The small town of Chivay, gateway to the Colca Canyon, lies four hours to the north of Arequipa at an altitude of 3,600 metres. The Colca canyon is deep – twice as deep as the Grand Canyon and the second deepest canyon in the world at a depth of 3,191 metres, or about two miles!
We arrived in Chivay, and immediately found ourselves short of breath due to the altitude – 300 or so metres higher than Cusco. I developed a throbbing headache and my mother (whom I am travelling with for a few weeks) briefly needed bottled Oxygen. It was worth the pain as the Colca Canyon is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen – surrounded by snow capped 6,000 metres Andean peaks, it is surely one of the natural wonders of the world. The sight of Condors soaring over the Canyon from Cruz del Condor is something I will never forget.
This a just a 3 minute compilation of short video clips I made in and around Arequipa, Peru. It’s by no means a masterpiece, it’s simply intended to give you a quick overview of Arequipa.
This clip features: Miners’ protest march in Plaza de Armas, another clip from the main square, some panoramics of the city showing El Misti volcano, Arequipa market (including the Police warning my mother about pickpockets!), and the last couple of scenes are from the Santa Catalina convent.
This podcast is part one of a series of two podcasts I’ll be making in Southern Peru, and it begins in Lima in the Plaza de Armas. I then head down underground into the catacombs of Monasterio de San Francisco – the old cemetery of Lima – and resting place of an awful lot of bones. I then head to the coast at Miraflores, and to the super cool Larco Mar bar complex.
The following day is museum day, with trips to Museo Larco Rafael Herrera – home to 50,000 pre-Colombian pots, and a fabulous and famous collection of erotic ceramics, and later on to the ‘main’ museum in Lima – Museo de la Nacion.
Following Lima, I get a bus 9 hours south to Nazca and take a rollercoaster flight over the Nazca lines, then head on another 10 hours South to the beautiful Colonial town (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) of Arequipa 2300m up in the Andes where I visit some frozen 500 year old Incan ice mummies in Museo Santuarios Andinos, and finish the podcast in the incredible 16th century ‘citadel’ Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
This podcast will be followed by another podcast from Southern Peru in the next couple of weeks covering the Colca Canyon, Puno, Lake Titicaca, and Cusco, followed by a long stay helping to develop an Eco-yoga community in the Sacred Valley outside Cusco, where I hope to finally get a chance to learn and practice yoga, and also learn about eco-building and organic cultivation.
The wonderful Museo Farael Larco Herrera in Lima has an infamous display of pre-Colombian erotic pots, that explicitly illustrate the sexual lives of ancient Peruvian men, women, skeletons and animals in various combinations. Here’s one of them, to view the entire album, click on the link beneath the photo. It’s worth it :-).
Arequipa, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, provided our ‘aclimatisation stop’ on the way from Nazca to Chivay and then Puno. Nazca is at sea level, and both Puno and Chivay are over 3,500 metres – a trip straight up to that altitude is asking for altitude sickness.
Arequipa is unofficially Peru’s second city, and lies at 2,380 metres, in a valley surrounded by three volcanoes, and has a near perfect climate – it hardly ever rains and has perpetual blue skies. El Misti volcano, pictured just to the left of the cross in the photo above is 5,822m high, and is topped by snow year round. It occasionally erupts and will probably do so catastrophically sometime soon – or so the locals think! Worryingly, this doesn’t seem to stop them building settlements higher and higher up the lava flows. The other two volcanoes are Chachani (6,057m) and Pichu-Pichu (5,669m).
The city was ‘re-founded’ by the Spanish in 1540, but the area was previously occupied by Aymara Indians and later, the Incas.
Perhaps Arequipa’s most striking feature – apart from its blue skies and snow-capped volcanoes, is the pearly white volcanic material from which the majority of its buildings are constructed. Known as ‘Sillar’, it causes the whiteness of the buildings to contrast beautifully with the deep blue skies, sparkling in the crisp sunlight.
There are a couple of worthwhile things to do in Arequipa, apart from visit all the colonial plazas and churches (had enough yet?), my favourite being the Museo Santuarios Andinos, or the ‘Ice Mummies’ museum.
A few years ago on nearby Mount Ampato some archaeologists discovered a series of Inca ritual sacrifice victims. These sacrifices were of young children, mainly girls, and are thought to have been offerings to appease the volcano gods. The amazingly well preserved bodies, including that of the famous ‘Juanita’ are kept in the museum, with all the artifacts found buried with them. It provides ample food for the imagination and a fascinating insight into Inca life 500 years ago.
Secondly, if you can spare the rather steep entry price, visit the more than 400 year old Santa Catalina convent which is effectively a beautiful, isolated 2 hectare citadel within the city. It was where about 450 young nuns from privileged families lived in total seclusion. Although rumours abound of their antics for the first couple of hundred years (wild parties, orgies etc), all the partying was quickly stopped dead by the arrival of a famously strict and draconian head nun. Try and visit at sunset on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as we did, when you can wonder around the convent by candle light.