The region of Arequipa
Located in a beautiful valley at 2,335 m (7,659 ft) a.s.l. in the Volcanic Cordillera and 1,010 km (628 mi) south of the capital Lima, Arequipa is the second most populous city in Peru with 850,000 inhabitants. Arequipa is known as the "White City" for two reasons: the colonial and republican buildings are usually made in "sillar", a whitish volcanic stone (occasionally pink) produced by the now-extinct Chachani volcano; or because the city did not exist before the Spanish foundation in 1540 and therefore was created by "white" conquerors.
Today, the population is very heterogeneous due to the heavy migration from the highlands since the 70s.
Arequipa is a somewhat unique city in Peru, its inhabitants feel more "Arequipeños" than peruvian people, sometimes with an exaggerated chauvinism, even have their own passports and currency (the "characato"), of course without official value.
However this city is the birthpalce of numerous national personalities, businessmen, politicians and writers like Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize in literature 2010).
Arequipa is located in a fertile valley and enjoys a mild and semiarid climate with more than 300 days of sunshine a year, at the foot of three volcanoes: the chachani ("skirt" in quechua) with its permanent ice cap at 6,075 m (19,926 ft) a.s.l. is the highest, the majestic conical Misti (lord) at 5,825 m (19,106 ft) the symbol of the city and the Picchu Picchu (peaks) at 5,664 m (18,578 ft) a.s.l.
UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000
Plaza de Armas
The heart of Arequipa is very charming, the Main Square is beautiful, surrounded by arches on three sides. The northern part is totally occupied by the Neo-Renaissance cathedral. Reconstructed several times due to earthquakes and fires, the current building is from the end of the 19th century. In its interior we can see an impressive carved wooden pulpit made by the French artist Buisine Rigot, an organ of Belgian origin, one of the biggest in America and the high altar made of Carrara marble.
Admission is free on opening hours (unfortunately irregular) but forbidden to tourists during mass, like many churches in the country.
Church and cloisters of La Compañía de Jesús
Corner Main Square and Calle Santo Domingo, free admission
The construction of this beautiful church began in 1590 and ended in 1698. The facade is characterized by its baroque style decoration and the high altar is one of the most beautiful in Arequipa.
The most impressive part is the chapel of San Ignacio with polychrome murals depicting tropical fauna and flora.
On the side of the church, are installed the main shops to find alpaca products inside the cloisters composed of three courtyards. Arequipa being the national center in processing the famous alpaca fiber, here we can find the best and cheapest items in Peru, speaking obviously of articles made with the real wool and no false as we can find in all handicraft markets in the country. See details of the alpaca fiber.
Open 7 days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Tuesday and Thursday 8:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.)
Admission: S/.40 - US$10 - 8€
The Monastery of Saint Catherine often described as a city within a city, is the main attraction of Arequipa. This over 20,000-square-meter monastery is completely surrounded by a massive wall of ashlar stone.
It was founded in 1579 and restaured several times. Walking through its narrow streets lined with colorful facades, you can see small squares with fountains, cloisters and cells.
Calle La Merced 110, 50 m (150 ft) from the main square - Open 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (sunday 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.) - Admission: S/.15 - US$4 - 3.30€
The main attraction of this museum is the famous mummy Juanita or Dama de Ampato, a girl of 12/14 years old who was sacrificed in Inca times as an offering to the Apus (spirits of the mountains).
She was discovered in 1995 on mont Ampato more than 6,000 m (20,000 ft) above sea level near the Colca Canyon, after an eruption of the nearby volcano Sabancaya that melted part of its glaciers. It is the well-preserved mummy in the world thanks to its frozen for five centuries, she was naturally mummified, instead of being artificially mummified, such as is the case with Egyptian mummies.
Church and monastery of San Francisco
Founded in 1554, the church and the convent also suffered earthquakes. The interior is rather sober, but the sculptures are remarkable. Inside the convent is a library of 20,000 books and an art gallery. To the side of the church is the Foundación Fierro, now occupied by an handicraft market.
The old town conserve beautiful colonial and republican mansions such as the Casa del Moral (Moral street) from eighteenth century with its original furniture. the Casa Tristán del Pozo, now headquarters of a bank, is located at San Francisco street (# 108), the liveliest area of Arequipa with numerous bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Corner Pierola and San Camilo streets, 10 mn walk from the main square.
In the fantastic food market San camilo you can find numerous typical fruits of Peru and the Andean tubers, wonderful !
It is a good place to try some delicious fruit juices prepared right in front of you and served in disposable cups.
A 30-minute walk from the main square, crossing the Chili River by the Grau bridge, this quaint neighborhood is charming with its narrow streets and old houses with windows decorated with bars typical of Arequipa. In the center of the district, a pretty quiet square in the shade of palm trees is a popular spot where tourists concur to view the city and its background volcanoes.
The church built in 1750 is one of the best examples of mestizo art.
