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el Misti volcano, Arequipa Plaza

Hello readers and fellow bloggers! I wanted to take some time to write about my favourite city in Peru; Arequipa. Arequipa is a beautiful city that lies in the Andes mountains at an altitude of 2,335 meters (7,661 ft) and is watched over by the beautiful El Misti volcano. You can see El Misti from almost anywhere in Arequipa, almost as if it was a living thing that protected the city from danger. To the people of Arequipa, the mountains are like Gods that are treasured and worshiped.

The Andes mountains, while in Arequipa

View of Andes mountains from Arequipa

The Ice Maiden in the Andes Mountains

In the 1400s, the Incas believed that to keep the mountains at peace, you needed to give them human sacrifices. When in Arequipa, we laid our eyes on Juanita, the ice maiden. She was an Inca girl who died in the 1400s as an offering to the Andes mountains. Juanita was found in the Andes mountains by an anthropologist, Johan Reinhard. Her body had been preserved by the snow and was only slightly damaged when the snow started to melt away, exposing her to the elements of wind and sun.

When we saw her in the museum, she was kept in a small, dark, temperature controlled room. Her fine facial features had the beauty of the Incas, her hair had a slight luster, and her clothes showed remnants of Inca aristocracy.

The tour guide told us that Juanita would have only been a girl of 13 and would have been chosen for her “perfection” – the mountains deserved only the best. The human sacrifice had to be a virgin girl who was of aristocratic blood, had perfectly symmetrical features, and a peaceful soul. Before her death, she would have trekked up the mountain, dressed in her best clothes, with an entourage of people trailing behind her. Then, as she reached the place of offering, she would be hit across the head and be knocked out immediately. The Inca high priest would then perform rituals and leave the girl there for the mountains to engulf. In current times, we consider this barbaric, but back then, it was a symbol of the Inca’s love for the mountains.

Rick and I in Arequipa with El Misti volcano behind us

Arequipa not only intrigues me for its rich history, but also for the way that it made me feel as I walked down its cobblestone roads. A few of us decided to have a delicious breakfast in one of the restaurants overlooking Arequipa’s plaza. The plaza was set in what I thought was the most beautiful part of Arequipa; next to the city center with all its pearl coloured buildings, made out of volcanic rock. Rick took this picture of us just as we ordered breakfast. What a view!

Breakfast overlooking Arequipa Plaza

Arequipa Plaza

Santa Catalina Monastery

You cannot visit Arequipa without seeing the Santa Catalina Monastery. The monastery existed before the city of Arequipa was found and it definitely seems that way. When you enter the monastery, you feel like you’re in a completely different city with its own quaint streets and living areas. Santa Catalina Monastery is currently the home of hundreds of nuns who have given their lives to God and the Catholic faith.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru

Santa Catalina Monastery is not like most nunneries. It’s has a city-like presence, almost like it was built for the upper class in those times. There are cobble-stoned streets with fountains and amazing views of the Andes mountains.

Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru

View of the Andes Mountains

We peaked through windows to rooms that were now museums but were laid out like the rooms of the girl nuns back in the 1500s. Many of the girls were sent to the monastery by their parents because they were the eldest child. They often lived in small rooms and were given a small dowry to enable them to live a humble life of poverty.

Peaking into one of the rooms of the monastery

One of the rooms in the Santa Catalina Monastery

However, not all the girls joined the nunnery to live a life of poverty. Many of the wealthy girls were daughters of “high society” and were given extra luxuries. Their parents showered them with lavish gifts, fine furniture and even sent servants to attend to their every need. That is, until Pope Pius IX sent Sister Josefa Cadena to change this sorority-like-place back to its humble beginnings. You can read more about what happened here.

Life in the monastery was not always easy. The women washed clothes in these washing basins. It would have been difficult to wash their many luxurious dresses in these basins, but I guess the servants could have assisted with that!

How to wash your clothes in the Santa Catalina Monastery

We also found ourselves getting lost in the streets but we didn’t mind, they were beautiful streets to get lost in.

Who wouldn't want to get lost in these cobbled stoned streets?

After exploring for a few hours, we were starving and decided to go in search for food. We found a garden area where you could sit in the sun and order sinful desserts! This is the menu; I’m not sure what I ordered but it was sinfully full of calories. We had been walking all day, so gave into temptation.

Delicious sinful menu - Santa Catalina Monastery

Our sinful desserts - Santa Catalina Monastery

At the end of a beautiful day in Arequipa, we decided to walk up another flight of stairs so that we could look at the entire monastery for one last time. What a perfect day in a perfect city!!

view from the top - Santa Catalina Monastery in Arequipa, Peru

If you want to read more posts about Peru, feel free to read my previous post here. If you liked this blog, please subscribe and follow me on twitter. Happy travels!