A short flight south of Lima and gateway to the region’s altiplano is Peru’s second city Arequipa, a pleasant university town with good restaurants and bars. It is known locally as the “white city” or more generously as the “Rome of the Americas”. Arequipa is ringed by the three volcanoes Misti, Chachani and Picchu Picchu and sitting at an altitude of 2200m, is an ideal spot for spending a few days to acclimatise before heading up into the highlands.
The city centre boasts fine colonial architecture constructed in the regional white volcanic stone ashlar, from where Arequipa gained its nickname, with many of the prominent older buildings featuring fine intricate detail. The tourist highlight, without doubt, is Santa Catalina; an historic Dominican convent covering over 20,000m located right at the heart of the city. Founded in 1579 and shut off from the rest of the outside world for centuries, Santa Catalina finally threw open its doors to tourism in the 1960’s to raise funds following a sequence of devastating earthquakes. The result, an oasis of tranquillity from the bustle of the city where today’s visitors can wander the shaded patios to colourful terraces and ornate chapels catching captivating glimpses of the last remaining resident nuns, some 20 in all.