Mirador Carmen Alto
10 minutes by car from Yanahuara, Carmen Alto offers a different view of the city and the Chili River. A kiosk offers juices prepared with typical fruits like the tumbo (banana passion fruit) and papaya arequipeña (andean papaya).
Northwest of Yanahuara (4 km - 2.5 mi from the center), Cayma is a residential suburb. In the main square, beautiful balconies with typical bars and the baroque style church are architectural gem. On sundays people usually eat in the square the tradicional abodo, a delicious typical dish with pork meat.
Monasterio La Recoleta
Built in 1648, the convent that you can see from afar thanks to its red tower, has 4 cloisters, several showrooms of Peruvian history, such as pre-Columbian art room, the Amazon room and musical instruments and the immense library.
Open 7 days a week from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. Admission S/.10 - US$2.50 - 2.20€
Located 8 km (5 mi) from the city (30 minutes) in the wonderful campiña (countryside) of Arequipa, this beautiful mill built in 1621 is still working today.
Open 7 days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm - Admission: S/.15 - US$4 - 3.30€
This palace built by Don Garcia de Carvajal, the founder of the city of Arequipa, is located near the mill in the middle of the countryside, 9 km (5.5 mi) from the center.
This magnificent mansion shows the splendor of the Viceroyalty in the eighteenth century.
Trek and climb to the volcanoes
Several local agencies offer trek and climb to the volcanoes in the area.
Misti (5,825 m - 14,219 ft): Class II, easy in two days, like a High altitude hikes.
Chachani (6,075 m - 19,926 ft): Class III, moderate in two days.
Picchu Picchu (5,664 m - 18,578 ft): classe III, moderate in two days.
... and much more, like Ampato, Coropuna, Quehuisha (the source of the Amazon river), etc.
South of Arequipa
Toro Muerto (Dead Bull) is a prehistoric site of the Neolithic period (3,500 BC), 165 km (103 mi) southwest of Arequipa (3 hours).
Here are petroglyphs, engraved drawings on 6,000 volcanic rocks that coming from the eruption of Chachani and Coropuna volcanoes. The drawings represent mainly geometric and animal figures.
It is one of the deepest canyons in the world with 3,535 meters / 11,595 ft (1,600 m / 4,900 ft for Colorado canyon in the USA) and is located 380 km (236 mi) west of Arequipa, 12-hour trip that includes more than 120 km (75 mi) of unpaved road.
Besides the beautiful landscape, you can see vicuñas and condors, also practice climbing, paragliding, horseback riding, biking, treking and rafting.
North of Arequipa
Salinas y Aguadas Blancas National Reserve
The Salinas y Aguadas Blancas Reserve ubicated on the road toward Puno, 65 km (40 mi) from Arequipa (1 hour 30), in a pampa at 4,000 m (13,000 ft) a.s.l. It is a reserve created to protect the vicuñas and in 2010 the CONACS (the agency responsible for the protection of camelids) has counted 3,700 specimens in Salinas, care for 26 local communities.
The landscape is impressive with this immense pampa surrounded by the volcanoes and you can easily see vicuñas and hopefully very close. Just before reaching the reserve, you can see the snow capped of three volcanoes: Ampato (6,310 m / 20,697 ft) where mummy Juanita was discovered, Sabancaya (6,040 m / 19,811 ft) and Hualca Hualca (6,050 m / 19,844 ft).
Admission: S/.70 - US$25 - 20€ - National Resident: S/.20
Colca in quechua means "granary" for being one of the most important foodstore in Inca times. 45 minutes before reaching the town of Chivay, we came across the Patapampa pass at 4,910 meters (16,105 ft) a.s.l.
The small town of Chivay (75,000 inhabitants - 3,633 m / 11,916 ft above sea level) is located 164 km (102 mi) from Arequipa (4 hours) and is the gateway to the Colca Valley.
Only 4 km (2.5 mi) from Chivay, are the hot springs of La Calera. The water comes from nearby sources of over 80ºC (176ºF) and is cooled by a system of coils to reach five pools with a temperature of 38°C (100ºF), very nice and healthy especially for the skin and to relieve rheumatism.
Then you reach the village of Yanque, which also features thermal baths and then an unpaved road along the Colca River crosses three villages, Achoma, Maca and Pinchollo. On the way, you can see an impressive number of agricultural terraces and 1 hour 30 later you get to the Cruz del Condor at 3,720 m (12,202 ft) a.s.l., where you can admire the world's largest bird. Here the canyon reaches 1,200 m (4,000 ft) deep, but the other side is estimated at 3,400 m (11,150 ft). The road continues along a path that leads to Arequipa in 8 hours (250 km / 155 mi).
Route to Puno
From Salinas and Aguada Blanca Reserve, the road is in good condition. On the way, the Crucero Alto pass (4,528 m / 14,852 ft) forms the border with the department of Puno. Shortly after you reach the beautiful lake Lagunillas.