Peru Adventure – Arequipa, part one

Often overlooked and skipped on Peruvian tours, Arequipa is a treat to those who visit.  Ordinarily white, at sunset the buildings in the main square turn a vibrant golden.  Step inside the Santa Catalina de Siena Monastery and you enter another world.

The monastery has stood the test of time since 1579.  It’s survived countless earthquakes and still operates as a cloistered convent for the Dominican Second Order.   Encompassing 20,000 square meters, it takes a while to walk the corridors and peak inside the rooms where nuns used to work and sleep.  At its peak the monastery housed up to 450 people.  Today fewer than 20 nuns stay in an area that is closed to the public.

In early times it served as a place where the wealthy could protect their second born daughters.  To enter the convent a dowry of as much as 2,400 silver coins was required which is about $150,000 today.  At one time it was a wealthy convent until the money was sent to Rome.  Now they are poor.

The architecture is a blend of colonial and native styles – painted with bright and vibrant terracotta colors which happen to rub off on your clothes as Wooly discovered.  Every corner you turn and every doorway you step through is a treat.

After a major earthquake in 1592, the nuns built individual bedrooms since the dorm they stayed in was destroyed.  They built an arched sleeping area in each room.  The stronger arches provided early earthquake protection for the nuns.

Early earthquake safety - Sleep under an arch.
Early earthquake safety – Sleep under an arch.

Gardens inside the walled monastery are as peaceful as they are beautiful.  If you want to sit and contemplate you are welcome to do so after the tour when you are free to walk around on your own.  You can even sip coffee in a small courtyard featuring a snack bar.  And finally, when you come across a long and steep set of stairs – climb them.  The view at the top is worth it.  Just be careful because those steps aren’t uniform in size or height.

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12 thoughts on “Peru Adventure – Arequipa, part one”

  1. Yes Katarina, earthquakes are the reason they had seemingly odd sleeping areas. Yes, they could be called a vault. Also, they had a significant earthquake in the Arequipa area two weeks ago and Peru is overdue for a very large earthquake. For the Peruvians I dread the day the “big one” hits because there will be a large loss of life due to poor building standards.

    1. Peru has an amazing variety of places to visit. I definitely recommend Colca Canyon to see the condors, of course Machu Piccu is absolutely a can’t miss destination and the Sacred Valley. We think the food in Peru is much better than in Chile. Chile is a bit bland. In Peru don’t drink the water!

      In Chile I recommend the Atacama Desert and Easter Island. In December we are going south to Torres del Paine and the Lakes district. Everything I’ve heard about Torres del Paine makes me think we’ll love it even if it rains a lot. And it’s safe to drink the water in Chile.

      Also, if you like brandy, try a 3 year Pisco neat. Pisco Sours are the national drink and they are quite proud of it. We’re bringing back of couple bottles of Pisco next year when we return because you simply can’t find good Pisco in the U.S.

      1. Thanks for the advice. This time around we’re flying to Santiago, then catching a cruise ship north, so our time will be limited. But we’ll definitely be going back for a more extinsive visit!

      2. From Santiago you will go to Valparaiso to board your ship. The port is in a poor area with many pickpockets and purse snatchers. The best defense is to carry a small wallet in a front pocket and purses should be zipped and keep a hand on it.

        Going to work I pass through this area twice a day. I carry a small wallet that holds 4 credit cards and a driver’s license. Raeski carries a small purse with a strong strap and she always keeps the zipper closed and kept towards her body instead of out in the open where someone could unzip it. Crimes here are mostly crimes of opportunity and non-violent. On the whole Chile is a safe place.

        If you have time take a walking tour from the port. Keep your camera in a bag and only take it out when you are going to take a picture. Try to have someone watching over you when photographing.

        Raeski and I have gone into some really sketchy areas to get some of our graffiti photos. Check out the street art postings in March and April. Cerro Concepcion is a great ascensor to ride up that is very close to Plaza Sotomayor where the Valparaiso port is located.

        Enjoy your trip. Cheers, Wooly

  2. This is great advice! Do you happen to know anyone in either Santiago or Valparaiso who would be willing to show us the highlights when we visit? Especially the ‘off the beaten track’ ones?

    1. Sorry about the late reply. The teachers that would do it are leaving. However you might check out the VW Bus tours at the port. I don’t know if they take off the beaten track but they may. Ask when you arrive.

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