The White City

Arequipa Travel Blog

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Peru´s second biggest city lives up to its reputation for beauty - it will sate any architecture buff or snap happy photographer. Many buildings are made from silla, white volcanic rock from the nearby volcanoes, of which there are 4. El Misti is the highest volcano at over 5000m, and still active. From the main plaza, you can see lovely white buildings and churches, colonial architecture and the volcanoes looming in the distance - quite a spectacular presence. There are many more tourists here than anywhere I´ve been in Peru, except Lima of course, so it´s something of a shock/relief not to be stared at (too much) as I walk down the street.

There are quite a few things to keep the idle traveller occupied here, including the Santa Catalina Monastery - basically a city within a city. At 25 soles entry, it´s the most expensive sightseeing thing I´ve done in Peru so far, and I had to think about whether it was worth it, but I am glad I went. You wander around the narrow paved streets between the nuns´ quarters; all the walls are painted bright blue or red, or made of silla, so the contrast of colours is beautiful... definitely a photographer´s dream. You can peer into little dark, cold rooms where the nuns used to sleep or pray, their kitchens, bathing areas and communal areas. It´s very peaceful and you can feel the sense of history overwhelm you. They have a big room, shaped like a cross, which houses many religious paintings as well as a pictorial story of Santa Catalina´s life, which is interesting in itself - she was very pious from a young age and had visions and encounters with God. On a different note, I saw the cutest chubby guinea pigs in a hutch in one of the quarters... perhaps they´re there to feed the nuns who still currently live in the monastery?

Arequipa is also famous for Juanita, a young girl who was found frozen on top of one of the nearby mountains in the 1990s. She´s not technically a mummy, as her hair, skin and internal organs have been preserved due to the ice, although she´s known as the Ice Mummy. For 15 soles, you get to watch a National Geographic video about her discovery, and a guided tour around the museum which houses artefacts found in the tomb, like ceramics, little metal sculptures and other offerings to the gods. And of course, Juanita herself, kept frozen at -20 degrees. The Incas would choose only the most beautiful children from the most noble families as sacrifices to the gods when they thought the gods were angry (ie. when the volcanoes started erupting). Juanita was around 12-14 years old when she was sacrificed - killed by a blow to the head. It´s quite fascinating to see her and know she´s frozen - her hands appear almost normal, alive... and she´s more than 500 years old. Not creepy, just amazing.

There are several cinemas, a theatre (there´s going to be a production of Grease - in Spanish - at the theatre! I wish I was here to see it!) and a contemporary art museum, which I haven´t yet visited. I´ve been wanting to go on the 3-day trek into the Colca Canyon which has been put back twice now due to not enough people in the group, but I´m assured it will go tomorrow (Wednesday). I´m eager to stick around in Arequipa for the weekend to see how this place parties. Although I probably don´t have to go out of my hostel to do that, seeing as it has its own bar, Twister, giant jenga (2¨ x 4¨ wooden blocks - we managed to get it up to 5´ before it fell spectacularly) and plenty of communal areas.

If I wasn´t on a tight time budget, I would consider staying in Arequipa and working at the hostel - you don´t get paid but you stay there for free and get cheap and sometimes free food and drink. I feel Arequipa has a lot to offer and you can sense a touch of cosmopolitanism here (bear in mind I´ve come from much less touristy areas!) - there are plenty of cafés, that serve real coffee, and even a Govinda´s to cater for the vegetarians. I´ve even seen a sushi bar and have heard there´s a Turkish place that sells felafel. Guess what I´m having for lunch.

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photo by: halilee