next stop, Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city. We came here especially to do some hiking in the nearby Colca Canyon, but also because we’d heard it’s a beautiful city, and it is! The volcano Misti rises up behind the cathedral on the main plaza. The downtown is a UNESCO world heritage site, filled with Spanish Colonial-era buildings made from white volcanic rock called sillar. Lots of the colonial buildings have elaborately carved white facades.
The most spectacular site is the Santa Catalina monastery, a 16th-century cloistered convent that once housed 450 women, a walled city within the city, comprised of a maze of arched passageways and brightly-painted courtyards and small living quarters, all carved out of the same porous volcanic rock. The monastery has a fascinating history, founded by a wealthy widow and enlisting girls from the richest families in Spain.
Our only small disappointment in Arequipa was that we didn’t find any chupe de camarones. We heard that this garlicky, spicy shrimp stew was a specialty of Arequipa and we arrived hungry to try some but wherever we asked for it, they said it’s a wintertime dish, no shrimp in the summer. Instead we enjoyed a few rocotos rellenos, spicy bell peppers stuffed with beef, and the local variety of chicha, a fermented purple corn drink.