Sparkling in the sun, Arequipa is called the White City because of the sillar, a white volcanic stone that makes up its buildings, modern ones as well as Spanish colonial. Peru's second-largest city sits surrounded by towering mountains—including the 19,000-ft/5,800-m volcano El Misti.
The city itself is the home of the monastery of La Recoleta (with a museum and library) and several interesting churches, but its highlight is the Santa Catalina Convent. Built in the late 16th century (but closed to the public until 1970), it was a self-contained community, a place where nuns could worship and live without leaving the convent. Walk through the well-preserved structure, soak up the peaceful atmosphere and discover the tiny, secluded plazas and lovely courtyards within.
From Arequipa, take a guided tour of Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world (10,500 ft/3,191 m deep). (Day trips are possible, but they require many hours in a bus and are not recommended; two- or three-day trips are preferable.) Several local agencies arrange two-day trips with pleasant overnights in rural hotels. A journey to the canyon offers a view of extensive pre-Incan and Incan agricultural terracing, some of which is still farmed today, as well as a chance to see Andean condors at Cruz del Condor, a lookout point.
Adventurous travelers can follow in the footsteps of the chasqui, the Incan foot messengers, and trek the canyon. The Cotahuasi Canyon is more remote than the Colca, but it is the deepest in the world, with stretches as low as 10,857 ft/3,300 m. It is located 125 mi/200 km northwest of Arequipa. Or visit the Reserva Nacional de Salinas y Aguada Blanca, a nature reserve with stunning lakes and salt flats, located high in the surrounding mountains. The area is about 465 mi/750 km southeast of Lima by air. By road, the distances are closer to 625 mi/1,000 km.
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