Ary Quepay - Here I Rest

The white city of Arequipa sits amidst Andean volcanoes. It houses magnificent religious remains, as well as more earthly pleasures.

Ary Quepay - Here I Rest

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 3, 2007

According to legend the Inca was processing through the mountains. At a riverside spot he pronounced "Are Quepay", Quechua for 'Here I Rest'. The 'White City' of Arequipa is a good place to break any journey around Peru, although - with the exception of one famous inhabitant - traces of Inca presence are thin on the ground.

Arequipa is the main commercial centre for the south of Peru, located well south of Cusco, west of Lake Titicaca, and a good hour drive up from the coast. This is a mountain town. If not as high as Cusco, you can still feel a shortage of oxygen in the air. Mountains surround the town - most notably the perfectly conical volcano El Misti. It is the widespread use of ash gray volcanic sillar stone that lends the town a harmonious air, and gives it its name of 'The White City.' There are some lovely views of the altiplano out of town. One of the most famous tours is to the Colca Canyon, an isolated rural outpost, twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, and famed as the haunt of the giant Andean condor. Personally I would recommend that if you are constrained by a time frame you forgo a trip out to Colca, and spend more time visiting more convenient rural sights - the towns of the Sacred Valley around Cusco maybe.

The main sights of Arequipa date from its colonial heyday. Particularly check out the Santa Catalina Convent, a private city within a city, that was closed to outsiders for almost four centuries. A wander through its brightly painted courtyards is a real highlight of any visit to Arequipa. The Franciscan monks get a look in too, with La Recoleta on the west bank of the Rio Chili.

Inca presence is only seen in the person of 'Juanita' - the mummified body of a teenager Incan girl who appears to have been sacrificed on Mount Ampato (out towards the Colca Canyon). Her corpse, discovered in 1995 has revealed a lot about the habits and diet of the Inca. She is the star of the Museo Santuarios Andinos (La Merced 110). However, she is often touring the museums of the world, as she was at the time of my visit.${QuickSuggestions} A trip around the Convent of Santa Catalina should rightly be the centrepiece of your visit to Arequipa. To properly take in the sprawling walled site you need to devote a couple of hours to it. To avoid the hot sun I would recommend going when it opens at 9am. A crepe breakfast across the street at the Alianza Francesca would be a good start, then a tour. This will get you out in time for lunch.

Ensure you take plenty of bottled water around with you. It can get hot at this altitude, and you will need to take in more liquids than you think. Likewise, use suncream as the sun is more intense.

Competition between restaurants surrounding the Plaza de Armas keeps their prices lower than you would think. A meal on one of their ornate balconies, overlooking the square and the cathedral, spotlit in gold, will provide a fabulous memory of Arequipa. Try some of the Peruvian specialties, like alpaca or guinea pig.${BestWay} The centre of town is fairly compact, with none of the steep slopes you find in Cusco. The route up to San Lazaro is the only real climb you will find. As a result the town is easily walkable. However, at 2380m there is less oxygen in the air than one would find at sea level, and so even moderate effort can tire you out quickly. I recommend buying the bags of coca sweets on sale in the supermarket on the southern side of the Plaza de Armas. I experienced no problems during my time in the Andes. I don't know if the sweets helped, but they certainly didn't hurt.

My guidebook recommended taking care at night. I never felt threatened in town, but there are plentiful taxis about. If you decide to partake in Arequipa's surprisingly good nightlife, a taxi back to your hotel is cheap and convenient.

Moving on from Arequipa you are most likely to use a coach. These head off to Lima, Cusco, Juliaca, etc., or there is also an airport - a friend flew from Arequipa to Cusco with Aero Condor. If travelling across to the Colca Canyon be aware that the route does take you up and over the mountains. You will travel via the Pata Pampa Pass. At 4900m, this is the highest I travelled during my time in Peru. One girl on our coach fainted at the altitude, and had to be revived with an oxygen canister helpfully stowed aboard our coach. Bear in mind that this was on a private tour - I don't know how prevalent the carrying of oxygen tanks is in general!

Hostal Las Mercedes

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 3, 2007

The three-star Hostal Las Mercedes is located just south of the centre of Arequipa, on the wide Avenida La Marina that runs parallel to the Rio Chili. The walk to the Plaza de Armas is not far, but you may want to take 10-15 minutes over it. At 2,380m altitude you can get out of puff quicker than you realise.

