I’ve written once before about the beauty of Arequipa, Peru, but in that post I was only able to briefly describe one of the most stunning sights Arequipa has to offer: The Monasterio de Santa Catalina.
What struck me the most about the Santa Catalina Monastery was the amount of gorgeous, brilliant colors you’ll find at every turn–especially given that Arequipa has been nicknamed “The White City”. While the rest of Arequipa’s colonial buildings may live up to the title, having been constructed with the traditional pearly-white sillar stone of the region, it seems that the monastery is the one colorful exception.
The Santa Catalina Monastery was founded in 1579, just forty years after the city of Arequipa was established. Over time, the monastery expanded, eventually occupying an entire city block and operating almost as its own city-within-a-city.
Although the foundation of the monastery is white sillar stone, the majority of the walls have been painted bright blue, red or orange, reflecting the strong mestizo culture of the city. Even the unpainted courtyards and hallways have their own sort of colorful beauty, created by the flowering plants and leafy green trees that fill the monastery’s open spaces.
As you wander throughout the grounds, you’ll find colonial style arches, European-inspired courtyards, fragrant gardens, historic religious artwork, and delicate details like crosses, floral painted embellishments and elegantly carved doorways.
The monastery appears to have been frozen in time, despite surviving multiple damaging earthquakes in the late 1500’s. It’s easy to see why the monastery is labeled as one of the must-visit sites of Arequipa.
It’s possible to explore the monastery on your own, or you can hire a guide for 20 Peruvian Soles (about 6 USD). We hired a guide for our visit, which I highly recommend. Not only is it nice to actually understand the various areas that you’re wandering throughout, but it’s good to have someone who knows the layout leading you through the many corridors, rooms and courtyards.
It might be tempting to think that a monastery is no big deal to navigate, but in this instance you may find that it’s a bit more of a challenge than you’re expecting. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at this map and let me know if you still think you’re up for it.
Even if you enjoy getting lost in beautiful new places on your own (don’t we all) I still recommend hiring a guide in order to get a feel for the history and way of life at the monastery, and then going off to explore on your own after the tour.
- Hours: Monday/Wednesday/Friday/Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Tuesday/Thursday 9am to 8pm
- Admission Fee: 35 Peruvian Soles (about 11 USD)
- Guided Tour (Optional): 1 hour / 20 Peruvian Soles (about 6 USD)
- Official Website: http://www.santacatalina.org.pe/
- Monastery Map: http://www.santacatalina.org.pe/mapaen.php
Have you ever been to Arequipa, and if so, did you visit the Santa Catalina Monastery? Have you ever considered visiting Arequipa on your trip to Peru before?