Arequipa is Peru’s second largest, with a population of approximately 1’000,000. However, it has the feel of a small town, with the centre being compact and containing most areas of interest. Away from the centre, the city rapidly becomes residential, although there are a few sights worth visiting.
The city is splendidly located, in the shadow of three giant volcanoes. Chachani, at 6,075m is the highest, but it is the perfectly conical Misti that draws the attention. After the rainy season, when the snowline often reaches several thousand meters below the summit, it is wonderful just to admire the mountain. Although Arequipa is in the middle of a desert, agriculture has ensured that directly around the city there is plenty of greenery.
The barren hills clearly visible from the city form a stark contrast with the fields found throughout the city. Flying into Arequipa gives a sense of the inhospitableness of the landscape. Surrounded by volcanoes and deep gorges, all in a vast desert, it is easy to understand why the relatively benign geography of the valley of Arequipa, and its vegetation provided by the irrigation of the River Chili, attracted its first Spanish settlers.
The city of Arequipa was founded, or at least re-founded, on August 15 1540, by Francisco Pizarro’s envoy, and in 1541 the king of Spain gave the city the title of Villa Hermosa – beautiful city. There are a number of stories as to how Arequipa got its name. Some claim that the Inca general Mayta Capac stopped in the valley and moved by its beauty said ‘Are quepay‘ -‘stay here‘. Other versions say that the Aymara Indians living in the valley called it’Ariquipa’, meaning the place behind the pointed mountain, referring to Misti. The centre of Arequipa is built out of a unique white volcanic rock, sillar, spewed out of nearby Chachani.
This gives the city a majestic aspect, especially around sunset when the changing colours of the sky are reflected in the facades of the buildings. Arequipa is known as ‘La Ciudad Blanca’, ‘the white city‘, and may people believe that this is because of the sillar. However, a more sinister explanation, which is probably more accurate, is that the racial purity of its original citizens, thoroughbred Spaniards, is the real reason for the city’s name.
Climate in Arequipa
Arequipa is dry and sunny all year long. During August, the weather gets slightly cold at night and at dawn, but the mornings and afternoons are warmed by bright sunshine. Generally speaking, the weather in Arequipa is mild with temperatures fluctuating between 10 and 24°C. The rainy season lasts from January to March but rainfall is reasonably moderate.
Historic Centre of Arequipa
The Historic centre of Arequipa, built in volcanic sillar rock, represents an integration of European and native building techniques and characteristics, expressed in the admirable work of colonial masters and Criollo and Indian masons. This combination of influences is illustrated by the city’s robust walls, archways and vaults, courtyards and open spaces, and the intricate Baroque decoration of its facades.
Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery was founded on the second of October in 1580 and has an extension of 20000 square metres and was constructed in the second half of the XVIth Century. The Convent, in which there are still nuns living in cloisters, is a walled small city with narrow streets, passages, stair cases and small squares.
The Convent, a city in miniature closed to the public until 1970, combines the white colour of the sillar with other tonalities, like ochre, indigo and orange that go well with the otherwise austere style.
Southern Peru, Andean zone, 2,335 meters above sea level. (7,660 feet)
From Tacna 248.5 miles (400 km)
From Puno: 201.9 miles (325 km)
From Cusco 388 miles (625 km)
From Colca Valley 111.8 miles (180 km)
From Lima 633.8 miles (1,020 km)