The highlight of a visit to Arequipa is the Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the most impressive colonial religious buildings in Peru. The large convent is a ‘city within a city,’ covering over 20,246 square meters (218,000 square feet) and preserving the characteristics of 16th and 18th centuries, with narrow twisting streets, tidy plazas, colorful courtyards, and simple living quarters with Spanish names like Córdova, Sevilla, and Toledo. The delicate pastel colors of the buildings contrast with bright flowers, period furnishings, and religious art making it the picture-perfect place to explore some of the history of Arequipa. Aracari can arrange a visit to Santa Catalina Monastery as a part of a private, tailormade trip Peru.
The History of Santa Catalina Monastery
Santa Catalina Monastery was built in 1579, but only opened to the public in 1970 after 400 years as a nunnery. Visitors to the cloister can see the spacious patios, the kitchen, and slave quarters of this convent, where entrance requirements were among the strictest in Peru. Prospective nuns had to prove Spanish origin and come up with a dowry of at least 1,000 gold pesos to join the order. About four dozen nuns still live in the northern corner of the complex, which once housed up to 500 women.
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When the convent opened twenty years ago, its scandals came to light. Among them is the story of Sister Dominga, the 16-year-old who entered the convent when her betrothed left her for a rich widow. The religious life did not agree with this beautiful young woman, so she faked her own death to escape. Moreover, there was little heed paid to the nuns´ vows of poverty and silence behind closed doors in the early days. During its heyday, the sleeping cells were more like luxurious European chambers, with English carpets, silk curtains, tapestry-covered stools, and cambric and lace sheets. After visiting in 1832, French-Peruvian feminist Flora Tristan said the nuns, who were all daughters of aristocrats, were almost as good at talking as they were about spending huge quantities of money! Each had her own servants and dined with porcelain plates, damask tablecloths, and silver cutlery.
Visiting Santa Catalina Monastery
A masterpiece of colonial architectural design, the Santa Catalina Monastery is the pride of Arequipa and arguably the city’s key sight. If taking a trip through the city while exploring southern Peru, the monastery should not be missed. Santa Catalina is conveniently located only two blocks from the main square and just behind one of the best luxury hotels Arequipa– Casa Andina Premium.
To maximize your visit to Santa Catalina Monastery, check out the below roundup of Aracari Tips from the destination experts in luxury travel Peru.
Read Up on the History Before You Go: To better understand the wonderfully interesting and complex history of Santa Catalina, we recommend you take 15 minutes to read up on the monastery before you visit. Knowing even a little background of the place will give it more color than it already has.
Opt for an Expert Guide: While exploring the monastery is visually pleasing with or without a guide, we recommend you are accompanied by an expert to fully absorb the history and significance of Santa Catalina. Enjoy expert guiding in Peru when you visit the Santa Catalina Monastery with Aracari.
Climb to the Church Dome’s Lookout: When you see a set of stairs at Santa Catalina Monastery, you should definitely climb them. The lookout from the back of the church’s dome offers stunning views of the surrounding city and volcanoes.
Make a Reservation at La Trattoria del Monasterio: One of our favorite restaurants in Arequipa, La Trattoria del Monasterio, is located within the architectural complex of Santa Catalina. The menu of Italian dishes infused with Arequipeño flavor was created with the help of world-renowned Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, and is definitely worth a visit. To ensure views of the monastery while you dine, make a reservation requesting a seat by the window.
Visit Santa Teresa: If you’re interested in Santa Catalina Monastery, you can compliment the experience by also touring the nearby convent of Santa Teresa. The art and interior contents at Santa Teresa steal the show, and Aracari can arrange a guided experience with one of our top Peru specialists.