“White City” in Southern Peru is a Gem of Culture and Nature
Enroute to Peru’s Inca heartland or Bolivia’s highlands,visitors often stay in Arequipa, at the foot of Andes, to take in its unique architecture and outdoor activities.
Founded in 1540, “La Cuidad Blanca”, with a population of one million, is Peru’s second largest city. Most of the historical centre of the city is built of pearl white sillar stone, a volcanic rock (hence the nickname, which means White City). Arequipa’s spectacular cultural heritage, and its setting next to majestic volcanoes, led to the city’s being declared a UNESCO Cultural heritage site in 2000.
Arequipa’s Colonial Heritage
Although the earthquake prone city has been rebuilt several times, some of the original colonial buildings have survived, and many that were reconstructed in later periods merge a blend of colonial and native Indian masonry in style. It is this European-Mestizo baroque architecture which helped Arequipa attain its UNESCO heritage listing.
Visitors to the White City will no doubt bump into spectacular examples of this heritage on most streets in the city’s centre. Here is a list of some of Arequipa’s most popular colonial sites:
- Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Built in 1580, the convent was completely cloistered until it opened in 1970 to the public. Brilliant indigo and vermilion walls define the streets in this vast mini-city unto itself. Sections include separate cloisters, museums, courtyards, and galleries.
- Iglesia de La Compana. A Jesuit church and cloister, located on the Plaza de Armas, the Iglesia de La Compana complex was originally built in the sixteenth century. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1584, the present structure was rebuilt in 1650.
- Museo Santuarios Andinos. Visitors come to Museo Santuarios Andinos to see “Juanita: the Ice Princess”. The mummy is also called “La Dama de Ampato”, because she was discovered frozen on nearby Ampato volcano in 1995. It was theorized that the young Incan girl was sacrificed on the Ampato Volcano more than 500 years ago.
- Convento de La Recoleta: Originally built in 1648, the convent was opened to the public in 1978. The structure, with its impressive architectural style, holds Archeological, Natural History and Art Collections in several Museums, as well as a massive religious library collection.
- Colonial houses: La Casa de Moral, an example of 18th century baroque-mestizo architecture, has been converted into a museum. Visitors can also check out La Mansión del Fundador, Casa Goyeneche.
- La Catredal. Arequipa’s main cathedral is located on the the Plaza de Armas.
Outdoor Adventures and Popular Excursions
Outdoor enthusiasts will have no shortage of things to see and do in and around Arequipa.
- Canon de Colca. The most popular excursion is a one or two daytrip to the Canon del Colca, regarded by some to be the world’s deepest canyon. The trip takes travellers through the Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca, from which they may spot vicunas or other interesting wildlife. With luck, at the Cruz del Condor lookout, visitors may get a glimpse of the fabled Andean condor.
- Mountain climbing. Arequipa’s nearby mountains, part of the Cordillera Occidental, had religious significance to Incas. Volcan Misti, a dormant volcano, rising to 5822 m, is the most popular for climbing. Chachani, at 6075 m. is another choice for climbers.
- Bird watching. Tours to Colca Valley or Lake Salinas can be arranged through local operators.
- White Water Rafting. Local rafting tours take experienced rafters through the Colca River. Less experienced rafters can enjoy Rio Majes.
- Tours to the countryside. A tour on horseback to Sabandia, one of the outlying villages of Arequipa, is a bucolic delight. Riding on a naturally gaited el paso horse, tourists can view pre-Incan terraces still used in agriculture, farmers with their skinny cattle, and visit the Sabandia Mill, built in 1621.