Arequipa – The White City
With an early morning flight from Lima, we were off on our first adventure in Peru! I had been planning this trip for almost 15 years, and, if I’m honest, I was still in a little bit of disbelief that it was actually happening. Arequipa is a short, one hour flight from Lima. Our pilot circled the city to land, and we were able to see how large the city and surrounding areas were. Our tour guide, July, would later tell us that there were 1.2 million inhabitants in the city. About half of the population lives outside the city-proper. The airport was also very modern and exceptionally clean.
Our tour guide, July, and driver, Ernesto, were waiting for us as soon as we excited the airport and shuttled us to our hotel. It was a Sunday and traffic wasn’t too bad. We dubbed Ernesto “King of the Road” by the end of our time together as he wove in and out streets which haven’t changed significantly since Colonial times.
There were lots of advertisements, and an amazing Bull Fighting statue. Arequipa is a city and region with a lot of pride in its history and tradition. The bull fighting statue was reflection of this pride as they differentiated themselves from traditional Spanish bullfighting. Their bull fights actually place a cow in the middle of the ring and bring in two bulls. The bulls lock horns together in a match of dominance until one secedes to the other. There is the typical betting on the outcome, but not the cruelty of the Spanish fights.
Our hotel, Casa Andina Premium Collection Arequipa, was a short walk from the main square and was set inside an old colonial mansion. Arequipa is a colonial city, not a city for visiting ruins. It is, however, filled with georgeous architecture and buildings dating back to the 16th century. The hotel itself was a wonderful example of colonial architecture as you walked through the front doors and were greeted in a large, open courtyard. July explained that this would have been very traditional in colonial times, a large open courtyard for guests, then a transition to a smaller courtyard for family only including a small chapel. The bar now lay in this space and served as a great place for a snack before we headed out to tour the city.
Adjusting to High Altitude
We began walking to the main square, and July went over tips for adjusting to the higher altitudes. We would be going much higher in the days to come, as we traveled through the mountains and volcanoes towards Colca Valley, but the steps remained the same:
- Hydrate, drink 2 liters of water per day
- Walk slowly, avoid over-exerting yourself
- Drink Coca Tea, sometimes with mint once in higher elevations
- Place lemon candies under your tongue to help combat altitude sickness
- If in the afternoon you have a slight headache, act quickly! It only gets worse with time so go ahead and take your normal headache remedies
Our first stop was Museo Santuarios Andinos to see the ice Maiden Juanita. She, at 15 years old, was led up to the top of Mount Ampato and sacrificed to the Incan gods. Understanding it was a different time and this would have been a great honor and privilege, she likely thought she was helping to save her people and going to meet her ancestors and gods. Pictures aren’t allowed for preservation of the relics, but this is a definite must-see in the city.
We walked up the stone streets, admiring the volcanic rock used to create the White City and stopped at La Iglesia de la Company, a Jesuit Church, with intricate carvings in the Baroque style. We walked inside what used to be the Jesuit school and observed that the layout was very familiar to a colonial home. A large open courtyard, surrounding by rooms that are now occupied by various shops and stores. A smaller courtyard that was used for the servants at the time and still has the large pot they would have used for water.
Our next stop was the main square. Again, the layout would become familiar as we visited other cities in Southern Peru. A church sat on one side with the government building opposite. A nice fountain or other meeting place is central, and pedestrian streets surround the main square. We learned later that the nicer areas in Arequipa would have nicer squares and parks. We were able to see the differences in different areas as we travelled out of the city the next day.
Christmas in Arequipa
Being December, many Christmas decorations were already on display. My favorite were the Nativity scenes. Arequipa districts compete each year to try to have the best Nativity scene, and we were lucky enough to see two : One in the Main Square and One in a surrounding district.
The main square had a huge Christmas Tree. The Nativity scene was cared from wood and features locally grown vegetables. Peru has over 1,000 varieties of potatoes and many were on display.
Santa Catalina Monestary
Our next stop was Santa Catalina Monastery. We had a local guide take us through the convent, which was built in 1579 and still operates today. The monastery is truly a city unto itself, with streets and home that the nuns used to occupy. Our guide explained that during colonial times, the second daughter or son would enter the service of the Church. This convent accepted many women from very wealthy families, who paid a dowry for their daughter’s admittance. It was evident that the wealth the women experienced outside the convent, followed them inside as they all had a servant and a home with their own bedroom, kitchen, and servant’s quarters. The servants could actually leave the convent to obtain items from outside while the nuns remained inside the walls for the rest of their life.
The mother superior’s home also included a dining area. In the late 1800s, the monastery was reformed and the nuns left their homes to live, cook, and serve in communal rooms together. The artwork inside was beautiful, as were the grounds.
We had some of our most amazing pictures of the city from the top of the Santa Catalina Monastery.
After our tour, we headed back to the room to rest for a bit and took July’s recommendation on a restaurant, Zig Zag. My husband, Patrick, was “sold” by the trio of meats (Alpaca, Beef, and Pork or Lamb) delivered on a hot volcanic stone. I opted for the salmon and both dishes were amazing. My favorite, by far, was our Chocolate Mouse dessert with Peruvian chocolate. After a great meal, we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel and readied ourselves for the next day.
I booked our trip through Kuoda travel and have since recommended the company to anyone who will listen! All of our guides were local operators and added so much to our trip that is not available during a normal tourist visit. We really wanted to understand the culture and appreciate the uniqueness of the people and areas we visited. Kudoa delivered on this over and over again. I could never have anticipated how much we would come to enjoy our tour guide, July, and driver, Ernesto. By the time we parted ways in Puno, we were so sad to see them go. We made some amazing friends in Peru!