The Hostal itself is a big yellow building, with lovely tranquil gardens out back. You get a good view from the rooms up the grand wooden staircase, but not from those on the ground floor. It has a (slow) Internet connection for reasonable rates, and can arrange laundry for you. Downstairs there is a formal study with a fireplace, large comfy chairs, and hunting trophies. It is a room befitting Arequipa's stern, intellectual vision of itself.

My room came equipped with comfy beds and an ensuite bathroom. The night porter is a great guy. Despite his lack of English and my lack of Spanish we had a laugh sat in the lobby flicking between Star Wars and XXX on the cable while I waited for friends to get ready for a night out.

My guidebook warned against walking the streets of Arequipa alone at night. The hotel was able to book a taxi to take us to a club. It also has a high fence, where you have to buzz for entry. I have to say, I never felt threatened in Arequipa, but Hostal Las Mercedes is clearly a very safe place to stay. I would certainly recommend it.
Hostal Las Mercedes
Av La Marina 1001
Arequipa, Peru
+51 (54) 213601

Alianza Francesca

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 5, 2007

The Alianza Francesca is conveniently located right across from the Santa Catalina Convent. This building is supported by the Alliance Francais, the French cultural institution. It puts on French cultural exchanges, organises courses in the language, and provides a support function for French (and Francophone) travellers - the French honorary consul in Arequipa has an open surgery every Monday from 3:30pm to 6pm. To those of you who only know of the institution of honorary consuls through the novel of Graham Greene, I am assured she is nothing like Charley Fortnum!

Of most interest to non-French travellers though would be the centre's cafeteria. It is a pleasant wood panelled room with windows onto the street, and into the sunny courtyard. It has a balcony, a French / Spanish library, and a selection of board games. I came here for breakfast - they do exceedingly good crepes. Two crepes and a fruit juice will set you up for the day no problem - recommended before you tackle the convent across the street.

Before you leave, be sure to visit the toilets. A doorway lets you out onto the flat roof of the building. From here you can get your first glimpse into the forbidden city of the Convent.
Alianza Francesa
Santa Catalina 208
Arequipa, Peru
+51 (54) 215579

La Quinta

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 5, 2007

I will admit that maybe I just had a bad meal at la Quinta. A couple had come here the night before for dinner and had raved about it. I came with a friend for lunch the next day, and was rather disappointed. Mind you, we were the only diners there - maybe service is better in the evenings.

Located north of Ayacucho, La Quinta is situated where the street starts to climb up in to the more indigenous area of San Lazaro. It advertises itself as the place to try local Peruvian specialities in Arequipa. After a hard day trudging around the Santa Catalina convent this looked like a good bet.

Once through the entrance you are into a shaded garden, with raffiawork over head to shield you from the sun. What this also meant was that dozens of flies also chose to take shelter there, and their inquisitive buzzing proved very distracting - though not as much as when they actually attempted to land in my meal or drink. The service was also very tardy - half way through my meal I decided to get another fruit juice. By the time I was able to get the attention of one of the youths who appeared to be running the place however, both myself and my companion had finished eating. Still thirsty I ordered the drink along with the bill. Even then I had to wait ten minutes for them to arrive. And as I say, the restaurant was hardly packed.

The food itself was perfectly fine. There was a range of traditional dishes on the menu, from cuy (guinea pig) to lomo saltado (a sort of beef stirfry) - not forgetting of course the llama steaks. From later experience I would say that the meals were slightly overpriced, but not by a huge amount. I ordered trucha (trout), and it came with yellow potatoes, salad, and onions. The fish was cooked through, but not overcooked, and hence made a change from the raw ceviche I had been eating down by the coast. The orange juice too was freshly squeezed. So for the quality of cuisine it deserves more stars than I am actually giving it here. It loses out purely due to sloppy service, and the everpresent flies. From other reports both of these issues seem to be rectified in the evenings, when you may also be lucky enough to have local musicians provide entertainment. But I would certainly warn against lunch here.
Jerusalem 522
Arequipa, Peru

Plaza de Armas

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 3, 2007

I sat on an ornate stone balcony sipping an egg-based cocktail and chewing on a llama steak. Ahead the Cathedral glowed gold. Three local musicians played Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound of Silence' on panpipes, ignored by the party of women on the next table. The sashes each of the women wore announced their titles - Miss Venezuela, Miss Colombia, Miss Nicaragua - the combined beauty queens of Central and South America. Then a hubbub arose from the square below. A crowd of protesters marched through the Plaza de Armas. In their midst was a flat-bed truck; mounted on its back was a model volcano; puffs of smoke periodically emerged from its fumarole. I turned back to my drink. Just another crazy night in Arequipa.

