“The White City” – Arequipa, Peru (and Colca Canyon)

We arrived in Arequipa around 6 am and luckily our hostel let us check in early and we were able to take a morning nap after a long night bus ride. We met a fellow traveler on our night bus named JC, who happened to have gone to the same high school as Farima and graduated the same year as myself from UCLA – small world. We met up with JC for lunch and had a meal at the town’s market, San Camillo Market and afterward headed to the famous monastery in town, Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

At the monastery, we hired a guide to take us around the place, which was way worth it as she gave us an informative and detailed background on the place and its relevant history. The monastery is a mini city in itself completely run by the nuns living there. It was once home to two hundred secluded nuns, but now houses only 20 nuns who are no longer shut off from the world. At the time the monastery was more popular and common in the culture, the 2nd child of a typical Spanish family, given it was a girl, was obligated to become a nun and join the monastery. Upon joining, the girl was assigned a room that was paid for and furnished by her family members. Once inside the monastery, the soon to become nuns were completely secluded with limited to no access to the outside world. They had occasional visitors but were spoken to through brass bars as the visitors were never allowed inside. Even when a nun passed later in her life, family members were notified but not allowed to attend the funeral.

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The monastery was once destroyed when El Misti erupted. In order to rebuild the monastery, Spanish families could buy and build a room for their daughters. Therefore, the daughters of wealthy families were basically given their own apartment within the monastery with living quarters for their servants. Later on a Pope (I can’t remember which one) instated a rule that all nuns must eat and sleep in common areas. The nuns inside the Santa Catalina monastery had to give up their rooms and all move into one common bedroom. They also all had to eat in one common dining hall and were not allowed to use their own kitchens. What was regulated then is the current lifestyle within the monastery now, although now it is very much a personal life choice whether or not you want to join the monastery and become a nun. Personally, I could never imagine being shut off from the world, but it was definitely interesting and eye-opening to learn about this different type of lifestyle and way of living.

After our history lesson for the day, we headed back to get ready and met up once again with JC and a few of his friends from the hostel for dinner. We headed to bed shortly after as we had to leave early the next morning for our hike to Colca Canyon. We began our two day/one night trek into Colca Canyon with a stop at the Mirador Cruz del Condor, a popular viewing point to watch the condors fly over the canyon. The Colca Canyon terraces are supposed to be the deepest in the world measuring 4KM from cliff edge to the river bottom. We began our descent into Colca Canyon which would take us roughly 5 hours to reach our accommodation for the night. Halfway through, we stopped at an Indian village where we enjoyed lunch. Farima and I had not planned on ever trying alpaca but since that was what they were serving for lunch, we didn’t have much of an option. I don’t think either of us liked it very much and I found in particularly chewy.

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We finally reached our accommodation after nearly 5 hours. The hostel was a basic hut deep inside the canyon with a swimming pool whose water was supplied by the waterfalls of the canyon. I must say the swimming pool was quite refreshing after the long hike in the sun and although I found it a bit cold, I couldn’t complain given the views and the water source for the pool. We had pasta for dinner and sadly Farima and I ate more than the boys in our group. I have definitely noticed I eat a lot more traveling South America, which is probably why I’ve gained weight.

After dinner, we learned a dutch card game that we played with the other people in our hiking crew, Joe and Jasper. Like most hiking days, we had an early wakeup call of 5 am the next morning to begin our ascent back up the canyon, so we headed to bed shortly after. See below picture for an image of the trail we had to hike up the next morning, as you can see we were not that thrilled.


I couldn’t help feeling like we were back on the Inca trail as we ascended up the steep mountain the following morning for about 3 continuous hours. Thankfully, the weather was a bit cooler as it was early morning but I did feel accomplished when I reached the top. We were a bit slower than the boys in our group, but once our entire group finished and made it up the mountain, we ate breakfast together and headed back to Arequipa.

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The next morning, Farima and I headed across town (crossing Rio Chili) and took an uphill stroll to the Mirador del Carmen Alto, where we enjoyed views of the city and volcanoes surrounding it. You could definitely tell across the river was a nicer part of town, where most of the homes and buildings were very modern. We made our way back to the city center to join the free walking tour shortly after. On the tour, we learned that Arequipa’s architecture comes mainly from white siller stone and therefore, the town is also known as “The White City”. The famous volcano dominating Arequipa, El Misti was named because of a miscommunication between languages. Locals were calling the Spaniards mister and they thought they were saying Misti, therefore naming the volcano El Misti. As we were walking around, I noticed multiple street food vendors offering Queso Helado (cheese ice-cream), but we later learned that it wasn’t actually cheese ice-cream, but made with ice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. We also learned that although a rainbow colored flag in Cusco (and many other cities in South America) is representative of the indigenous people, in Arequipa it might just mean a gay club. Our tour guide was really fun and kept cracking jokes which kept us entertained the entire 2 hours. At the end of the tour we visited a market where ladies were knitting sweaters out of alpaca. Our guide told us that the bone one lady was using to knit was from her ex-husband. The look on Farima’s face was priceless, at the time she had actually believed he was telling the truth, therefore I had to explain to her that he was just making a joke, it was hilarious!  As most restaurants were closed that night, we picked up some groceries at the market and cooked dinner at our hostel for our last night in Arequipa.

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Edited by: Farima M. 

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