01.07.2012 - 03.07.2012 20 °C
From Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca we left Bolivia behind, and made our way to Peru.
After crossing the border we got on the bus to Arequipa. Arequipa also lies in the Andes mountains, but at 2 335 meters it is almost 1 km lower than Copacabana. Home to almost a million people, it is Peru's second most populous city after Lima as well as the second most popular tourist destination - tough to compete with Machu Picchu. The city is dwarfed by 3 surrounding snow-capped volcanoes with peaks above 5500m (18000 ft).
Nevado Chachani Volcano - 6075m/19,930ft
El Misti Volcano - 5822m/19,100ft
The central plaza - Plaza de Armas - bears a strong resemblance to Parque Central in Antigua, Guatemala but with slightly more greenery and palm trees. It's a beautiful spot to just relax on a bench and take in your surroundings or to lounge with a coffee or beer at one of the many restaurants touting their balcony views of the cathedral at sunset. One evening we did just that. The perfectly cone-shaped El Misti looms over the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas.
Plaza de Armas
View from a restaurant balcony
Many of the buildings in Arequipa are constructed using sillar - a white volcanic stone - giving it a Mediterranean feel. Included in this are the cathedral and the main tourist attraction, the Santa Catalina Monastery.
Street view outside the monastery
The monastery is considered a "city within a city" and in its heydey, housed 450 nuns, mainly from upper-class Spainsh families who were required to pay equivalent of US$150,000 today as a dowry for entrance. The monastery was for the most part self-sufficient and the nuns had little to no contact with the outside world. As expected, the size and comfort of the living spaces depended on class and wealth.
Water filtering stone
The throne room
A section of the monastery is still in use today, however the majority of it is now maintained only as a tourist attraction. The interior walls are painted in brightly contrasting adobe red and sky blue, with the odd natural sillar-white corridor every now and then.
Any tourist travelling to Peru does so mainly because of the Incas. Well, the 'Museo Sanctuarios Andinos' in Arequipa exhibits one of the most well-preserved mummies from that era - 'Juanita the Ice Princess'. The theory goes that this 11-15 year-old girl (who was one of many) was sacrificed over 500 years ago as an offering to the violent mountain gods in exchange for fewer eruptions and avalanches and for a more prosperous climate. Because of the cold climate at the altitude she was discovered (6288m or 20,600 ft), Juanita was extremely well-preserved. Unlike other mummies I've seen, with the substance sucked out of them where skin clings to bone, Juanita retained a form of human expression. It was a strange experience standing there looking at a person who lived, although briefly, in such a different world. We were lucky to be in Arequipa between Jan-Apr because outside of those months Juanita is hidden away in a freezer. Unfortunately for the blog, camera's were not allowed on the tour...you'll just have to see it yourself!
Next stop Cuzco and the almighty Machu Picchu