I have rarely visited a town that seems so perfectly encapsulated by its main square. The plaza is centered on a palm-fringed pedestrian square. Pigeons lark by the fountain, and shoe-shine boys do a roaring trade. There are always musicians around, playing local versions of Beatles classics - Yesterday was a particular fave. The surrounding buildings with their ornately carved balconies are constructed of white sillar, a volcanic stone common to the area. Lit up at night the stonework glows angelically. To show this to best effect the massive cathedral that occupies the entire northern side of the square is spot-lit at night. Inside, it is as empty as a barn, but its exterior carvings, picked out by lights, provide your lasting image of Arequipa. Try and guess which of its towers collapsed in an earthquake as recently as 2001.

The western and eastern porticos of the Plaza provide shade from the Peruvian sun. They provide a home to many different restaurants. Despite being in the heart of town prices are reasonable - competition keeps them keen. You will be approached by waitresses from many of the restaurants with vouchers for special offers. Shop around, and see where you can get the best bargain. Having come up from the coast I was lured in by the promise of a free pisco sour (a cocktail of local grape brandy, lime, frothy egg white and bitters - much nicer than it sounds!). A local speciality is alpaca steak. The alpaca (a type of llama) has been domesticated and consumed in Peru for centuries and is worth trying - a bit like slightly tough beef. From here you get a perfect view over the colourful local life - the entire population of Arequipa seems to promenade through the Plaza at least once a day!

There is a supermarket on the southern side of the square on Puente Bolognesi that is good for stocking up. I recommend the packets of acrid green coca sweets. I don't know if they work, but I never had a problem with altitude sickness in Peru!

Oh and the protest? A couple of towns were being evacuated due to volcano eruption. The independently-minded folk of Arequipa never miss a trick to criticise central government.
Plaza de Armas

Arequipa, Peru

Convento de Santa Catalina

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 3, 2007

The Convent of Santa Catalina is the must-see sight of Arequipa. Occupying over two hectares north of the Cathedral, the Convent is a veritable city within a city.

Founded as long ago as 1579 (only five years after the last Incan stronghold was crushed by the Spanish) the convent stood in seclusion for four centuries, its grey sillar walls presenting a forbidding face to the town. Once through the gateway, and beneath the imperative 'Silencio!' stencilled above another world is revealed. The nuns of the convent came from aristocratic families. As 'Brides of Christ', they came with their dowries, the administration of which kept the convent independent. At its peak 450 nuns lived, worked, and prayed within its walls, following the rules set down by St Catherine of Sienna. Their most famous member was Sor Ana de los Angeles, who was reputedly blessed with miraculous visions. Nowadays the sisterhood is much reduced in number, and the remaining nuns have decamped to a distant corner of the site. The remainder of the convent was opened to the public in 1970, after almost four centuries of privacy.

The harsh Peruvian light suits the colours of the stucco walls. Everywhere you will see walls painted in deep blue, dazzling whitewash, and a red the colour of jungle earth after a storm. Flowerbeds further brighten up the place. A network of courtyards, cloisters, and cobbled 'streets' named after Spanish cities leads you into the heart of the labyrinth. It really is a gift for photographers. You have the opportunity to inspect the nuns' cells - plain, but considerably nicer than the habitations of the majority of the subjects of the Spanish viceroy I would wager. The rooms have fine furniture (such as kneeling stools for prayer), and are often equipped with paintings in dark oils. The noble nuns would also bring their servants, who had separate quarters. Past the laundry you reach the chapel and refectory, both in dark wood, and a small museum detailing the history of the convent (in English). You can climb to the roof of the citadel for a view over the roofs of Arequipa.

The convent opens every morning at 9am, and I would recommend an early start. The site is big, and you can easily spend an hour or more wandering its twisting ways. By midday the sun blazes directly down on you, making walking a sweaty effort. Last entry is at 4pm. Entry is 25 soles, and there are guided tours in a number of language (free, but donation expected). I did not bother with a tour, and found the printed guide and signs sufficient for me to both find my way around, and also understand what I was looking at. You do not even have to have an interest in religion to get a lot from a visit.

See for more details.
Convento de Santa Catalina
Calle Santa Catalina 301
Arequipa, Peru
+51 54 229798

La Recoleta

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 3, 2007

While not as grand as the Convento de Santa Catalina, the Franciscan Monastery of La Recoleta is also well-worth a look. Situated west of the centre across the Rio Chili, it was founded in 1648, then rebuilt later that century after an earthquake had done its worst. To get there, take either the Puente Bolognesi or Puente Grau. The area surrounding the monastery is much more down-at-heel than the centre of town; arriving at 2:30, and finding that the monastery was only open between 9am and 1pm, and 3pm and 5pm, we retreated to the balcony of a bar on Avenida del Ejercito for a drink.

