Machu Picchu is, without a doubt, the highlight of Peru. Every step you take on its sacred grounds is filled with wonderment and disbelief. While there is nothing that can compare to Machu Picchu, there is one landmark that can come close. Monasterio de Santa Catalina, located a block from the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, inspires that same wide-eyed amazement as you make your way through this tiny city.
You don’t have to take an expensive train ride or go on an epic, Andean-conquering trek to get there. You can simply wake up from your hotel or hostel, have some breakfast, and make your way down the street to the monastery – no hiking involved.
At 40 soles a person, it will save you a fortune compared to the price of getting to and into Machu Picchu, especially if you take the bus to the Inca ruins. No bus or taxis involved (unless you aren’t staying near the plaza, but even then it still isn’t very far away).
Machu Picchu is the most iconic image of Peru and second will most likely be this monastery. While you can’t replicate the dizzying heights of Machu Picchu, Monasterio de Santa Catalina is just as photogenic in its own way. The narrow streets and brightly colored buildings are a photographer’s dream, and when you visit you’ll be spending most your time taking pictures.
Monasterio de Santa Catalina has a very rich history in Peru and within Arequipa. It was a founded as a monastery for wealthy women and later opened its doors to women of all walks of life. It is not without rumors as well – tales of pregnant nuns and baby skeletons.
Not even remotely close to the amount of people who visit Machu Picchu each day. You won’t be fighting people for photo opportunities or waiting in long lines to do something. You can leisurely stroll the small city and not feel pressed for time.
You’ll have easily accessible bathrooms and a restaurant and coffee shop on site if you’d like to take a quick break. Even the bathrooms are art and part of the attraction.
Hiking through the entirety of Machu Picchu will wear you out, and by the end of it you’ll be wanting to go back to your hotel and rest, especially if you’re coming off one of the long treks through the Andes. Monasterio de Santa Catalina is large – it’s a city inside a city – but doesn’t present the walking required of you by Machu Picchu. You also aren’t at the high altitude of the Inca ruins, which helps a lot.
Arequipa is a sunny city pretty much all year round. The only time you get some cloudy skies and rain are during the summer months of December, January and February – and even then, it’s not bad. The rain isn’t heavy and the skies are usually clear. The same can’t be said of Machu Picchu, when a heavy rain that storms through might ruin your trip.
One of the coolest opportunities at Monasterio de Santa Catalina is its night exhibition. They have lanterns throughout the city which gives everything a different and special feel.