Monday, March 9, 2009

Arequipa at a Glance

The airport of Arequipa may lead to an assumption of a small, insignificant city. From Lima, the plane careens to a stop on a petite tarmac allowing passengers to walk across to the terminal and get their first glimpse of the highlands. After a fifteen minute taxi ride, you arrive at La Plaza de Almas in the city center. Here colonial Arequipa comes to life and that idea of insignificance washes away.

Although Arequipa is Peru´s second largest city with a population of over one million, it remains to have that small city feel. Here at the gorgeous plaza (recently restored after being ravaged by fires and earthquakes) the tallest building in sight is La Compaña, a grand cathedral to the north. Arequipeñas move through the beautifully manicured plaza and the nearby streets shopping and talking and stopping for food, while the influx of Gringos fumble with their guides and maps bumping into one another while admiring the architecture.

And the architecture is stunning. Made from volcanic sillar- giving the city its nickname of ¨La Ciudad Blanca¨, or white city- the buildings are a reminder of the colonial era. Now tiendas, stores, and restaurants have been built into these fort-like structures. The buisnesses lay nestled into their own caves with elegant, low vaulted ceilings with white sillar brick on all sides. Sets of three of four bars, or competing travel agencies, can be found in neat little tambos or cloisters with fresh paint of orange or blue or green chipping off to show the white underneath.

Besides enjoying the architecture, eating at the wonderful restaurants that litter the area around the plaza, and counting all the other tourists (which is many since Arequipa is a gateway to Colca Canyon), there are a few other sites to be seen.

As with any city, there are churches. La Compaña, which has been mentioned before, consumes one whole side of La Plaza de Alma. This Jesuit church, built in the 17th century, is elegantly carved on its front facade, while beautiful sculptures line the massive interior that seems to glow yellow with the odd, yet perfect, choice of paint.

The prize catherdral, however, is Monastario de Santa Cantalenia. This monestary more resembles that of a small village than a church or cathedral. It contains three cloisters, six streets, eighty housing units, a square, an art gallery, a cemetary, and thirty cloistered nuns, although this number was closer to 200 before the monostary was opened to tourism in 1972.

Arequipa is also home to one of the world´s most important anthropological and archelogical discoveries: Juanita. Discovered by Johan Rhinand, Jaunita has offered brilliant insight into the Incan civilization. Its nearly preserved body can be found at Museo Santuarious Andinos.

Finally, there are those volcanoes; three in total, Misti being the most famous. Misti can be seen from many places in Arequipa- which looses translates to "near the mountain" most likely reffering to Misti- and can be easily distinguised by its snow capped top. Although it is visible from many places, one of the best views is from Puenta Grau, a bridge that connects the city center to the more residential parts of Arequipa. From here, it is easy to spot the huge peak as it peers down on the city at its feet.

Overall, Arequipa could be seen in two days, however, it is best to try and enjoy this grand place in closer to four. There is alot to see, and alot of walking. With the thinner air, rest is a must, so take your time to take it all in.

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