La Recoleta is smaller than Santa Catalina, and not quite as well maintained. Entry is roughly $1, and they ask you to leave your bags behind. There are no more than four small courtyards, but there are an odd collection of museum-type rooms leading off them. Here you will see the history of the monastery's missionary activities, detailing the missions founded out in the jungle by La Recoleta's monks. There are other rooms featuring stuffed creatures from said jungle, from giant anteaters and anacondas, down to hummingbirds and butterflies. Other rooms were devoted to the pre-colonial inhabitants of Peru, with examples of the work of the Nazca, Chavin, Inca, etc. While not extensive, I found that I got a better idea about the respective cultures than I had from the Museo Nacional in Lima.

The monastery also has a famous library upstairs, which is opened for fifteen minutes every hour. A long dark wooden chamber, it houses over 20,000 books, dating from 1494 to the present day - noticeably what seems to be a full print-run of The Economist of London! The library is divided into various sections - Philosophy, Astrology, Anatomy, etc.

If you have a spare hour, a wander around La Recoleta is a good way to spend it. The staff, which seems to be comprised of local students, appear genuinely pleased to see you and eager to help.
Monasterio de la Recoleta
Recoleta 117
Arequipa, Peru

Forum Rock Cafe

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 5, 2007

A nightclub like Forum was the last thing I expected to stumble across. It is much more Ayia Napa than Arequipa.

The Casona Forum centre is located on San Francisco, the road that runs north along the eastern side of the Plaza de Armas. Once into the courtyard there are a number of bars that lead off - Retro, a more sedate bar in a '60-'70s theme, Zero, with pool tables, and Terrasse with views over the city and events. Forum however is a good old-fashioned nightclub, albeit one with a rather striking jungle feel. Walls and dividers are bamboo poles, and there is a second floor of walkways suspended over head like a treehouse. Lush greenery explodes from pots and corners, and there is a 'lagoon' by the toilets lit up a dazzling aquamarine colour. There are areas on the ground floor set over to sofas, but the best seats are the small tables upstairs, from where you can watch the heaving crowd on the dancefloor below. You are also on the same level as the DJ booth, a pod which projects out over the dance floor.

I was informed that they generally have live bands on Thursdays - Saturdays. I went on a Friday night and there was a DJ playing south American dance. No loss one might say. The crowd get sweaty, and have much less sense of personal space than uptight Brits; our attempts to move to the music was if anything a source of entertainment to the other dancers!

Forum is the top club in the centre of Arequipa, and the clientele seems to be affluent and studenty. The vibe is one of harmless enjoyment, with an undertone of misbehaviour (if they can get away with it). There are three or four bars spread over the two floors, selling Arequipena beer at roughly $1.50 a bottle. Other favourites are rum and tequila.

For a night out on the town in Arequipa, Forum cannot be beat. All the taxi drivers know where it is. With its striking jungle decor it really is the last sort of place I expected to find in Peru!
Forum Rock Cafe
San Francisco 317
Arequipa, Peru

Colca Canyon

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 10, 2007

At twice the depth of Colorado's Grand Canyon, the Colca Canyon, to the northwest of Arequipa, is a tourist favorite. The canyon of the River Colca was once thought to be the deepest in the world, until geologists proved the nearby (but more inaccessible) Cotahausi Canyon was an entire 160m deeper.

A trip to Colca gives you three things in my view. First, the feeling that you are really breaking into the unknown as your bus rattles and jars over the untarmacked Pata Pampa Pass. This is a slight over-exaggeration maybe—at rest stops, a crowd of locals will magically appear with alpaca-wool jumpers, gloves, and scarves for sale within a couple of minutes, tour buses do ply the route, and the canyon's main town of Chivay even has, in this most unlikely of places, an Irish pub, Farren's, marked by a Guinness sign!

The second thing a trip will give you is a sight of real local life. While tourists are not an unknown quantity you will see elderly men herding llamas, and the younger and stronger still working the terraced fields as the Incas must have done five centuries ago.

