Santa Catalina convent is a city in and of itself. Visitors can choose a guided tour from one of several languages, wander among the convent individually, or as I chose to do – combine self touring with guided touring.
Guides are all women, smartly dressed in gray/light blue suits. There is no set fee for their guiding services; visitors decide what to pay them at the end of the tour (lasting approximately 90 minutes). I spent 3/4 of my time wandering on my own filling the rest of the time walking with the tour guides. Several tours run at any one time and multi-lingual visitors can bounce from one tour to the next.
This convent, founded in 1579 is by far the finest example of Arequipan colonial architecture. Famous for withstanding many violent historical earthquakes the thick walls stood solid and protected over 450 cloistered nuns up until 1970.
At this point, the nuns decided to open their convent to the public for financial reasons. They moved their cloistered living quarters to a small section of the convent where their numbers have dwindled to about 20 today. I recommend you spend at least 4-5 hours here if not longer. Be sure to visit the very brightly colored bathroom just past the entrance. This is a fun place to take some photos (regardless of how you feel about taking photographs in bathrooms), however do not lean on the walls as the paint is really crumbling and you will be covered with paint dust!
The highlight of this walled convent are the beautiful architectural touches including arches, little porticos, courtyards, winding walkways and steep steps leading to the rooftops which providing picturesque overviews of Arequipa & El Misti. Also the tastefully whitewashed walls in a variety of bright and pastel colors make great backdrops for any photos.
Additionally, be sure to visit the fountains, several large indoor ovens and cooking areas, interior churches, and the excellent art gallery featuring important religious paintings. Over 400 oil paintings are housed in the main gallery – these are from the Cuzco School of Painting which was predominant in Peru during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The convent is open from 9-4pm every day of the year except Christmas, New Year’s Day and Easter Friday. The cost is about $12 per person. Located at: Santa Catalina #301. Phone: 51-54-229798. For more information email them at: email@example.com or visit their bilingual website: www.santacatalina.org.pe