Arequipa is really unusual, but I can’t put my finger on why. Apparently they region is sort of like the Texas of Peru, they have weird accents, think they’re better than the rest of the country, and threaten to separate on occasion. In souvenir shops I’ve seen booths selling official Arequipa passports.
It’s called the White City because the city is surrounded by three active volcanoes, which produce a rock called sillar, which is an interesting white volcanic rock. Almost all of the colonial buildings are made out of this material, which gives it an interesting look. Apparently it’s a fairly good rock for carving, so many of the buildings are very intricately decorated.
One thing that is true is that it’s hard to find budget options here – for food or accommodations. There is definitely no shortage of hotels, restaurants, and tour providers, but they all seem geared at a higher budget than mine. I did find a wonderful crepe shop that served Nutella and ice cream crepes though, yum.
The main attractions within the city, beside the fancy churches, are: the ice princess Juanita and the Monastery of Santa Catalina.
Juanita is a mummy that was found at the top of a nearby volcano. She was an Inca noble who was sacrificed to appease the gods while the volcano was erupting. She was found by climbers about 15 years ago and it was an incredible find since she was in perfect condition (since she was frozen) and it looked like she could have died last week. She’s currently on display in a museum here.
The Monastery of Santa Catalina is actually a convent, with a sordid history. According to tradition, the second daughter of Spanish noble families would typically become nuns. Being from rich families, however, they came with large dowries, which would then get donated to the church. Some nun in the 1500s came up with the idea of founding a convent in Arequipa, and using all the money from dowries to hire servants, buy slaves, and throw parties at the convent. So um, it has an interesting past. On top of that, it was subject to about six major earthquakes since it was built, which caused various parts of the convent to collapse and be rebuilt, so today it’s a hodgepodge of different architectural styles, with many rooms and hallways going off in random directions, creating what is essentially a huge maze.