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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, plazas, ornate fountains, narrow cobbled streets, and beautifully decorated archways. High walls enclose these marvellous features. The thick and brightly painted walls also contain a number of cells, which once housed over 200 members of the female nobility. These women chose to shut themselves away from the world and devote their lives to prayer. The monastery opened its doors to the world some 400 years later, allowing visitors to wander through its exquisitely finished gates and admire its valuable collection of Spanish American religious art. Today, about 30 resident nuns live out of sight in the northern part of the complex. Visitors should make a point of seeing the monastery's Orange Tree Cloister, which is painted sky-blue and has wonderful murals on its vaulted arches. The huge 17th-century kitchen is another highly recommended sight.
Tourists should walk along the narrow street known as Calle Toledo as well. It is the oldest part of the monastery and leads to the open-air laundry, where 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.
This small museum's most famous attraction is the 600-year-old frozen body of a young Inca girl named, Juanita. It was 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 a number of funeral offerings - which are also on display. The body was encased in ice and preserved by the freezing temperatures for hundreds of years. It was found along with other ice mummies 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. Visitors will encounter other interesting artefacts from archaeological sites in the surrounding mountains. The museum is located very near the Plaza des Armas in Arequipa, in the historic area of the city.
The Colca Canyon is the most popular excursion from Arequipa, and the world's second deepest canyon. Culture lovers will relish the extremely picturesque valley, which is home to huge mountains, grand churches, lively market places and herds of wandering llamas. The Crux del Condor Lookout is the region's most popular viewing point, and the best place to see giant condors soaring above the dramatic depths of the canyon below. Many people stay in the quaint market town of Chivay, which is some three hours from Arequipa. It offers a good range of restaurants, bus services and accommodation, and is an excellent base from which to explore the area. Hikers will find many trails in the surrounding hills. They can also venture down to the bottom of the canyon and overnight in one of the tiny Indian settlements below. Travellers can choose from a number of tour operators, whose packages range from hikes to multi-day adventures. Visitors can set off alone and enjoy self-guided tours too.
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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