It’s past noon and I am rushing through narrow sidewalks and busy cobblestone streets, trying to find my way for my first meeting with the staff of Hoop Peru, the non-profit organization that I am collaborating with. I need to make it in time to catch the kombi that will take me to the school they are running on the outskirts of the city. This is the first time I am seeing Arequipa city, and I am smiling and giggling. I know that in addition to the assignment for Photographers Without Borders, I am going to have a great time here.
Arequipa is the second-largest city in Peru, but is just one-tenth the size of Lima. Surrounded by three volcanoes and the snow-capped peaks of the western Andes, the attractive town also holds a number of historic architectural sights. Magnificent temples, convents and colonial houses are, for the most part, sculpted with the local white sillar rock, a special characteristic that fueled Arequipa’s alternative name, “Ciudad Blanca” (The White City). Needless to say, the main core of the city has earned a UNESCO World Heritage listing.
I stayed in Arequipa for a week. My mornings were spent wandering and exploring as much as I could before heading to the Hoop Project in the afternoon. I missed shooting at night, or blue hour, as at that time, I was usually returning from photographing the kids in Flora Tristan. I had a free weekend but elected to go explore and photograph Lake Titicaca instead.
The ornamented architecture of the city’s historic centre was really appealing to me. The colonial-mestizo style mixes the best of both worlds, a marvelous integration of the native techniques combined to perfection with the European influence. Although founded in 1540, this unique architectural amalgamation makes Arequipa very different from other colonial cities in this part of Latin America.
The area surrounding the main square (Plaza de Armas) was always full of locals and tourists, most of them not only here to see Arequipa, but attracted by all manners of treks and excursions to the Colca Canyon and surrounding peaks. This is paradise for the adventure traveler. The Plaza de Armas consists of a symmetrical square with a central fountain and gardens. It is surrounded by buildings full of colonnades on three sides and a majestic cathedral on the fourth. There is a number of traditional restaurants on the upper floors of the neighboring buildings, mostly catering to visitors, providing a nice ambience and the possibility of enjoying a nice view of the action below. This was nice to experience, but overall I preferred the more local joints. The eateries around the plaza had too touristy a feel for my tastes.
I especially loved strolling the backstreets, doing some street photography and discovering colonial houses, antique shops and markets while visiting some of the city’s most traditional places.
Among the top attractions is a citadel within the city. The massive Saint Catherine Monastery (Monasterio de Santa Catalina) occupies over 215,000 square feet right there in the heart of the old town. The contrasting vivid colors of the walls along with spaces and proportions of great esthetic appeal were magnets for me. The interior cloisters were also great to explore and I had a wonderful time there. The monastery opens for evening visits twice a week, and of course I was compelled to return. At night, the place takes on another dimension. It transforms itself. During my visit, nobody was there, or at least I didn’t see anybody… it was so empty that it was bordering on creepy at times.
Like always, a very special place for me was San Camilo, the main farmer’s market in Arequipa, spanning a few blocks. This was the perfect spot to immerse myself in local traditions and people-watch. There are over 30 different sections, from fresh produce, meats, jams and breads, all the way to clothing and, of course, eateries. It’s a very popular place; on their way to work, locals stop here for an inexpensive breakfast or lunch. I had a meal or two here, and the ceviche was one the best I’ve ever had.
Another place I really liked was the San Francisco Plaza, Church and Monastery. What caught my attention inside the church was a baroque pulpit of shortened relief, its splendid altar of wrought silver and its beautiful stone. I also enjoyed photographing the interior patio and exterior corridors.
About 10 minutes by taxi from the Arequipa Centre there is a beautiful complex called the Mirador of Yanahuara. The sillar ashlars of the arches are splendid and the location provides an excellent viewpoint from which to gaze over the city and its guardian, the Misti Volcano, from a different perspective. There is a modest temple with a baroque facade, the Church of San Juan, next to a plaza and the surrounding area is full of narrow cobblestone streets and traditional houses.
Besides the sights, I adored connecting with locals. The Arequipeño proved to be warm and open. Spanish being my native language I had the opportunity to chat at length and listen to captivating stories. I hope my photographs will help me to keep the profound stories in my memories every time I look at them.
Arequipa was an awesome experience. That’s all for now. For print and licensing information, just click the images. As always, feel free to leave comments.