Arequipa is well known for its glistening white buildings made from sillar, a white volcanic rock, which gives the city its nickname 'La Ciudad Blanca' or 'The White City'. Arequipa is Peru's second largest city and was founded in 1540. The site was chosen for its proximity to the coast, enabling settlers to trade the products of Cusco and the mines of Potosi (Bolivia) with Lima. The local cultivation of wheat, corn and grapes all contributed to the regions economic growth. The city is surrounded by 3 volcanoes; El Misti, still active at 5822m, the higher and extinct Chachani 6075m and Pichu Pichu 5571m. The Incas highly respected these volcanoes since the melt water from their snow-capped peaks form the headwaters of the mighty Amazon River, thousands of kilometers away.
Plaza de Armas & Cathedral:
Arequipa's Plaza de Armas is one of the most beautiful in Peru. On the north side of the Plaza is the impressive, twin-towered Cathedral, founded in 1612 and largely rebuilt in the 19th Century having been repeatedly damaged by earthquakes and fire. Inside is fine Belgian organ and elaborately-carved wooden pulpit. The Plaza is surrounded on its other 3 sides by colonial arcaded buildings with many cafes and restaurants. Behind the Cathedral is a pretty back street with many handicraft shops.
Santa Catalina Convent:
The Monasterio de Santa Catalina is the most astonishing site in Arequipa. It was opened to the public in 1970 after 400 years as a cloister. The convent has been beautifully refurbished with period furniture and paintings. Behind the closed doors the nuns, daughters of aristocrats, paid little heed to the vows of poverty and silence. Each had her own servant and dined with porcelain plates, fine tablecloths and silver cutlery. The convent is a complete miniature walled colonial town in the middle of the city. There are flower filled gardens, spacious patios, granite fountains as well as arches and narrow streets. The tile-roofed buildings are painted in traditional white, brown and blue. About 20 nuns still live in a section of the convent, which once housed up to 500.
Climbing El Misti Volcano:
The two or three day climb to the top of this active volcano (5830m) can be hard work due to the thin air but any relatively fit, acclimatized trekker should be able to do it without too many problems. The El Misti climb, in fact, one of the easiest ascents of any mountain of this size in the world. Should not be attempted without a guide and the proper equipment such as crampons.
Most people who visit Arequipa take a tour out to the Cañon de Colca, one of the deepest canyons of worlds formed by an enormous seismic fault between the Coropuna (6425m) and Ampato (6325m) volcanoes.
Cotahuasi Canyon is even deeper than Colca and even more spectacular. Due to its remoteness trekking in this area can be quite demanding so its safer to organize with a guide and specialist trekking company. Allow at least 7 days to explore the canyon and its picturesque villages.