Peru & Bolivia

Summer 2006

Part 9: Arequipa

<< Part 8: Lake Titicaca (Bolivia)    -   Back to Index   -    Part 10: El Misti >>

August 16th (day 22): Puno to Arequipa

I'd arrived in Puno from Copacabana the previous evening and in the morning took a bus to Arequipa. Though Puno and Arequipa are only 150km apart as the condor flies, this ride took 7 hours. Still better than that 12 hour ride to cover 100km in Nepal though. As the bus approached Arequipa I already got to see the volcano El Misti (5822m), which I'd climb two days later.
A beautiful landscape along the way
Another picture at the same spot
A herd of llamas and in the background El Misti

August 16th-24th (days 22-30): Arequipa (2325m)

Arequipa lies in the valley at the foot of El Misti, which on the main town square (called Plaza de Armas - what else) can be soon rising behind the cathedral. El Misti is flanked by two other mountains: Chachani (6075m) on the left, and Pichu Pichu (5571m) on the right, and you can see all three these mountains from anywhere in town as they're so close to the city.
El Misti as seen from Arequipa

Arequipa was founded on August 15th 1540, and that date is celebrated passionately each year - I missed it by just one day. All buildings in the historic center are made of a light-coloured volcanic rock called sillar, which is why Arequipa is nicknamed the white city. It is widely considered Peru's most beautiful city and cultural capital.

I liked the city immediately; it was much more modern and dynamic than any other city I'd seen this trip (I hadn't been to Miraflores yet though). I'd stay for eight days because I used it as a base for two trips: a two-day climb of El Misti (cfr. part 10) and a three-day trip to Colca Cañon (cfr. part 11). I also took some time to relax here.

Around the Plaza

The Plaza de Armas showcases Arequipa's architecture and the white sillar rock. In the second and third picture you can spot El Misti again.
The Plaza de Armas
El Misti peeping above the buildings
The cathedral, impossible to get a frontal picture of because of the trees and because it`s so damn wide

The cathedral was first built in 1656 and twice rebuilt after being destroyed by fire in 1844 and an earthquake in 1868. In 2001 another earthquake toppled one of its towers but it was soon rebuilt as well.
The entrance and one of the towers of the cathedral
Inside the cathedral

Just off a corner of the plaza stands the Iglesia de la Compañia, an old Jesuit church with a richly ornamented facade and altar. Next to the altar is the San Ignacio chapel which has walls and a dome covered with jungle-like patterns, angels and warriors.
The Iglesia de la Compañia
The dome of the San Ignacio chapel

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Arequipa's main sight is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which is like a city within the city. It was a nunnery founded in 1580 which only took girls from rich families. While nuns in monasteries were supposed to live in chaste poverty, the ones in the Monasterio de Santa Catalina typically had several servants or slaves, regularly organised parties and generally lived like they had at home.

This hedonistic life-style ended in 1871 when the pope sent a strict Dominican nun to take charge and turn things around. In 1970 the mayor of Arequipa forced the Monasterio to open to the public and open its doors for tourism. Nowadays only a few dozen nuns are left and they live in a sealed-off corner of the complex.

The monasterio turned out to be one of the greatest monuments I have ever visited. Not because it is spectacular or impressive; it is neither. It is just an endless maze of little rooms and streets, but it is so cozy and picturesque and so beautifully restored that it's a real delight for architects and photographers alike - so I enjoyed it double. Here is a series of pictures to give an idea of the place.


Arequipa's other main touristic highlight is the Museo Santuarios Andinos which exhibits the frozen body of an Inca girl who was sacrificed on top of the 6318m high Ampato over 500 years ago. She was found in 1995 by mountaineers and named 'Juanita, the ice princess'.

A very interesting story, but this tourist trap forces you to take a guided tour while it doesn't really have much to show. Besides the frozen body, which is no better preserved than your average mummy and is mostly covered in thick ice, it only has the clothes and other things that were found on or near her. I doubted until the last day whether to visit it or not, and in the end only did it because I had time to spare anyway.

The video at the beginning, with reenactments of the sacrifice, was the best part. Having just climbed to 6000m with modern clothes and equipment, I was mightily impressed to find out that the Incas climbed even higher. Human sacrifices have been found on many of the highest mountain tops in the region. The museum makes a pathetic attempt to make this cruel, barbaric practice seem like something spiritual.

Monasterio de la Recoleta

This Franciscan monastery lies outside the center and sees few tourists, though it's far more interesting than Juanita. It has a beautiful old library with books dating back to 1494, and exhibits a wide variety of interesting things in its halls, like archeological finds, religious art, and a huge collection of preserved animals from the Amazone, from spiders to birds to big mammals, many of which I'd never seen before. There are also two mummies which are in a better state than Juanita.
The Mummy
The Gallito de las Rocas is Peru`s national bird

<< Part 8: Lake Titicaca (Bolivia)    -   Back to Index   -    Part 10: El Misti >>

Cy Mon 12 Feb 2007 @ 15:58
I enjoyed your photos, especially of Arbor de Piedra! How fragile it looks. Thanks for your tips on traveling to Machu Pichu on

Daria Thu 07 Dec 2006 @ 00:20
Ammmazing photos and exciting views!!! :)
I can't find the right words!

I bet in real life these views were much more breathtaking :) At some point I envy you - you had a chance to see all this beauty by your own eyes!
But the same time thank you very much for sharing this beauty with us :) This way it is also very nice ;)

Looking forward to seeing new pics and reading new reports ;)

Godsmurf Thu 30 Nov 2006 @ 00:11
It'll be 90% nature pics in the rest of the report. You ain't seen nothing yet :)

Well apart from some really wild desert llamas I saw penguins, condors, flamingos, pelicans, other birds, and sealions!

Fia Wed 29 Nov 2006 @ 15:07
Excellent pictures! Very beautiful sceneries! As usual I prefer mountain pics before buildings. ;-) I especially like the green colours of the mountains and the blue colours of the lakes that you visited.

By the way, you didn't happen to see any wildlife? Apart from that creepy millipede I mean. (And lamas don't count as wild.) :-)


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