Arequipa – the white city, a large monastery and a guinea pig

Tuesday, 11th November
I would say we woke up this morning but that would imply a night’s sleep. Neither of us slept that well and were awake most of the night. We grabbed a couple of hours here and there but we pulled into the Arequipa bus terminal feeling very groggy and keen for a shower and to check into our hotel room. We arrived at 6:30am and got a cab to our hotel in the old part of town. Arequipa is in the southern coastal region of Peru, over 2,300 metres above sea level and is surrounded by three volcanoes. It is Peru’s second most important city after Lima and is an example of the Spanish and mestizo (Spanish and indigenous mix) culture developed in Peru. There are no Inca artefacts or ruins in the city, making it different to the other cities we have visited in Peru. Known as the ‘white city’, many of the buildings in the area are built of sillar, a white stone, quarried from the volcanoes that surround the city, including the towering ‘El Misti’. We came here to climb down in altitude and make our way south, towards Chile.

We got to the hotel around 7am and as such a little too early for our room so we waited in the garden courtyard before going for a walk towards the main square (another ‘Plaza de Armes’) where we had some breakfast overlooking the central square. We got back to the hotel around 10am but still had to wait a couple of hours before we could get into our room. There were signs all over the hotel warning guests that the water would be turned off in the whole city as they cleaned the reservoir. That meant that from 6pm today until 6am Thursday there would be no water and no showers. We would have to shower extra clean today. Whilst waiting in the garden I noticed the hotel tortoise making his rounds. After showering and feeling almost normal we went out for lunch. The hotel recommended a place close by that serves up traditional Peruvian food. We found out after eating there that this means massive chunks of fried meat. Nice but a little heavy for lunch. At ‘Tipika’ I had a fried pork chop (that means a massive chunk of pork belly in Peru, at least two kilograms worth and that was a ‘half portion’) and Kirsty had some lamb ribs (taking up half her plate). We ate what we could then feeling a little groggy from not much sleep and too much meat we walked to the monastery in town to buy our tickets for the evening before returning to our hotel for a lie down.


View of the Plaza de Armes from breakfast


Lunch at ‘Tipika’ – fried pork chop

The Monastery of Saint Catherine (or ‘Santa Catalina’) is a monastery of nuns of the Dominican Second Order. It was built in 1579, is over four acres in area and there are around 20 nuns currently living in the northern corner of the complex, the rest being open to the public. This next bit is from Wikipedia, it’s a bit long but I think and gives a good overview of the place. ‘The foundress of the monastery was a rich widow, Maria de Guzman. The tradition of the time indicated that the second son or daughter of a family would enter a life of service in the Church, and the monastery accepted only women from upper class Spanish families. Each family paid a dowry at their daughter’s admission to the monastery. The dowry expected of a woman who wished to enter as a choir nun, indicated by wearing a black veil, and who thereby accepted the duty of the daily recitation of the Divine Office, was 2,400 silver coins, equivalent to about US$150,000 today. The nuns were also required to bring 25 listed items, including a statue, a painting, a lamp and clothes. The wealthiest nuns may have brought fine English china and silk curtains and rugs. Although it was possible for poorer nuns to enter the convent without paying a dowry, it can be seen from the cells that most of the nuns were very wealthy. In 1871 Sister Josefa Cadena, O.P., a strict Dominican nun, was sent by Pope Pius IX to reform the monastery. She sent the rich dowries back to Europe, and freed all the servants and slaves, giving them the choice of either remaining as nuns or leaving. At its height, the monastery housed approximately 450 people (about a third of them nuns and the rest servants) in a cloistered community. In the 1960s, it was struck twice by earthquakes, severely damaging the structures, and forcing the nuns to build new accommodation next door where they currently live.’

We had tickets for the evening as they are open two evenings a week and we had heard it was quite a unique place at night. At night time they light the kitchen fires and candles all over the place giving it a special atmosphere. It was really interesting to walk around. We arrived in the sunlight at around 5:30pm, showing off the bright terracotta and blue walls of the cloisters and as the sun went down the shadows came out and it got very atmospheric, especially in the nuns’ ‘cells’. We spent around an hour and a half there, then exhausted, walked back to our hotel for bed, still too full from lunch to have a proper dinner, just a bag of crisps sitting on the bed.

Santa Catalina Monastery

Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Santa Catalina Monastery

Walking around the Santa Catalina Monastery at night

Wednesday, 12th November
We had a ‘special’ breakfast with our hotel room and it was only on until 9:30am so we got up and found out ‘special’ meant eggs. Still, better than the usual cup of coffee and bread roll. The water was off today so we didn’t shower and lazed around the hotel, happy to not do that much. This is a really nice place to relax with good rooms and a large internal courtyard garden with a pet tortoise.

Casa de Avila

Our hotel in Arequipa, Casa de Avila


View of the Cathedral from breakfast

After a suitable amount of time lazing we found that the water was working so we ‘treated’ ourselves to a hot shower and then went out for lunch. We found a place with a set lunch near to the centre along a pedestrianised street. It was nice to sit outside and eat without exhaust fumes covering us in a shroud. Kirsty had the lomo saltado and I tried the rocotto relleno (meat-stuffed pepper). It was good value for the US$10 we paid for both including a couple of Inca Colas. We then went for a walk around town and checked out another area of the town, the San Francisco complex of church buildings. This looked like a nice place to return for dinner and a drink. Wanting to make the most of our hotel (paying a bit more for this place) we returned to find the tortoise on a walkabout then sorted out some onward travel for our next stop, Chile. I also had to consolidate our luggage having purchased a considerable amount in Cusco.

For dinner we had researched a place that served up guinea pig. First though, we went to a wine bar called ‘Zig Zag’ for a couple of (strong) pisco sours. When we got there we got a free appetiser as there was no music which was a bonus. We didn’t even notice about the music but were more than happy to accept the kind offer of free food. I had booked a restaurant, ‘Zingaro’, for dinner at 8pm so we walked around the corner after our drinks and took our table. I chose this place as it was recommended for the guinea pig, which I had been meaning to try since getting to Peru, and a good menu for Kirsty to choose from (she didn’t like the idea of eating guinea pig for some reason). The dinner was great but I can say that it was my first and possibly last guinea pig. It’s a bit like chicken crossed with rabbit and has quite a fatty texture. It’s also quite fiddly to eat. I was tackling it with my knife and fork but was advised by the waiter that in Arequipa they eat it with their hands which did make it easier although rather messy. Kirsty went for quinotto (risotto made with quinoa) with an alpaca steak. We had ‘queso helado’ to desert, translating as cheese ice-cream. So-named not because of the taste but the look of the ice-cream, like cheese apparently. I don’t see it. Full from pisco sours and a lovely dinner we walked back to our hotel and to bed.


Lots of taxis in Arequipa

Guinea pig

Trying a Peruvian dish – fried Guinea pig



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