Arequipa is located at a height of 2325 meters in the Desert Mountains of the Andes. This beautiful city is practically totally built out of sillar, a kind of white volcanic stone. This is why Arequipa is called the white city. With its one million inhabitants, Arequipa is the second biggest city of Peru. The main square, the Plaza de Armas is the most beautiful of the country. The magnificent "Catedrál" and the shopping malls are in colonial style. It is the city with the eternal spring
A church that peculiarly offered a lot of resistance against the earthquakes is "la Compañía". It is unknown when this building was made. Above the entrance hall we read 1698, but other parts of this Jesuit church date from 1654. Because of its odd style we recommend to visit this church. Don't forget to leave your footprints in the Ignacio-chapel as well. "La Compañía" is situated on the Plaza de Armas.
By far the most interesting site in Arequipa is the convent of Santa Catalina. Built as a city within a city in 1580 and expanded in the 17th century. Probably this is the biggest convent in the world. 450 nuns lived there for more than 400 years, totally cut off from the outer world. The inhabitants of Arequipa had no clue of what happened between the high walls of the complex. Lots of tales circulated through the people. Santa Catalina wrapped itself in mystery and silence until 1970 when a big part of the convent opened its doors for the public. In the north area of the complex there are still nuns living. Locals and tourists can freely visit the remaining part. Everything was beautifully renovated and the little streets and squares are full of colorful flowers and the walls are painted in fresh tints. Narrow alleys bring you to the different parts of the convent passing picturesque squares and old living rooms with original furnishings. Many people can still smell the atmosphere of the dark Middle Ages visiting the dining hall, the square where nuns did their laundry, the washing hall and the extensive library with an incredible collection of books. Unfortunately the library is not always open to public. Some visitors stay all day and melt away in the still living past of this convent or just wonder around and lose their way from time to time. Take your time to visit this wonderful place, it will give you a lot of inspiration. The convent of Santa Catalina is situated in the street with the same name and three blocks away from the Plaza de Armas.
Next to the Rio Chili is the Franciscan convent la Recoleta. The original building dates from 1648 and was totally reconstructed after the earthquake of 1687. Inside there is a library of more than 20.000 books The Franciscans are known for studying and teaching all of their life. That are centuries old books are found. The oldest book dates from 1494. They housed lots of works of art from before and after the era of the conquistadors and can be visited. Indians made parts of these objects and were imported by missionaries out of the rain forest. La Recoleta can be visited daily from 9am to 1pm and from 3pm to 5pm.
Besides of religious buildings, Arequipa owns beautiful colonial houses form the 17th and the 18th century. Some of them are still private property; most of them are sold to banks or reconstructed them as shopping malls and hotels. Some of these fantastic colonial houses can still be visited. Pay special attention to the perfect workmanship, the gardens and the many statues and fronts.
Eternal snow is seen on the summits of "El Misti", the "Chachani" and the "Picchu Picchu". The coast is only two hours west and in the east is the surrealistic volcanic area of Arequipa is situated, in the National Park of "Pampas de Cañihuas" graze lots of llamas and alpacas. The guanacos and vicuñas are also part of the scenery. So every visitor can see the four camel-like animals of Latin America in one day. This unlimited plateau is situated at 3.800m and more. Views are spectacular. Passing a small mountain village Viscachani on 41.50m, the road continues climbing up to an altiplano of 4.800m where nothing grows. A very tough grass that grows 2 cm a year and a brown-like moss the reproduces peripheral is the main vegetation. This is what the few animals adapted to these heights, the vicuña and the llama, get to eat. Passing this altiplano brings you in a valley where the road goes downhill to the mountain village Chivay. This place is the biggest town of the valley of the Colca. Hotels and restaurants offer comfort. Next to Chivay are the warm water springs of natural volcanic heated water. Approximately 600 years ago the Incas used this water to heal all kinds of skin diseases because of the green sulfur in the water. A simple but ingenious system of canals brings the water 72°C to big swimming pools of 38°C. Swimming in this water is a relaxing and recommended experience while watching the huge mountains on the other side of the Colca River. So don't forget your swimsuit and towel on this trip.
The Colca Canyon
Chivay is situated a 160Km east of Arequipa and is the beloved resting-place for many tourists going to the Colca Canyon. The people of the area is proud to call this valley the deepest in the world: a mountain ridge of 3.200m from summit to river. But this canyon is visited by many to see and photograph the biggest bird in the world: the condor. Although this species is endangered by extermination, the occasion actually seeing a condor is reasonable. These vulture-like birds hunt early morning or late afternoon. Most condors are between December and March at the coast, because of the rain season in the Andes. On the way to the deepest place in the canyon, you'll see the mysterious Toro Muerto. This cemetery of the Wari Indians is built in a 90° steep cliff face. It's hard to believe that these people brought their deaths to this place. It is even hard work for a professional climber to get there. The dead were buried in the position of a fetus, like all over Peru in ancient times. "Man has to leave the world as he came," said their unwritten bible. Ten kilometers further up the road you get to the "Cruz del Condor" where the Colca River is seen 1.200m below. On the other side of the valley is Mount Mismi situated with its summit 3.200m above the Colca. Further downstream there are actually deeper canyons but these are only accessible by foot, trained hikers and a well packed backpack.
There are two theories about the origin of the name Arequipa. Long ago the Aymara Indians founded a settlement in this place. In their language, "Aymara", stands "ARI" for "summit" and "QUIPA" for "laying behind". Indeed, the majestic volcano "El Misti" is seen out of Arequipa. The second theory says that the name comes from the language of the Inca's, Quechua. The legend tells the story of the Inca Mayta Capac, the fourth Inca, traveling through the valley. A column of soldiers, sacred virgins and nobles escorted the Sapa Inca. Mayta Capac saw the settlement that was never before visited by any emperor. He was amazed by the beauty of this place and the strategic importance as connection between the ocean and Cuzco in the center of the Andes. He said: "Ari, quipay!" translated as "Yes, stay!" This was the answer on the desire of some of the fellow travelers who settle down on this place to develop the area as an important city in the Inca empire. Arequipa was totally destroyed in 1600 by a strong earthquake and volcanic eruption. The Spanish reestablished the city on the 15th of August 1540. This date is still remembered by festivities in and around Arequipa with carnivals and fairs in the evening during one week. The climax of the festival is on the 14th of August with a splendid fireworks on the Plaza de Armas. El Misti (the Gentleman) is not the only volcano around Arequipa, but the most famous and elegant and in the middle of two smaller volcanoes, the "Chachani" (the Beloved) and the steep "Picchu Picchu" (the Top Top). The pressure between the tectonic plates of Latin America and the Pacific created some memorable dates in Arequipa. In 1687 and 1868 earthquakes destroyed almost every building in the city. Also the Catedrál and the San Francisco church were quite damaged. Most of these churches date beyond 1868. The reconstruction of the Catedrál finished in 1898. This is maybe why the church looks quiet cool inside in comparison with other cathedrals in Peru. Outside the Catedrál looks impressive in the loved baroque style.