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krisek Arequipa - A travel report by Krys
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Arequipa,  Peru - flag Peru -  Arequipa
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krisek's travel reports

Peru Trilogy. 2. Arequipa, Colca Canyon & Condors

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There is more to Arequipa than can be described in this short report. It’s a gorgeous compact city with the most beautiful colonial architecture in Peru situated at the feet of El Misti, 5,822 meters volcano and so close to the world’s deepest canyons.

Arequipa Plaza de Armas
Arequipa Plaza de Armas
I was gobsmacked by the beauty of Arequipa and the area already at the airport as soon as I landed. The numerous volcanoes standing around this town complement its beauty and charm. Out of all the Peruvian sites listed by UNESCO, Arequipa’s historic centre was the most recently inscribed – in 2000. This is how the organisation described the town on its website:

“The historic centre of Arequipa, built in volcanic sillar rock, represents an integration of European and native building techniques and characteristics, expressed in the admirable work of colonial masters and Criollo and Indian masons. This combination of influences is illustrated by the city's robust walls, archways and vaults, courtyards and open spaces, and the intricate Baroque decoration of its facades. The ornamented architecture in the historic centre of Arequipa represents a masterpiece of the creative integration of European and native characteristics, crucial for the cultural expression of the entire region. The historic centre of Arequipa is an outstanding example of a colonial settlement, challenged by the natural conditions, the indigenous influences, the process of conquest and evangelisation, as well as the spectacular nature of its setting.”

What UNESCO meant was that the volcanoes influenced the town two-fold. They were the ultimate destructive power as they triggered deadly earthquakes and ruined the city a few times. However, it was the volcanoes, at the other hand, which provided the main building material – volcanic sillar rock. It is a very nice white rock, which contributed to Arequipa’s nick name of ‘white city’.

Favourite spots:
Arequipa Plaza de Armas
Arequipa Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is one of the most picturesque squares on the entire continent. Three sides of the square are made of full-length two storey buildings with arcades or archways. The forth side is the cathedral, which not only does take the full length of the plaza but also has a façade on the full length of the church! That is something. And guess what? In the central point of the plaza there is a little garden with benches, palm trees, flowers and a fountain. A perfect piazza!

The square looked its best at sunset, in the twilight and at dawn. The way it was lit at night was incredible. It is probably the most strikingly beautiful city square I have ever seen in my life. There aren’t adequate words to describe it. And this is only the architecture. The plaza was complemented by stunning views of the perfect cone of El Misti and of the surrounding mountains. I didn’t want to leave this place, ever.

What's really great:
El Misti Volcano
El Misti Volcano
I already mentioned the volcanoes with snow caps, like the one closest to the city called Misti (in Quechua language misti means mister – el señor) standing 5,822 meters. But did I mention the climate and weather? Well, Arequipa enjoys an eternal spring. The temperature remains at 23-25C (73-77F) during the day and at night it stays at 14C (57F). This is very comfortable at the elevation of 2,325 meters (7,628 feet) and this is for the entire year with average sunny days of 360 days a year. Simply perfect!

After Cusco, Arequipa has the best preserved colonial architecture in Peru and the fact that the buildings are made of white volcanic stones makes the city absolutely stunning. I could wander around for hours and soak the ambiance and the history of this place.

And still there were the people. Arequipenos were proud, culturally aware and well educated. They dressed elegantly and were friendlier than the local people anywhere in Peru.

Arequipa - Santa Catalina
Arequipa - Santa Catalina
Arequipa is famous for its monastery of Santa Catalina. The convent is like a walled around little town within a city. It’s painted in red, brown and blue. The interesting fact about the monastery is that it didn’t necessarily represent the nuns’ vows of poverty. The sisters enjoyed rather luxurious accommodation with some upper scale furnishing. I also heard that they partied rather heavily, which came to the Pope’s attention one day and who ordered them to leave the convent for a while and see what nun’s life should really taste like. The vast majority of the monastery is now available for the public to visit and the nuns have reserved a small bit for themselves. What can be visited today is a large area and it takes couple of hours to see absolutely everything. The colours of the buildings are so vivid that it makes this place a heaven for photographers. From one of the roofs of the houses within the monastery there is a magnificent view to the volcanoes.

