High in the desert filled with mountains sits Arequipa, different from any other city in Peru. It’s name comes from the indigenous people who inhabited the land before the Spanish conquest. Ari means peak and Quipa means behind, this is the city that lies behind El Misti – a massive 19,000+ ft volcano where six Inca mummies were uncovered (more on that later, wait for the post labeled: Juanita). The area was destroyed by an earthquake and resettled by the Spanish in 1540, which is where the modern story begins. Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, dubbed the white city due to its colonial buildings made of ashlar – light volcanic colored rock. Colonial homes from the 17th century still exist, originally they would be one story high and one to two meters thick to resist earthquake damage.
As you walk around the city the old buildings are numerous and charming.
A fine place to start exploring the architecture and history is the Plaza de Armas Arequipa.
Its main draw is the stunning Arequipa Cathedral, but the fountain, trees, and gardens are a playground for birds. Watch out for hummingbirds! And people watching is great here too, a big mix of locals and tourists. Explore every corning of this gorgeous space.
Bordering the square is another radiant building and possibly my favorite, Iglesia de la Compañía – Church of the Company.
Finding architectural treasures like these buildings isn’t hard around the city, it’s part of the pleasure of simply strolling around – and a reason that the historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just looking at hybridized culture – the European structure with the indigenous influence is incredible.
Another space to visit is the Santa Catalina Monastery – a true city within a city that requires a whole other post. On a more contemporary note, though still retro, I loved the number of old Volkswagen bugs in the city.So many layers of time and culture in one space, Arequipa is one of a kind.