The Ice Maiden
One place I'd really recommend in Arequipa is the Museo Santuarios Andinos where you can see the famous "Juanita, La Niña de los Hielos", a 550 year old Inca girl sacrifice found in 1995 by mountaineers in the ice on the summit of a nearby volcano. An adjacent volcano had erupted and blown ash to melt the summit snow to reveal her sacrificial site.
Juanita is displayed in a glass case along with a number of artifacts found with her, and lots of information about the Inca practice of human sacrifice. There's a also a good film about her discovery.
I thought it might seem a bit disrespectful to display her body in this way but I found that the museum has done a great job of doing this while still respecting the fact that she was a real person and treating her accordingly. I was very moved by the opportunity to see her and learn about her short life.
Santa Catalina Convent
This is the must-see sight in Arequipa. It's a complete miniature walled colonial town in the middle of the city. The buildings are painted in soft shades of terracotta and blue and are set around peaceful courtyards or along narrow alley ways. There's a beautiful scene around every corner and if you have a camara with you I guarantee it will go into overdrive!
You can visit the rooms where the nuns used to live. These aren't austere cells but well-furnished rooms - these nuns didn't live in poverty but instead had the best of everything, even a servant each! (The nuns who still live in the convent now keep to their own section of the convent, away from the tourists.)
You'll also see the laundry , the chapel and the visiting area, but the main attraction is simply the peace and quiet, only yards from the bustling streets of the city.
- Historical Travel
La Compañía and Cloisters
The beautiful facade of this church is worth a look for its interesting architectural features. You'll notice angels with idigenous faces and Andean motifs in the carvings of birds and flowers. The stone is the beautiful white sillar that is used in almost all of the other buildings in Arequipa. Inside the church, you'll find 17th century oil paintings by Bernardo Bitti who was trained at a famous art school in Cusco.
To the left of the main entrance of the church, you'll find a spacious cloister that was once a a monastery but is now basically a shopping plaza with shops selling alpaca products and other tourist-oriented merchandise. You can climb to the second level of the cloister for some nice rooftop views of the church tower and the city below.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina
The Santa Catalina Monastery was founded in 1579 only 40 years after the Spanish arrived. It is one of the most peaceful spaces that I saw in my entire Peruvian visit. It's really more of a separate city within a city, created over time and reconstructed due to earthquakes and tremors over the years. The nuns who lived here (and continue to live here today - there are about 30 active nuns) were given isolated quarters that allowed them to pursue their lives of solitude and devotion to God. As you walk through the heavily walled 5 acre complex, you'll pass by these individual quarters, each with their own charm. There are separate courtyards (the Courtyard of Silence, the Courtyard of Oranges, etc) and there is even a cafeteria where you can sample the foods prepared here by the nuns.
Check out my travelogue for more pictures.
Plaza de Armas
The Plaza de Armas sits was once the exclusive domain of the Spanish colonists and the indigenous people were not allowed access to this portion of Arequipa. When you approach the square, you can still get a sense that it was once sectioned off from the rest of town and once you arrive, you too will feel you are in an exclusive place. The arches surrounding the plaza are topped with beautiful balconies and the imposing, but graceful cathedral gives the space an elegant feel. Behind the cathedral, you can see the snow-capped mountains that surround Arequipa.
Iglesia Santo Domingo
This church is slightly off the beaten path on northern edge of the center, but it's worth the short walk. When we were here, there was some restoration going on, but we were still able to visit with no trouble. The luminous interior glistens with candlelight and is really quite magical.
The church dates to the early 17th century, but was destroyed in a fire in the early 19th century and then rebuilt. There are some subtle elements of Andean and Moorish architecture to be found along with, of course, Spanish colonial style.
Iglesia de San Francisco
This church is located in a quiet square of the same name near the Santa Catalina Monastery. It dates to the 16th Century and is not the most impressive church I've ever seen. I enjoyed the quiet plaza outside more than the church itself. However, if you're here on December 8th during the city's celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you'll see the church's Virgin Mary statue paraded around the streets of Arequipa on top of a carriage with devotees carrying flowers and candles and celebrating all night.
Canyon del Colca
The 2 days/1 night experience trought the canyon del colca is something you gotte really do in Arequipa. This journey will take you trough an amazing landscape, with volcanoes, rural villages, animals wherever, piecefull and quietness with a supreme scenario.
It starts from Arequipa early in the morning and on the first day you cross 5.700m , so do not forget to buy some hojas de coca... At the afternoon, after having passed rural villages, having met people on the way, alpaca, lamas and vicuNas, you will be taken in the hot bath, so you can enjoy a bath into a swimming pool with 40C hot water...amazing! Then you have to choose were to sleep; there are three options: colca lodge which is the most expensive but the most confortable (see my accomodation tip) or in some guesthouses. We book in colca lodge and the entire journey costed us 35USD.
In the afternoon you will be taken to a tipical mountain market, fullfilled of peruvian trying to sell a lot of stuff...very imprressive.
