Peru Destinations – Arequipa and Colca

Arequipa at sunset.

Discover more about the Inca Empire in this beautiful city of Peru.


Site of Contrasts, Site of World Records
Declared a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, this southern Peruvian city is filled with beautiful convents, temples and old grand Colonial houses. Arequipa also holds a gastronomic wealth, a mixture of native products of the ancient Pre-Columbian cultures and modern day culinary techniques. Additionally, the world’s deepest canyon, the Colca offers astonishing views that should not be missed.
Legends tell that Arequipa was founded by the fourth Inca, Mayta Capac, whose army invaded and camped in the valley. When it was time to leave, some of his people asked to be able to stay, to which the Inca respond: “Ari quepay”, which in Quechua means “yes , you may stay”. Its founding by the Spaniards dates back to August 15th 1540, when it was baptized as “Villa Hermosa de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción” (Beautiful Village of Our Lady of the Ascention.) Because of its closeness and intermediate location between the sea and the cities of Puno and Cusco, Arequipa played an important role in the times of the Viceroys in the region. During the Republic, it consolidated its economy by exporting sheep wool and alpaca, vicuña and llama fabrics, supplying the English industry.
Experience the deepest canyon in the world and visit the natural habitat of the Vicuña, the camelidae with the finest and most desirable fiber in the world.
Arequipa lies in an oasis at 2,300 masl (7,544 feet) surrounded by desert and high mountains. The presence of the Misti Volcano, a symbol of Arequipa, is an inevitable reference point in its history, since not only has Arequipa been affected by many earthquakes, but it has also been built out of white volcanic rock (sillar or ashlar), the reason for its popular nickname “the White City”. It is also surrounded by other peaks, almost invariably snow-capped, such as Chachani, Pichu Picchu and a little further away, Coropuna.
This city full of beautiful convents, temples and old grand Colonial houses, also maintains a gastronomic wealth, a mixture of native products of the old Pre-Columbian cultures, like Puqina, Collagua and Inca, with European food, something which has given the food of Arequipa a special breed.
Today, the city of Arequipa is a key trade hub for southern Peru, famous for its export-quality textiles woven from alpaca and vicuña wool. It offers excellent hotel infrastructure and is very suitable for international events.
One of the city’s main attractions is the Santa Catalina convent, considered ‘a city within a city’, founded in 1580 for cloistered nuns and opened to the public in 1970. There are also fine colonial homes such as the Casa del Moral and the Casa Goyeneche, which still feature Baroque-style sillar carvings in their doorways. Another of the city’s impressive attractions is the lady of Ampato or the Juanita Mummy, the mummy of an Inca adolescent who was offered as a sacrifice to the gods and which today can be seen at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Santa Maria Catholic University (UCSM). The city is surrounded by countryside that includes the picturesque stone mill at Sabandia and the Yura hot springs.

