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AREQUIPA  -  PERU


At 2,300 meters above sea level, Arequipa, or "Jewel of the South" as it is called for its beauty, "The White City" for its beautiful buildings in the local sillar stone, and "The City of the Volcanoes" for the snow-capped dormant volcanoes that lie just behind the city, is quite simply, a place to fall in love with.
 

The city invites visitors to come and enjoy its great warm climate and still see snow wherever you look up at the snow-capped peaks of El Misti (5,822 meters), Chachani and Pichupichu which form a dramatic backdrop to Arequipa, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 2000.

 

Arequipa's climate fits into the holiday plans of anyone. With year round warm and dry weather, where it almost never rains, it barely even gets cloudy, and the air stays mountain-fresh the city should be on the itinerary of most visitors to Peru. In winter time, from June to August the snow melts from the surrounding mountains and the countryside around Arequipa is lush and green and the Rio Chili is sparkling and clear.

 

Arequipa has much to offer. It's amazing baroque cathedral is the tallest building for miles around. The centre of the city consists of narrow cobbled medieval streets lined with colonial houses constructed from the local white sillar volcanic stone. The Plaza de Armas (main square) is a must see for anyone and will surely stay in your memory for a long time. Lined with shady two story colonnades on three sides and the cathedral on the other, an elegant fountain in the middle and is filled with palm trees and flowers.

 

When wandering around the city of Arequipa you will surely find it's other name, the "Seville of South America", very appropriate. The cathedral, the former Jesuit cloisters and church of La Compańia, and the dozens of other churches dotted around the historic centre, all give Arequipa a real 'Old Spain' kind of feel with a real touch of modern life around.

 

The convent of Santa Catalina is probably one of the biggest attraction for people visiting Arequipa on a holiday in Peru. It's like a city within a city with its own streets, houses and churches and was a closed community until the 1970s when the nuns moved to a smaller complex and the site was opened to tourists. The convent was home to St. Ana de los Angeles Monteagudo and Pope John Paul II came to Arequipa in 1985 to perform the beatification ceremony. Today, the convent of Santa Catalina is perfectly preserved and you have the opportunity to step through the convent doors and go 400 years back in time as you wander the streets and visit the houses of a unique part of the world's heritage.

 

There are plenty of other things to do in Arequipa, of course, and one thing we always recommend is the walk up to the old district of Yanahuara. There you will find a lovely little plaza, with a fantastic church on one side and Moorish-style arches on another, through which you have a superb view of El Misti.

 

The city is also home to several museums, notably the Anthropological Museum of the University of Santa Maria which is the proud resting-place of Juanita the Mummy! Juanita was discovered in 1996 on the volcano of Ampato, very near to Arequipa, and is one of the most important archaeological finds in South America. Because she was in such good condition, scientists were able to learn a great deal from her about pre-Columbian diets, textiles and customs. Further studies have revealed that she died as part of an Incan sacrifice ritual, her body preserved by freezing temperatures. The museum also has many other interesting exhibits and is well worth a visit.

 

The surrounding countryside of Arequipa has some great walking, and some lovely towns such as Yura and Jesús, which are situated near natural springs which produce water with famous healing properties. Although most people prefer to head off to the nearby Colca Canyon for their walking, it's also possible to trek to the summit of El Misti, with its stunning views over Arequipa, and there have been several recent climbing expeditions to reach the summit of Arequipa's watchful guardian.


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