Arequipa, featuring vibrant gardens, lush palm trees, bird fountains and colonial architecture. The first thing you will notice is how immaculately clean and symmetrical it is. Additionally, you’ll be in the best location to explore some of the city’s history and important buildings, like government offices, prisons and police stations. On the north side, you’ll see the twin-towered Cathedral. Founded in 1612, it was reconstructed numerous times in the 19th century due to earthquakes and fire damage.
If you’re looking to relax, chill out at one of the cafes or rooftop bars surrounding the square with a coca tea or Pisco Sour. These rooftop venues are also great for photographers who want a variety of shots, and the mountains set behind the provincial buildings make for an interesting contrast.
While there are many notable museums in Arequipa, Museo Santury is known as being one of the best. Its focus is on Andes Mountain archeology and history. Visitors can see exhibits like the famous preserved mummy of ‘Ice Princess’ Juanita, a young Inca girl who was sacrificed over 500 years ago as part of the Capac Cocha ceremony. This is where children were sacrificed to appease mountain gods. The child is thought to have been about 11 to 15 years old, and the body is so well-preserved it has been mentioned numerous times as one of the world’s top discoveries.
Give yourself at least an hour to see everything, as there is also a short informational video to watch before you explore. Additionally, you’ll see impressive grave tombs, with other mummies found atop Peru’s volcanoes and burial artifacts.
Built around 1730, this large ancestral house is an excellent well-preserved example of baroque-mestizo architecture. The name of the house has nothing to do with ethics, but instead derives from the ancient mulberry (“moras”) tree in the central courtyard. Visitors will enter through a white sillar arch adorned with precisely detailed carvings of figures and symbols. For instance, one of the them is a coat of arms made of smaller carvings including a puma, bird, castle and two crossed keys, held up by two angels, while a crown floats above.
Inside, you’ll find sculptures, furniture, embellishments and artwork, including pieces from the Cusco School of Painting, one of the most important in American Art. Immersing yourself in this world will make you feel like a wealthy Peruvian during the 16th century. Out back, you can stroll through a small but well-manicured garden that is nice for taking pictures.
Outdoor adventurers who escape to Peru should save at least two ot three days to explore the incredible trails, terrain and views of Chachani Volcano. This 6,075-meter-tall active volcano located near the city of Arequipa is known for its intermediate climbs and technical ascents. Travelers who want to experience the wonder of world-class views without all the work can hire a car to drop them at the 5,000 meter level and maneuver the final 1,075 meters on their won. Experienced hikers warn travelers should be prepared for cold temperatures, potential altitude sickness and an very early morning start, since most hikes kick off around 3 a.m.