Is Arequipa the Most Beautiful City in Peru?

Our three visits to Arequipa are almost not enough. This city prompts the use of descriptions such as ‘Peru’s pride and beauty’, ‘picturesque’, ‘graceful and harmonious’, ‘prettiest’ and of course ‘beautiful’.

The main reason for the city’s appeal is that its buildings are constructed mostly from the white volcanic rock called sillar, quarried from the nearby volcanos. This gives rise to the nickname, La Ciudad de Blanca – the White City.

Arequipa is certainly a beautiful city; impressive and important enough to be listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site . I hope this selection from our many photos will inspire you to visit.

Arequipa is also known as the 'white city' for its many colonial houses built from the locally quarried sillar stone, a volcanic rock. Arequipa's historic centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed.

Arequipa is also known as the ‘white city’ for its many colonial houses built from the locally quarried sillar stone.

 

Arequipa’s Main Square: Plaza de Armas

The first place most of us go, when we visit a new city in South America, is the central plaza. Our guide book (Frommer’s Peru) describes the Plaza de Armas as “one of the prettiest main squares in Peru”, and I’d have to agree. It is surrounded on three sides by colonnades with all types of shops, many catering to visitors. Then the absolutely stunning cathedral takes up the whole of the fourth side. It is certainly a magnificent structure. However, we were surprised that the interior of such a beautiful building wasn’t just a bit more impressive.

On three sides of Plaza de Armas in Arequipa are these beautiful collonades. On the top floor are a number of up-market restaurants with a stunning view of the park and the cathedral.

On three sides of Plaza de Armas in Arequipa are these beautiful collonades. On the top floor are a number of up-market restaurants with a stunning view of the park and the cathedral.

The cathedral is built completely from the local sillar stone. It was badly damaged in the earthquake of 2007; one tower collapsed and has since been rebuilt. The interior is not quite as impressive as the exterior...

The cathedral is built completely from the local sillar stone. It was badly damaged in the earthquake of 2007; one tower collapsed and has since been rebuilt. The interior is not quite as impressive as the exterior…

 

On the north-eastern corner of the plaza you will find La Compañía de Jesús Church and Monastery. This is one of the most ornate structures we visited. Sillar stone can be carved with very intricate designs and lends itself to the baroque style of the period. The façade of this church is certainly ornate. Next to the church is the former monastery of the Jesuits. Now it is another tourist attraction, and the cloisters are full of up-market souvenir shops. You don’t need to enter the shops to enjoy walking around these beautiful courtyards, whose pillars are also intricately carved.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Businesses in Historic Buildings

Like La Compañía de Jesús Monastery, many of the historic buildings of Arequipa are used by current businesses rather than being conserved as museums.

One of these is the BBVA bank, just off the plaza, which operates out of an historic building with 3 courtyards. It is also home to an interesting, small museum. It feels kind of strange to wander around this beautiful place while people are conducting their banking business in a variety of offices, edging the courtyards.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

Other historic buildings house government offices, shopping centres, hotels, restaurants – in fact, any business you’re looking for in the historic centre may be found in an original building.

Arequipa’s Museums

We didn’t visit many museums, but there are plenty to be had in this historic city.

By far the most famous and popular is the Santa Catalina Convent. Our first visit to Arequipa in 2008 was short, but we spent a good portion of it in this amazing city within the city. It covers a whole city block – more than 2 hectares. It once housed 450 nuns, and their servants, who lived in complete seclusion. The women who lived there experienced freedom and autonomy that was not available to them outside the walls at that time. The Convent has been restored in part, and today’s nuns live in a separated section. The rest has been opened up to the public, in order to ensure its conservation.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

On our third visit to Arequipa, with Bron and Bob in January , we visited the Convent for a second time and found it just as enjoyable as the first time; wandering along the cobbled streets and through the buildings. This time we took a guide, which gave us a lot more information. But it also made it a bit too fast, particularly for Juergen, who likes to take his time and photograph at leisure. It is a relaxing place to be, away from the noise and bustle of the city outside. I imagine the lives of the women to have been peaceful and comfortable.

Another museum, which really piqued Bob’s interest, is the Museo Santuarios Andinos. It is housed in the Casa de la Cultura and operated by the Universidad Católica de Santa María. This is home to the famous mummy they named Juanita. She was discovered in 1995, frozen on the side of the Ampato Volcano. It has been learned that she was some sort of sacrifice made to Ampato by the Incans. If you want the full story, the visit to the museum is by guided tour and the history is very interesting. To Bob’s great disappointment, Juanita was on holiday, down in the laboratory, and another mummy was on display in her place. It was still a very enlightening experience, and to be recommended as part of a visit to the historical centre of Arequipa.

Please click thumbnails below for a larger photo with description.

There are many old mansions in the historic city centre. We chose to visit the Casa del Moral because it is recommended as the best preserved example in Arequipa. Like many Spanish colonial buildings, it is built around a courtyard. The rooms are furnished with many original pieces, and it really gives a feeling of the times for those who lived in the comfort that wealth brings.

Is Arequipa the Most Beautiful City in Peru?

There is no doubt that Arequipa is a beautiful city. It is certainly worthy of its place on the World Heritage List. It has many, very impressive churches, besides those mentioned here. All of the buildings in the historic centre are worth a second look. When I walk through this city, I feel myself reacting to its beauty, and sometimes it just stops me in my tracks.

Santa Catalina is not the only convent in Arequipa. This is the San Francisco convent, which is not usually open to the public, except for the church for mass.

Santa Catalina is not the only convent in Arequipa. This is the San Francisco convent, which is not usually open to the public, except for the church for mass.

Google ‘colonial cities in Peru’, and the list is Cusco, Arequipa, Trujillo, Lima, Cajamarca and Ayacucho. Of these Cajamarca is the only one we haven’t visited – yet.

Based on this, I think Arequipa is the most beautiful colonial city we have been to in Peru.

What do you think? Have you been to Peru? Have you been to Arequipa?
Tell us in the comments below.

We think that Arequipa might be the most beautiful city in Peru. The historic centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed for its colonial houses. Most are built from locally quarried white sillar stone, even the painted ones. It certainly doesn't look or feel like the second largest city of Peru - until you hit a traffic jam at the fringe of the city... See our gallery post for a list of Arequipa's main attractions!

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Yasha

dare2go's human navigator (we're not lost because there's nowhere particular we have to be) alongside our Nexus 7 tablet, writer and editor of our blog, first cook and loving wife. Teaching English as a second language when possible.

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2 Responses

  1. Bron Marie says:

    It was beautiful. It left me breathless more than once and not because of the altitude. Such a sensational experience. Thank you for helping me relive it.

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