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Known as the 'White City', Arequipa is home to many beautiful colonial buildings, which were made from locally mined, light-coloured volcanic stone. Culture lovers will note that the destination's elegant historic centre has some of Peru's finest colonial churches and mansions. Many of them have been turned into museums and galleries.
Most of the action takes place in the Plaza de Armas, where visitors will find gorgeous gardens, impressive colonial arcades and architecture, and the huge cathedral's elegant white façade. One of the city's highlights is the remarkable Santa Catalina Convent. The complex encloses a complete city within a city, and is among Peru's most fascinating colonial religious buildings.
Arequipa's countryside holds many attractions, too, including the relatively easy climb up the El Misti Volcano. The Colca Valley's superb landscape features villages, ornate churches, agricultural terraces and snow-covered mountains. Nature enthusiasts should also visit the dizzying Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and is an excellent place to see giant condors.
The Santa Catalina Monastery is an enormous complex of rooms, chapels and plazas, coupled with ornate fountains, cobbled streets and beautifully archways. The high and brightly painted walls contain a number of cells, which over time housed over 200 members of the female nobility. Visitors can admire its valuable collection of Spanish American religious art, the huge 17th-century kitchen, or the murals on the vaulted arches of the sky-blue Orange Tree Cloister. A beautiful church compound, Santa Catalina is a masterpiece of colonial architecture and the most fascinating religious complex in Peru.
This small museum's most famous attraction is the 600-year-old frozen body of a young Inca girl named Juanita, discovered in near-perfect condition on the top of the Ampato Volcano in 1995. She was sacrificed to the mountain gods and buried in a tomb with funeral offerings, her body encased in ice and preserved by the freezing temperatures for centuries. It was found along with other ice mummies after a volcanic eruption melted the ice and exposed the tomb. The Ice Maiden is exhibited in a refrigerated glass case and analysis of her DNA has afforded great insights into the Inca culture, while other artefacts from surrounding sites are also on display.
The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa and the world's second deepest canyon. The picturesque valley is home to huge mountains, grand churches and lively market places, as well as herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor is the region's most popular viewing point, and the best place to see giant condors soaring over the dramatic depths. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, offering a good range of hiking trails, bus services and accommodation. Travellers can choose from a number of tour operators or set off for a solo adventure.
Arequipa is known for its beautiful white colonial buildings, which delight all who visit the city's UNESCO-listed historic centre. The Plaza de Armas is the destination's central landmark, and is a great starting point for a sightseeing tour. Highlights include the Santa Catalina Monastery, the Museo Santuarios Andinos, the Santa Teresa Convent, and La Compania.
Visitors who enjoy the local cuisine should try the Peruvian Cooking Experience. The cooking course is held at the Casa de Avila Hotel, and is deservedly popular among travelling foodies.
Tourists can also hike up the volcanic peaks of El Misti, Pichu Pichu, and Chachani, which loom above Arequipa's colonial elegance. Though the views are stunning, travellers should note that the altitude can be uncomfortable, and that the mountains can become freezing cold.
The region's main natural attraction is the Colca Canyon. It's one of the deepest canyons in the world, and attracts many avid hikers with its condors, traditional villages and breathtakingly dramatic scenery.
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