Arequipa - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Arequipa


Characterised by its many beautiful colonial buildings made from a locally-mined light-coloured volcanic stone, Arequipa is also known as the 'White City'. Its elegant historic centre is endowed with some of the country's finest colonial churches and mansions, many of which have been turned into museums or galleries.

The second largest city in Peru, Arequipa is one of the country's most attractive cities, prettily situated among white-capped volcanic peaks; however a conceited manner of distinguished self-importance pervades the atmosphere earning the inhabitants a reputation for snootiness towards the rest of their fellow countrymen, indignant to claims of greater cultural importance by other cities. A strong and very tangible rivalry exists between the capital city of Lima and Arequipa.

The beautiful Plaza de Armas, with its gardens and central fountain, is the focus of urban life and evening social activities, framed by impressive colonial arcades and architecture and the elegant white façade of the huge Cathedral. One of the city's highlights is the remarkable Santa Catalina Convent, a complex enclosing a complete city within a city, and one of the country's most fascinating colonial religious buildings.

Besides the architecture and museums, the countryside around Arequipa holds many attractions for the visitor, including the relatively easy climb up the El Misti volcano. The Colca Valley offers superb landscapes, with agricultural terraces and snow-covered mountains, villages with narrow streets and ornate churches, and the dizzying Colca Canyon, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and an excellent place to see the giant condors.

Information & Facts

Spanish and Quechua are the official languages, but many other dialects are spoken. English is spoken only in major tourist centres and hotels.

The official currency is Nuevo Sol (PEN) divided into 100 céntimos. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card, but all major international credit cards, including Diners Club and MasterCard, are accepted in many, but not all, establishments. Outside Lima facilities may be more limited. Travellers cheques may also be difficult to exchange in small towns and villages, and travellers are advised to have cash on hand. US Dollars are the easiest currency to exchange and plenty of restaurants, hotels and shops in the main cities accept dollars for payment. Casas de cambio(exchange bureaux) often give better rates than hotels and banks and can be found in any town on the tourist circuit. ATMs are available in the main cities.

Local time is GMT -5.

This small museum's most famous attraction is the 600 year old frozen body of Juanita, the young Inca girl who was discovered in near-perfect condition on top of the Ampato Volcano in 1995. She was killed as a sacrificial offering to the mountain gods and buried in a tomb with a number of funeral offerings that are also on display in the museum, along with other ice mummies found on the mountain. The body was encased in ice and preserved by the freezing temperatures on the 20,000-foot (6,000m) peak for hundreds of years, and was found after a volcanic eruption melted the ice and exposed the tomb. The Ice Maiden is displayed in a refrigerated glass case, and analysis of her DNA has afforded great insights into the Inca culture. An interesting video documents the discovery and is included as part of the compulsory tour.

Enclosed within high walls is the Santa Catalina Monastery, an enormous complex of rooms, pretty little plazas and ornate fountains, a maze of narrow cobbled streets, chapels, beautifully decorated archways and boxes of red geraniums. The thick and brightly painted walls contain numerous cells that once housed over 200 members of the female nobility who chose to shut themselves away from the rest of the world in a life devoted entirely to prayer. Some 400 years later the monastery was opened to the world and since then visitors have been able to wander through the exquisitely finished gates and admire the valuable collection of some of the finest examples of existing Spanish American religious art that decorate the walls.

Today, about 30 resident nuns live out of sight in the northern part of the complex. Noteworthy is the Orange Tree Cloister, painted a sky-blue with beautiful murals decorating the vaulted arches, as well as the huge 17th-century kitchen with its blackened walls, and the long and narrow street known as Calle Toledo, which is the oldest part of the monastery and leads to the open air laundry where the nuns washed their clothes in large jugs filled from the canal. Unlike any other church compound, Santa Catalina is a masterpiece of colonial architecture, and is the most fascinating religious complex in Peru.

The most popular excursion from Arequipa is to the Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world, and twice the depth of Arizona's Grand Canyon. The Colca valley is extremely picturesque, dominated by huge mountains, with little villages and a distinctive traditional dress, lively market places and grand churches, green agricultural terraces hugging the hillsides and herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor Lookout is the most popular viewing point and also the best place to see giant condors soaring on incredible wingspans above the dramatic depths of the canyon below. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, three hours from Arequipa, with a good range of accommodation, restaurants and bus services, and an excellent base from which to explore the region at leisure. There are many hiking opportunities in the surrounding hills and energetic travellers can hike down to the bottom of the canyon and overnight in one of the tiny Indian settlements below.

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