At day 2, very early in the moprning, you will be taken to cerro del condor, where the condors are flying just 5 meters above your head...woow!
In the afternoon you will be taken back to Arequipa.
One of the deepest canyon on earth...
Most people who visit Arequipa take a tour out to the Cañon de Colca, one of the worlds deepest canyons formed by an enormous seismic fault between the Coropuna (6425m) and Ampato (6325m) volcanoes. The tour can be arranged on arrival in Arequipa at one of the several tour operators or travel agents around the Plaza. Many hotels can also arrange this activity. Although a tour can be fit into one day, it's best to go for at least 2 days, staying the night at the village of Chivay (3633m) the first village on the edge of the canyon.
Remember to bring a swimming costume and towel for a visit to the thermal springs on the outskirts of Chivay. (Open 0600 - 1900. Entrance $1.50)
Beautiful unspoiled Andean villages line both sides of the canyon. In addition you'll have great views of the smoking Sabancaya volcano, one of the America's most active volcanoes, as well seeing the many traditional pre-Inca agricultural terraces which line the steep valley sides.
The high point of the tour is an early morning visit to La Cruz del Cóndor (3320m), a 1½ hours drive from Chivay. From this natural observatory you can see into the deepest part of the canyon, and witness the majestic flight of the Andean Condor, rising on the morning thermals (at around 9am
Arequipa's Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful in Peru. On the north side of the Plaza is the impressive, twin-towered Cathedral, founded in 1612 and largely rebuilt in the 19th Century having been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes and fire. Inside is fine Belgian organ and elaborately-carved wooden pulpit. The Plaza is surrounded on its other 3 sides by colonial arcaded buildings with many cafes and restaurants. Behind the Cathedral is a pretty back street with many handicraft shops.
Where The Devout Stayed
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is an awesome place. It basically is a convent that was built entirely of sillar which is the material that comes from the local volcanoes. It housed up to 175 nuns during the 17th and 18th centuries and was built as a city walled off from the actual city of Arequipa. It just recently was opened up to the public in 1985. Before then the nuns were not allowed any contact with the outside world besides visits from friends or family through wooded gates. The idea was that these women completely devoted themselves to God. The site is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Inside the Monestary, you can hire a guide to take you through and the fee is decided by you. My husband and I went on our own which is just as fine. Within the monestary, you will find several streets and their associated buildings divided by exquisite jewel toned colors, 3 main cloisters, a cemetary, laundry, gardens, church, and a beautiful art gallery. You don't have to be christian to admire the beauty and complexity of the convent. Today some of the nuns still live here.
- Religious Travel
Yanahuara Belvedere consists on arches made of the lavastone known as ashlar ("sillar", in Spanish). This rock had been carved and decorated with Spanish poetic excerpts.
From this belvedere from where you can have the best view of Arequipa, the outside field and the Misti volcano.
Church San Juan de Yanahuara
This church is one of the most ancient buildings in Arequipa. It's dated from 1750, and it has a baroque style. In the interior, its most venerated image is one of the Virgin of Rosario.
However, from year 2001, this church also hosts the sacred image of Virgin of Chapi, the lady and protector of Arequipa, whose sanctuary was severely damaged during the 2001 earthquake. So, the festivities of the Virgin, on May 1st, were also moved to Yanahuara (see more info on my Local Customs tip).
Next to the the church you can also find a little souvenir store, where you can get from postcards to clothes and leather things for reasonable prices.
The Cathedral of Arequipa
The Cathedral of Arequipa is one of the most impressive churches in Peru. Located in the Main Square of Arequipa, it was first erected in late S. XVI, but after a fire it was rebuilded in 1844, using the ashlar ("sillar") and a neoclasic architectonical style.
Its interior is finely decorated with Carrara marble, (the main altar was made of that material) wooden European stalls around the choir, a neo gothic French pulpit and a XIX-century Belgian organ, one of the biggest in America.
It also has several gold and silver religious pieces of orfebrery.
The Cathedral is open:
Mon-Fri from 8:00-12:00 and 17:00-20:00. Sun from 7:00-13:00.
- Religious Travel
Company of Jesus Church (Iglesia de la Compañía)
In the principal provinces of Peru, very close to the Cathedral you will find a church of the Company of Jesus. It demonstrates the great influence of this order in Spain and its colonies during the S. XVI-XVIII. And Arequipa is no exception!
This jesuit church, located in one of the corners of Main Square, took almost the whole XVII century to be built (1610-1698). The outside was also made of ashlar with a plateresque architectonical style.
As for the interior, it's in the shape of a Latin cross, with a main aisle and two lateral ones, a high choir and a beautiful wooden pulpit from the XVII century. There's also two chapels: San Ignacio Chapel (with a gorgeous painted cupola) and the Royal Chapel. Really loved it!
This church is open Mon-Sun from 8:00-12:00 and 16:00-19:00.
- Religious Travel