Arequipa is a vibrant bustling city, in the shadows of El Misti, the snow-capped volcano that is gently smoking in the background. Apparently you can hike up the volcano without too much difficulty, but not for me, I viewed it from the tour bus whilst gently munching on my coca leaves on my way to Colca Canyon.
To get to Colca Canyon you drive across barren land that is home to llamas, vicuñas and alpacas. Surprise, surprise in the middle of nowhere, on the side of the road are groups of women and children selling their wares. How do they get here? Do they do much trade? I bought a knitted Peruvian hat with ear flaps and a pompom; I wore it on the bus much to everyone’s amusement. People on other tour buses were doing the same!
Further along we came to a ‘roadside cafe’ and stopped for herbal tea, a proper herbal tea. There were flowers and leaves steeping in the pot, it was very nice! Here I bought hand knitted gloves and scarf, made from alpaca, and I wear these in the winter at home, they are so warm.
We broke our journey overnight (though not necessary) to stay in one of the most fantastic hotels I have ever been in – The Colca Lodge. The 20 or so rooms were in a semi-circle overlooking the gardens. There was a treatment room for massages or hot rock treatments but what did it for me was the outdoor naturally heated spa pools, about 3 or 4 just down by the river. It was dusk and the low level garden lighting was coming on. Oh bliss! Next day we were up and off early, in time to get to Cruz Del Condor in time to see the condors on the early morning thermals. What a sight and a photo opportunity.
We made our way back to Arequipa, through the Colca Canyon, stopping to see Inca tombs that were located in the rock face, and take some pictures of Peruvian children in national dress, dirty faces and all, with their animals.
Another fascinating place in Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery, a city within a city. It was a closed convent for over 3oo years for the daughters of the rich and the tribal leaders and their servants!
You wander around the old streets with their Spanish names, viewing the old kitchens with blackened walls from wood smoke fires, huge ‘sinks’ where the washing was done, tiny cells where they slept, gardens where they prayed. There are frescos and paintings still on the domed ceilings and arched walls. But strangely, to say it was a convent, it wasn’t poor; they had to pay to be there. One child was placed there at 3yrs and stayed until she died in her 90′s, she went on to be the prioress. There is a fascinating story that goes with this lady.
There were some well-informed guides to show you around if you wish. Sadly we only spent a few days in Arequipa before catching the overnight bus to Cusco.
Written by: Kathy Leach | Manchester – England
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