Arequipa – The White City

The second largest city in Peru is Arequipa, but even with a population of about 700,000 people it still has the feel and charm of a small town. It was founded in 1540 close to the coast in order to enable the citizens to trade products from Cusco with Lima. Since the beginning, Arequipa has been commonly referred to as “The white city”, as most of the city is constructed from white volcanic rocks, sillar originating from one of the spectacular surrounding volcanos, the Misti, which is still active at 5822m, the extinct Chachani at 6075m and the Picchu Picchu at 5557m. These white rocks give the city a majestic aspect which has earned it another nick name as the “The beautiful city”.


Adding to Arequipa’s beauty is the city’s excellent mixture of local conditions with old colonial buildings such as mansions, houses, churches and monasteries, a successful combination which earned the city the declaration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take the city’s Plaza de Armas which is one of the most beautiful in Peru. On one side of the plaza is the spectacular 2 towered colonial cathedral which was constructed in 1612 and rebuilt in the 19th century after being damaged by an earthquake. On the other side it is crawling with little colonial buildings housing numerous charming little Arequipeño restaurants and cafes, where you can sit and enjoy the view of these marvelous settings.

Staying inside the city center, another great and interesting tourist attraction is the Monasterio de Santa Catalina which was founded in 1579 / 1580 and has served as a cloister for over 400 years. Covering around 20,000 square meters the convent takes up almost a whole city block and with its giant surrounding walls, Santa Catalina is often characterized as a city within the city. Inside the giant walls you will find the once used living quarters, chapels, narrow streets, courtyards with fountains and plenty of colorful flowers and trees, further reinforcing the feeling of it being a miniature colonial town. In its heyday the convent housed around 450 nuns and their lay servants but today only around 20 nuns still live in a closed off section of the convent.  Besides visiting Santa Catalina Monastery it is also recommendable to visit the Andean Sanctuaries Museum to see “Juanita”, the famous mummy who was discovered in 1995. She is very well preserved as she was conserved in ice for more than 500 years before volcanic activity melted the surrounding snow. Stop by this interesting museum and see the famous 500 year old mummified Incan girl who was sacrificed in a ritual to the gods.

Moving outside of the city we find the great Colca Canyon which is located between the two mountain villages of Chivay and Cabanaconde. It is one of the deepest canyons in the world and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the USA. Large parts of the Colca Canyon are habitable which is further proven by the spectacular pre-Colombian terraced fields which are continuously used for agriculture. However, besides the beautiful scenery, Colca is best known for its Andean Condor population. Every year thousands of tourists travel to Cruz del Condor where the rising thermals that occur when the weather gets warmer attracts the Condors who soar gracefully between the great canyon walls. If you cannot get enough of the beautiful Peruvian canyons you can continue to Cotahuasi Canyon which is even deeper than Colca, allegedly the deepest in the world with a depth of 3354 meters. Cotahuasi which is considered one of the most beautiful canyons in the world has been cut by the Rio Cotahuasi which is the focus of spectacular scenery and excellent kayaking and rafting. However, if you are looking to experience something different, consider doing the highly challenging yet spectacular trek of one of the magnificent surrounding volcanos. On the other hand if you are a passionate bird lover you should visit Laguna de Majía, which is a perfect spot for bird watching, as over 195 bird species are currently presiding in the Laguna.

It is evident that The White City of Arequipa is well worth spending a couple of days in, exploring one or more of the incredible sites inside or outside this wonderful city. It should be a must-see destination for any tourists visiting Peru. Contact us at for more information. We also offer several Machu Picchu Travel combinations.

View Comments