Things to do in Arequipa by Planet Ware
Arequipa’s location below the snow capped mountains combined with the unique sillar stone architecture, make it one of the most beautiful cities in Peru. The El Misty volcanoe behind the city to the northeast is an awesome sight from the Plaza de Armas. It can be seen over the Cathedral, along with the peaks of Chachani and Pichu Pichu. The light colored colonial buildings which set Arequipa apart from other Peruvian cities, are made from sillar. This is a volcanic rock which is particularly bright when the sunlight strikes it. For this reason Arequipa is often referred to as the white city. Arequipa was founded in 1540 shortly after the Spanish conquest. Today it is the commercial center for southern Peru. Arequipa’s historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arequipa lies in southern Peru, at an altitude of 2,328 metres in the Andes and has a population of 800,000. It is set within green valleys and three soaring volcanoes: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu. Arequipa is the starting point to explore the Colca and the Cotahuasi (two of the deepest canyons in the world) and observation points from which to view the majestic Andean Condor.
Arequipa Cathedral: The imposing Arequipa Cathedral stretches the entire length of the north end of the Plaza de Armas. It was originally constructed in 1656. In 1844 the Cathedral was gutted by fire, rebuilt shortly thereafter and then destroyed in the earthquake of 1868. The Cathedral which stands today was rebuilt following that quake. Another large earthquake hit Arequipa in June of 2001, toppling one of the Cathedral’s towers and damaging the other, but was repaired the following year. In the Arequipa Cathedral is an organ, said to be the largest in South America, which was donated by Belgium in 1870. Main Square: The Plaza de Armas is a good starting point for touring Arequipa. This is the city center, surrounded by beautiful colonial architecture made of sillar stone. Gardens and a central fountain make this a pleasant are to sit and relax. The highlights in the Plaze de Armas are the Arequipa Cathedral and the colonnaded balconies. It is one of the most impressive main squares in Peru. Arequipa was rocked by a major earthquake in 2001 which caused considerable damage to some of the buildings in the Plaza de Armas but work has been done to repair the damage and restore the buildings.
Church of La Compania: On the southeast corner of the Plaza de Armas is the Jesuit church, La Compañía. This is one of the oldest churches in Arequipa. La Compañía was completed in 1698 and boasts an elaborate sillar stone façade. Of note inside the church are the carved cedar main altar and the two chapels, Capilla Real and Capilla de San Ignacio. Beside La Compañía are the Jesuit cloisters (claustros de La Compañía), which remain much the same as they were during the colonial period. The cloisters Baroque-style stone arches contain carvings from the Jesuit Order and gargoyles spew the rainwater from the roof. Recoleta Monastery: The Monasterio de la Recoleta, founded by the Franciscans, was first located on the west side of the Rio Chili where it was built in 1648. It was later rebuilt, following a major earthquake, in its current location. The Monasterio de la Recoleta is known for its impressive library with over 20,000 books and documents. The monastery’s museum has a number of interesting collections. Some of these include pre-Inca artifacts, mummies, and religious art with paintings from the famous Escuela Cuzqueña. At the back of the convent is a collection of specimens and artifacts gathered by the missionaries on trips to the Amazon basin. Casa del Moral: The Casa del Moral is an impressive and well preserved, 1730 Baroque-mestizo mansion named for the centuries old mulberry tree in the courtyard. The mansion, one of the largest colonial homes in Arequipa, is built around a central courtyard. There is also a second courtyard, painted in blue, which was once the summer patio. The interior of the Casa del Moral is furnished in period, with art from the Escuela Cusqueña. There is also a library with more than 3,000 books of Hispanic literature. Casa del Moral was restored in 1994 and is now owned by the BCP bank. Santa Catalina Monastery: Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a huge religious complex built entirely of sillar stone. It is the highlight of Arequipa and one of the most impressive colonial religious sites in Peru. This monastery is essentially a small town, covering 20,000 square meters, complete with a central plaza, church, houses, streets, and a cemetery. During the 1600s and 1700s the Monasterio de Santa Catalina housed up to 175 nuns. At that time it was customary for the second born daughter in upper class families to enter the nunnery. Once in the monastery these girls of privilege continued to live life as they knew it, with servants or slaves, on site entertainment, and parties, until the pope heard of these activities and put a stop to it in the early 1870s. The Monasterio de Santa Catalina has also been home to widows, homeless women, and single mothers.
Museum of Andean Sanctuary: The unique Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sactuaries) focuses on the Inca Empire and high altitude finds. Exhibits include mummies discovered at high elevations on volcanoes and related artifacts found in the tombs such as ceramics, textiles, and carvings. The most significant find displayed in the Museum of Andean Sactuaries is the body of a young girl known as Jaunita, the Ice Maiden of Mount Ampato. Juanita was discovered in 1995 at the top of Mount Ampato, when the volcano erupted and melted the glacial peak, exposing the body. The girl, approximately 12 or 13 years old at the age of her death, is thought to have been a ritual sacrifice by Inca priests. These remains, which are almost 600 years old were well preserved by the ice on the volcanoe. Juanita was found with a variety of ceremonial offerings which can also be seen here. The body is displayed in a glass freezer at the Museum of Andean Sactuaries.
Colca Canyon: Although it was once thought to be the deepest canyon in the world, Colca Canyon (Cañon del Colca) is the second deepest, after nearby Cotahuasi Canyon. It is approximately twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States. Measuring 3400 m deep, the Colca Canyon is the result of a seismic fault between two volcanoes. At the base of the canyon is a winding river. The Colca Canyon area has been inhabited for thousands of years and was home to the Collagua, Cabana, and eventually the Inca peoples. Stone terracing along the canyon walls dates to 800 AD and is still in use today. The canyon is approximately a four-hour drive from Arequipa. One-day trips to the canyon are available from Arequipa but two or more days are recommended considering the driving time involved in getting to the canyon. The area is spread out and there is a lot to see and do. Besides gazing out at the canyon, there are also hot springs, churches, villages, and Inca ruins to explore. Condors are also a big attraction Colca Canyon as they soar past the cliff walls. The small town of Chivay is located on the east end of Colca Canyon. The people here are known for their white hats, made of straw and decorated with lace and sequins. Just northeast of Chivay are some hot springs that are a popular side trip from the town. There is a complex at the springs with pool, showers, change rooms and a small café. This town is a good base for doing some hikes in the area. It is possible to walk to some of the nearby towns in an afternoon.