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Arequipa

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Hola!

From Copacabana on the shore of Lake Titicaca we left Bolivia behind, and made our way to Peru.

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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).

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Nevado Chachani Volcano - 6075m/19,930ft

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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.

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Plaza de Armas

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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.

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The Cathedral

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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.

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Cramped kitchen

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Larger kitchen

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Water filtering stone

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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.

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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 :)

Posted by CanWay 08:13 Archived in Peru

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