Sparkling in the sun, Arequipa is called the White City because of the sillar, a white volcanic stone that makes up its buildings, both modern as well as Spanish colonial. Framed by three towering volcanoes, including the 5,800 metre El Misti, there are phenomenal views all round and with 300 days of sunshine each year it’s not hard to enjoy them!
The city itself is the home of the monastery of La Recoleta (with a museum and library) and several interesting churches, but its highlight is the Santa Catalina Convent. Built in the late 16th century (but closed to the public until 1970), the convent was a self-contained community, a place where nuns could worship and live in total isolation. Walk through the well-preserved convent, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and discover the tiny, secluded plazas and lovely courtyards within. Taking a stroll in Arequipa is like walking through a living museum with around 250 significant historic and colonial buildings in the town centre alone.
As well as beautiful buildings, Arequipa has a fantastic food scene with more local dishes to try than in any other city in Peru. Most famous would have to be cuy, an Andean delicacy of guinea pig. When visiting Arequipa make sure you try their take on it, which sees it served covered in hot sauce and then fried! Also make sure to try Estofado de res (a marinated beef drizzled with delicious sauce), adobo (a pork soup and famous hangover cure!), pastel de papa (similar to lasagna, but with just cheese, eggs and potatoes), helado queso (a type of ice cream which is actually made from cheese) and alfajores arequipenos (colourful cookies).
While it’s known as the white city, there are many people who would also refer to Arequipa as the volcanic city, thanks to the imposing volcanoes on its outskirts.
El Misti is the most famous volcano in the area – not because it’s the tallest (at a ‘mere’ 5,800 metres), but because from just about any open space in the city you can see its snow capped peak standing tall in the distance. It’s possible to hike El Misti over a two day period, and the views from the top will definitely take your breath away!
The two other volcanoes framing the city are Ampato which stands at 6,288 metres and Chachani which is 6,075 metres. There are also many more in the surrounding areas including Coropuna which is Peru’s highest volcano at 6,425 metres, Solimana, Hualca-Hualca, Sabancaya and Ubinas.
The Ice Mummy
The city of Arequipa is also home to Juanita ‘The Ice Mummy’, an Incan girl who was said to have been sacrificed to the Inca gods in the 15th century. Her body was discovered in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his assistant Miguel Zarate. They came across a bundle in a crater of Mt Ampato, and much to their surprise it was the frozen body of a young girl. Despite having passed away some 500 years earlier, the freezing temperatures had preserved her body until the ice began to melt following a volcanic eruption. According to researchers, Mummy Juanita was part of a ritual sacrifice known as Capacocha, which required the Incas to sacrifice the best and healthiest amongst them as an attempt to appease the gods. It was hoped this ritual would result in a good harvest and prevent natural disaster.
These days, Juanita’s body is on display in the Catholic University of Santa Maria’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries in Arequipa – a wonderful museum to learn more about the Incan civilisation. Make sure you rug up when visiting, as the nature of the artifacts they have on display means the temperatures have to stay cool!
The Colca Canyon
While not actually in Arequipa, the nearby Colca Canyon is a huge drawcard for the town, and you’ll see some pretty incredible views on your trip out there. With a depth of 3,270 metres, the Colca Valley is the one of the world’s deepest canyons (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), and it is where you can watch the majestic Andean condor as it cruises over the morning thermals.
The Peru Tourism website is a great resource for anyone considering a trip to this vibrant South American nation.