Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and is considered its historical and cultural centre. Popular for its aesthetically beautiful ‘volcanic white sillar architecture’, it is nicknamed the ‘Ciudad Blanca’ which means the white city. While you are here, make sure you visit the lovely Spanish era buildings and interesting museums, conquer the El Misti and stroll through its tranquil neighbourhoods.
Arequipa’s Plaza de Armas is arguably the country’s most impressive city centre, lined by colonnaded arcades on three sides and the majestic Basilica Cathedral on the fourth. All the buildings feature the city’s signature volcanic white sillar architecture and the square’s centre is dotted with palm trees, lovely gardens and fountains. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a great place to appreciate the architectural marvels of the city, relax in a cafe and experience a pulse of local life.
This massive 17th-century Cathedral was built using white volcanic rock like most other buildings in the plaza. It features a fusion of neoclassical, gothic and renaissance architectural styles and is flanked by two huge towers on either side.
Often overshadowed by the imposing Basilica Cathedral, this small Jesuit church located on the southeast side of the plaza is a beauty in its own right. It features churrigueresque style architecture with an impressively carved front facade and equally excellent interior with a gold leaf altar.
Built in the late 16th-century, the monastery covers 20,000 sq metres and seems like a completely different town existing within Arequipa. Considered the best Spanish era attraction in the city, the monastery has been home to devout nuns for over four centuries. Within the high walls of the monastery, you will find numerous chapels, cloisters, living chambers, kitchens and washing areas. As you stroll through the passageways lined with bright red and blue buildings, you will find a sense of calmness and detachment from the noisy world. The visiting hours are between 9 am to 5 pm and it remains open in the evenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays alone, when you can explore it by candlelight.
A 30-minute walk from the Plaza de Armas will take you to the lovely neighbourhood of Yanahuara, the perfect vantage point for views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes. The area is packed with churches, archways and houses built in Arequipa’s signature white sillar architecture.
Museo Santuarios Andinos is the final resting place of the ‘Ice Maiden’ Juanita. She was a 12-year old Inca girl who was sacrificed to the Gods in the 15th-century and her body was found naturally preserved atop a melting glacier. A guided tour will take you through various artefacts that were buried with her and it ends with a view of her mummified corpse. You will also find other mummies that were unearthed in the mountains, grave tombs and burial artefacts.
Apart from its many historical attractions, Arequipa is best known for its volcanoes and El Misti in particular. This active volcano stands 5,822 metres above sea level and it last erupted in 1985. There are two popular routes for climbing the volcano – Pastores and Aguada Blanca. Pastores is the preferred route as it is closer to the city and it takes two days to reach the peak. Make sure that you are physically fit and properly acclimatized to make the climb as it is no easy task.
Ringed by volcanoes and packed with beautiful historical attractions, Arequipa is a definite stop for any visit to Peru. While it is a great destination for history lovers, the nearby Colca Canyon will prove a delight for adventurous travellers.
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