Places to Visit
Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons
The region of Arequipa features Peru’s deepest canyons, the Colca (3,400 meters / 11,512 feet ) and Cotahuasi (3,535 meters / 11,598 feet). Colca, 4 hours north of Arequipa, comes from the Quechua word for ‘granary’. The canyon is formed by the Colca River and its length is covered in hundreds of pre-Hispanic terraces, which are still used today and are proof of the high degree of farming expertise of the ancient Peruvians. The valley is studded with 14 towns rich in tradition and which have preserved their original religious festivities and folk art and music. It has archaeological remains left by the Collagua, ancient inhabitants of the area, such as mysterious petroglyphs and caves, where they kept their cereals. Fourteen towns are distributed on both sides of the river. They were founded in the 16th century to gather the Collagua descendants who were dispersed in the area. In spite of the time gone by, these towns have preserved their original features, such as the layout of their streets, their richly adorned colonial churches and their traditional festivals.
Approximately 40 km from Chivay, the incomparable natural Mirador of the Condor may be found, from where one can watch the flight of the condor, the king of the area, while gazing at the Coropuna and Ampato volcanoes, in the distance. Several of the towns offer accommodations, but one can also camp out and go for walks. The area of the colca is the ideal place to practice adventure sports. The surrounding landscape includes the Hualca-Hualca, Ampato and Sabancaya volcanoes to practice mountain cycling, trekking, mountain climbing (Andinism) and river rafting, among others.
It is recommended to take 2 days for this excursion, staying overnight at Chivay (3,660 meters/ 12,008 feet).
Cotahuasi Canyon (depth: 3,535 meters – 11,598 feet). Located in an inter- Andean valley with traditional towns such as Cotahausi (2,683 meters / 8,803 feet), hot medicinal springs such as those at Luicho; waterfalls such as those at Sipia, with a drop of 250 meters / 492 feet; and vistas of snowcapped peaks of Coporuna and Solimana. This is home to a vast biological diversity, of both flora and fauna.
The area is ideal for hiking, river-rafting, paragliding or mountain biking. It includes picturesque towns such as Pampamarca, whose inhabitants are experts in weaving alpaca wool into artistic rugs, sweaters and other items; and Callata, the prettiest town in the area, with its cemeteries perched on the mountainsides and known as the Tenajaja Cliffs.
Santa Catalina Monastery
Similar to a small city, it is really a unique place. The Monastery, which functioned as such during 400 years, was built in the 16th century. With over 20,000 m2, it is comprised of cloisters, the walls of which were enriched by murals, narrow streets with Spanish names, small cells, white volcano stone fountains, gardens, an impressive temple and a small picture gallery. Behind the high and thick walls of sillar, the convent has preserved architectural designs which are a superb example of the fusion between Spanish and native styles.
Some 400 paintings were restored and conserved so as to be put on show. The loving labor of experts hands made it possible for art lovers to take in a collection of artistic and historical importance. The main works of art are currently exhibited in two vast salons with high vaulted ceilings, a smaller chamber has also been set aside for the art museum.
It opened its doors to the public in 1970 and it is one of the most important attractions of the city
La Recoleta Convent
Situated in the traditional Antiquilla neighborhood, the convent was founded in 1648. It has several cloisters, a good example of Arequipa´s Colonial architecture. There is the so-called Alcantarino, of a rectangular layout, which has been preserved in the best of conditions. It has a vast and valuable library including 25,000 books from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, a picture gallery with works from the School of Cusco, and the Amazonian Museum exhibiting objects from the intense missionary activity in the jungle during this period.
A traditional neighborhood located 2 km away from the city’s center, consisting of narrow cobblestone streets and old white volcanic stone houses with kitchen gardens and orchards. It features a peaceful square and one of the most important churches of mestizo regional art, built in 1750. From the viewpoint there is a magnificent view of the city and of its three volcanoes: Misti, Chacani and Pichu Pichu.
The Cathedral
This was built in 1621, but it was destroyed by a fire in 1844. The next temple was built on the burnt foundations, in a neo-Renaissance style, with a large façade overlooking the Main Square flanked by two triumphant arches. In its interior, there is the main altar, also from the same era, designed by the Italian sculptor Filippo Moratilla and made or Carrara marble; the organ, manufactured in Belgium and prized at the Universal Fair of Paris, and the pulpit made of wood carved at the workshops of Buisine-rigot, in Lille, France.
Church and cloisters of the Society of Jesus
The church was built between 1595 and 1698. It consists of a main structure, two side wings, a sanctuary and a choir balcony. Inside there are carved-wood altars covered with gold leaf. In the old sacristy one finds the San Ignacio Chapel, the multi-colored walls of which vivaciously illustrate the tropical flora and wildlife. The cloisters, located next to the temple, were built in the 18th century.
San Francisco Complex
This is comprised of a public square, two temples (the church of San Francisco and the temple of the Third order) a convent and the Fierro Foundation (where there is a museum and a handicraft market). The church of San Francisco, built in the 16th century, made of bricks and sillar has a rectangular layout comprised of the three aisles, crossing and chancel with a beautiful stone choir balcony. The convent has a library with over 20,000 books and an interesting picture gallery.
Andahua:Valley of the Volcanoes
Located to the north of the Province of Castilla, its unique beauty lies in the dozens of dormant volcanoes, the most outstanding being those known as Los Gemelos located 10 km away from the Town of Andahua. South of this town, there is the Andomarca volcano with a pre-Columbian citadel at its foot. In general, the volcanoes can be visited by foot, which is a good excuse to go trekking.
Toro Muerto Petroglyphs
Either on the way back from Colca through Pampa de Sihuas or directly from Arequipa three hours away, by car, taking the route towards Lima and making a detour of 7 km opposite Corire, the amazing Toro Muerto Petroglyphs can be found. These are petrocarvings depicting birds, mammals, reptiles, anthropomorphic and geometrical figures. Volcanic rocks may be observed, dispersed over a large area, most probably as a result of the violent eruptions of the Coropuna and Chacani volcanoes.
Cave and stone forest of Sumbay
This area is located behind the Misti Volcano, 88 km away from the city of Arequipa following the road of Cailloma. The average altitude is 4,127 masl (13,536 feet) and the landscape is typically Puna. The archaeological importance of the place lies in its caves exhibiting valuable paintings from the Paleolithic era, with figures, of human beings, South American camelidae and pumas, among others.

Festivities Calendar

Easter Holidays
Religious holiday, the date of which may vary. One can attend several Catholic religious events during the week.
The Virgin of Chapi
Crossing the desert and traveling for approximately 15 hours, 45 km ( 27.9 miles) away from Arequipa, pilgrims can visit the Sanctuary of Chapi, and pay homage to the image of the “Our Lady of the Purification” more intimately known as Virgin of Chapi. It is said that in 1790, the parishioners of Pocsi wanted to take the statue elsewhere , but it “suddenly” became so heavy, that it was impossible to move. During the main day, the Virgin goes out on a procession over a carpet of flowers; and at night next to the sanctuary, fireworks are lit and food is sold.
Anniversary of Arequipa
Civil and religious festival, which is celebrated all week, with different religious and artistic events, to commemorate the founding of the city by the Spaniards, on the day of the Virgin of the Ascention.