Arequipa – ‘The White City’ is called so because of the distinctive white volcanic rock that makes up the majority of its buildings around the Plaza de Armas (City Square). It’s a really attractive city surrounded by three volcanoes lying 3500 meters above sea level in southern Peru and as we bump along the cobbled streets I’m looking forward to making this place my home for the next couple of days. Some time off from camping and a chance to get some clothes cleaned – the joy of the simple things!
Accommodation came in the form of a sprawling hostel (La Casa de Mi Abuela) ten minutes’ walk from the Plaza de Armas, behind high walls lay beautifully manicured gardens, a pool and huge colonial quarters to spread out in. Arriving early evening we headed out into the city to explore, being a university town it was pretty lively and we soon found a bar, with happy hour(s) just about to start it seemed fated that the evening would be spent drinking pisco sours
and dancing the night away.
Next morning after a hearty Peruvian breakfast to banish the feeling of one too many from the
night before it was time to explore all the city had to offer – In the brilliant early morning sunshine, with no particular destination in mind we headed out, walking down tiny cobbled streets, stumbling across beautiful plazas and gardens, with the blue sky reflecting the sunlight off of the white stonework, the snow covered volcano ‘El Misti’ greeting us in the distance as you turn a corner, gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture and leafy streets made the city a beautiful place to just wander.
The highlight of the morning was a visit to the Santa Catalina Convent
. The huge convent is over 400 years old and is a city within a city. High walls were built to protect the nuns from the outside world and inside we found a wonderful maze of narrow streets, stunningly beautiful buildings, brightly painted walls, shaded plazas and flowers in bloom all over. For a donation you can get a hour long tour of the convent, where the guide made the place come alive with the history of the Domincan nuns, you even get to poke around the nuns’ old cells, see how they cooked, slept and prayed. After the tour we spent a pleasant few
hours wandering the grounds, sitting in the sunshine, snapping pictures and thoroughly enjoying the calm atmosphere – and some homemade (by the current nuns in the new convent across the street) ice cream.
Leaving the peaceful surrounds of the convent behind we headed to Arequipa’s other main tourist attraction, Juanita, The Ice Princess.
Juanita is a the mummy of an young Inca girl sacrificed on the summit of Ampato over 500 years ago, it has been describe as one of the 10 most important historical discoveries of recent times by Time Magazine
. .Because the body was frozen at such low temperatures and high altitude, a really extensive study into the physical health of the ancient Peruvian civilisations has been possible. Juanita is housed in the university run Museo Sanctuaruios Andinos and one of the local students gave us a tour of the artefacts found with and around Juanita before introducing us to the princess herself. They say that she would have been beautiful back in the day, but whilst the ice may have preserved her time has not been kind, another image to add to the gruesome collection awaiting my nightmares…
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