The third thing is the splendors of the natural world. A word of warning: the canyon is not as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon. It may be twice as deep, but the walls are not sheer, and drop away in jagged moss-green slopes, depriving you of a view of the river at its bottom (it is a classic 'V-shaped valley', for anyone studying GCSE Geography out there, as opposed to glacial 'U-shaped' valleys such as the Urubamba). However, en route you will pass through the Aguada Blanca National Vicuna Reserve, and you may well see herds of the smallest and most timid of the llama family. And Colca is famous for the mirador (viewpoint) of Cruz del Condor. Here the giant Andean condor can be seen swooping overhead. The largest vulture (I'm not sure whether its the largest flying bird, or whether that is the albatross), they can be seen pirouetting lazily on thermals. The best time to see them is around 9am as the earth warms up, followed by early evening as they return from hunting. However, I arrived at noon from Arequipa, and was rewarded with a number of sightings. It is incredibly hard to get a decent photo of one however. They appear from around a peak and glide noiselessly over; several times I only saw one as it swooped past me at a distance of 15m or so. By the time I had my camera ready, the bird was gone.

What appeals about Colca is its sense of remoteness. However, this means that you need two days to see it; not ideal if you have a tight timeframe. Local life can be seen in other villages that are easier to get to, such as the Sacred Valley near Cusco. I certainly felt I could have utilized my time better.
Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon
Arequipa, Peru

Across The Pata Pampa Pass

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Liam Hetherington on July 10, 2007

One of the downsides of visiting the Colca Canyon is the trip there. As an isolated set of communities, there is only one road there. Which means that there is only one road back. Visiting Colca between Arequipa and Cusco, it is dismaying to have to backtrack over the same ground. However, one of the positives of a visit to Colca... is the trip there!

Reaching Arequipa from the coast, the route we climbed was from the barren desert into more temperate zones. Leaving Arequipa, we drove out through the surrounding slums as we began our climb. El Misti, the conical volcano that watches over the city was picked out by rosy-fingered dawn. Climbing, we hit the altiplano—still semi-arid, but thriving with life compared to the Nazca deserts. It was here that the Incas herded their llamas, and grew their potatoes. Maize was grown in the valleys. What the tourist passing through will see is vast stretches of stony ash-grey plateau, ringed with majestic snow-capped peaks.

The road passes through the Aguada Blanca National Vicuna Reserve. Here the vicuna, the smallest and shyest (and most endangered) of the llama family roams free in herds. From the bus windows I saw a herd of them picking their way across the plateau.

The other llama breeds - alpaca and llama themselves - can be seen in a domesticated fashion. Weathered old men still herd them from one pasture to another. As we stopped at a roadhouse before the pass, a shepherd drove a flock past unconcernedly, their cowbells clonking in the (by now) bitter chill of the heights. I wish I could tell you the name of this roadhouse. It offers toilet facilities (bring your own paper), and steaming hot mugs of coca tea, to help you acclimatise to the rarified oxygen content of the air. A selection of nibbles are for sale, as well as postcards, maps, and locally made goods: woven Peruvian hats, alpaca scarves and gloves, llama wool sweaters. Prices are surprisingly reasonable, and you cannot begrudge money going back into such an isolated community. I bought a leather gaucho-style hat, to replace the baseball cap I had lost somewhere over Nazca.

Emerging blinking out into the sunlight revealed a comical sight. From the hamlet, a trickle of women, brightly arrayed in traditional costume, waddled rapidly towards us, their daughters running ahead. Eager to make a sale they produced their own goods for sale. Tricked out llamas were produced for us to have our photographs with. A jolly-natured fête had appeared from nowhere.

Ruefully, we climbed back onto the bus. Here was the climb in earnest up to the Pata Pampa Pass. At 4900m, this is the highest I traveled in Peru. At this altitude breathing really is difficult. Indeed, one girl fainted as we breached the top of the pass, and had to be revived with an oxygen canister and breathing mask! The driver hurried on down the switchbacking road as it descended to the green and fertile gash of the Colca Canyon.

It was only on the return trip that we were able to stop at Pata Pampa. It is a strange tri-color world. The rocks underfoot are a uniform grey, the sky above a brilliant blue, and white was seen in the odd skein of cloud, and the snow which capped the peaks of distant mountains. One further streak of grey could be seen in the sky: smoke from an active volcano. As if to return the favor, there was a splash of blue on the ground, as the sky was reflected back by a small pool of mirror-still water.

At this height, the chill was notable. In a fit of manly bravado, I strode around manfully, claiming not to be affected by the shortage of oxygen. Dutifully, I performed a series of starjumps for the cameras. And then regretted it when I tried to summon up the strength to climb back onto the bus!

One final odd thing about the pass: travelers had left their mark on the landscape. Alongside the road there were small towers of pebbles balanced atop stones balanced atop

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