Arequipa Plaza de Armas
Arequipa Plaza de Armas
In terms of hotels and places to stay for the night, Arequipa is good for any type of a traveller. There is a handful of expensive hotels but the mid range and even the budget options are clean and good value for money. I initially wanted to stay in the Casa de Mi Abuela, but a couple of travellers I met on a boat on the Lake Titicaca recommended the Hostal Katty ($12) along Alvares Thomas street in the centre. It was squeaky clean, had good hot showers, the staff were friendly and it was possible to store luggage for a day or two while taking up a hike or a trip to the Colca Canyon. The bottom of Alvares Thomas had an odd reputation of being rather unsafe. I never experienced trouble and no-one could provide reasons why certain sources claimed that.

Volcano & Canyon
Volcano & Canyon
Arequipa is a city of many bars, restaurants and clubs. In the evening, the face of this city changes and this white innocent place turns into a magnificent party and going out centre. I liked that very much I felt I could stay in the town for a week or two. I didn’t stay up partying late though as I had to be an early bird for my trip to the Colca Canyon.

For a number of years, Colca Canyon had been considered the deepest canyon in the world until an even deeper canyon was discovered nearby – the Cotahuasi Canyon. As with many things in Peru, the trip to the canyon could be done in a few ways. One of them was a two days trip with some hiking in the mountains and night in a hotel in the town called Chivay. The other was a two or three days trek in the canyon with camping at the bottom of it. I chose the hotel option. I organised everything through a local travel agent for $45, including the local bus ride, little trekking in the canyon and mountains and accommodation.

My favourite spot to linger in the city was the Plaza de Armas. There were a few cafes in the archways of the side buildings, which were perfect for people watching. But there was also this little street behind the Cathedral with bars and cafes, which were also great.

I had to get up at 4 am for my condors and canyon trip. The way up to Colca Canyon revealed a very dry landscape - gravel desert. The area was such an isolated place that it felt like it was the very end of the world. There were no settlements for miles and miles, and the road did feel like it was leading absolutely nowhere.

In addition, some incredible weather-related phenomena started to appear. One of them were unbelievable rain clouds. I still do not believe that I actually saw things like this. The other one was a tornado-like twister. That was a first time I actually witnessed a full-scale twister. It was not large, maybe F1 or even less than that, but it was real and it was flabbergasting to see one.

Arequipa - Santa Catalina
Arequipa - Santa Catalina
Back in Arequipa, it was very easy to find a decent place for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A few breakfast places were around the Plaza de Armas, where coffee with a view tasted perfectly. Pizza was surprisingly a very popular dish in the town. Many pizzerias were the proof. It looked like the street Jerusalen was the restaurant street, mainly good quality places as well as expensive ones. However, I tried El Fogon on Santa Marta street for the steak, which was only slightly above average, I have to say. At the back of the Cathedral there were two good but relatively expensive places: Anushka and Central Garden. A few touts hovered around the area encouraging people to try their restaurants. I haven’t heard of any that were particularly bad, actually.

Arequipa, Colca Canyon and the condors were definitely amongst the highlights of the holiday in Peru. A great, if not perfect, combination of architecture, landscape and wildlife.

Next part 3. about Trujillo, Huanchaco and Chan Chan.

Other recommendations:
Condor, Andean Vulture
Condor, Andean Vulture
A point at Colca Canyon called Cruz del Condor was apparently the only point on this planet where Andean Condor, on the verge of extinction, could be seen almost everyday. To be able to see them in wild in their natural habitat was absolutely electrifying. Condors are the second largest flying birds on Earth as of today (the largest is Albatross) with wingspan up to 4 meters. Apparently, the birds had nests across the canyon, at the other rim. They got up early in the morning to fly with the thermals – currents of warm air. The best time to spot condors was around 7 am.

Various numbers of condors can be seen these days. I was lucky to see ten or eleven birds, including an adult male and female as well as a number of young ones. The adult birds have white collar around the neck and the young ones are all dark brown.

Published on Saturday March 22th, 2008

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Sun, Mar 23 2008 - 01:23 PM rating by rangutan

Just perfectly described visit, perfectly illustrated.

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 04:25 PM rating by eirekay

Worth a five for the Condor photo alone! Nicely done!

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 10:51 AM rating by mistybleu

Kryzs, another wonderful report. I really like the picture of the rain.

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 08:35 AM rating by jorgesanchez

With such a quality of writing, you will get a trilogy of 5 points in each report.

Sat, Mar 22 2008 - 07:06 AM rating by davidx

Much as I enjoy the nostalgia, I shall be particularly interested in part 3, which will be the unknown for me.
I think I agree about Arequipa - but my memories are coloured by the theft of my digital camera there!
We were told that a Polish survey in 1995 had put Colca back to no. 1 in depth so I don't know who's right - but does it matter?

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