Just a few steps from the Plaza de Armas of Arequipa is the Monastery of Santa Catalina, an enigmatic place that surprises not only for its colorful colonial architecture but also for the secrets that, for several centuries, it has hidden behind its walls. Read below to find out everything you need to know before visiting.
Saint Catherine of Siena is the saint who inspired this monastery, where silence found her voice in the bright colors of its walls and in the cobbled passageways that converge in the beautiful main square.
Citadel of women dedicated to prayer, charity and the preparation of the most delicious desserts that the palate can imagine; Santa Catalina is, more than a monastery, a crucible of secrets that the visitor can barely glimpse through its precincts, but whose truth will remain within its walls forever.
The history of the Monastery of Santa Catalina dates back to the 16th century. When the Spanish were already settled in Peru, Francisco de Toledo visited the city of Arequipa and listened to the wishes of its inhabitants, who asked for the creation of a place where the nuns could do their work and have the religious life they desired. Thus, the viceroy ordered the construction of a large monastery without knowing that, years later, it would become one of the most important in the country.
On September 10, 1579, when the city of Arequipa had not even turned 40 years since its founding, the Monastery of Santa Catalina was inaugurated, an authentic jewel of colonial architecture that remains standing to this day (despite all the earthquakes that affected the building throughout its history) and whose streets you can explore on foot!
The first nuns who lived here came from different parts of the country and various social classes: they were Creoles, mestizo and even daughters of curacas, the political leaders of the Inca Empire, but they all shared one main characteristic: they had the same religious devotion.
Thus, for years the Monastery of Santa Catalina welcomed hundreds of nuns who lived with practically no connection with the outside world until, in 1970, they decided to open it to the public so that all tourists and citizens of Arequipa could discover and enjoy this enigmatic place. .
Since then, the Monastery of Santa Catalina has become a mandatory stop for tourists arriving in the White City and, for a few years, this place has been, along with the Colca Canyon, the most visited tourist destination in Arequipa.
The Monastery of Santa Catalina falls in love with everyone who comes to visit it, since it is an unusual and very striking construction. In its more than 20,000 square meters (yes, you read correctly, the monastery has more than 20,000 square meters!), you will find up to 22 rooms (both open and closed), such as the Patio del Silencio, the Cloister of the Orange Trees or the Main Cloister, which during the heyday of the monastery were used for different purposes and which are now accessible to all audiences, as if it were an open-air museum.
One of the most beautiful characteristics of the monastery's architecture is the origin of the materials with which its walls were built. To build this place, the workers used the famous white and pink ashlars of the city of Arequipa, coming from two of its main volcanoes: Chachani and Misti. Thus, the construction techniques brought by the Spanish were mixed with the typical stone of the place to create an authentic work of art of the colonial architecture of Peru.
Walking through the streets of the Monastery of Santa Catalina you will feel as if you have gone back several centuries in time. The silence that occupies each of its corners, the secrets that its walls seem to keep, the bright colors of its walls, its imperfect arches and vaults... everything you see around you will make you want to stay for many hours in this place.
Likewise, you should know that some cloistered nuns still live in the north wing of the monastery, so it is not unusual to come across a nun during a visit to this place.
The Monastery of Santa Catalina is located just a few blocks from the city's imposing Plaza de Armas, so you can walk there from any point in the historic center of Arequipa. At Denomades we have a City Tour in Arequipa that includes a guided visit to the monastery, as well as other tourist attractions in the city.
If you want to get there on your own, you just have to find Santa Catalina Street, which is located next to the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa. In just four blocks you will be at the famous monastery.
Hours: the Monastery of Santa Catalina opens every day of the year with the exception of Good Friday, December 25 and January 1. Hours are Thursday through Monday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 5:00 p.m. m. and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. m. to 8 p.m. m.
Price: general admission is S/ 40 (approximately $12). However, the monastery offers special prices for some groups of people such as Peruvian university students, older adults, school students and foreigners up to 21 years of age. Ask at the box office for discounts before purchasing your ticket!
Guide: the price of admission to the Monastery of Santa Catalina includes only access, but if you want to have a more complete experience and learn in-depth about the history of this magical place, do not hesitate to hire the services of a guide. The price of the guided tour is S/ 20 (approximately 6 dollars) additional to the entrance and the duration of the tour is around two hours.
Best time to visit the Monastery of Santa Catalina: the city of Arequipa has a fairly stable climate, with moderate rainy seasons between January and March, so a visit to the monastery can be carried out without problems throughout the year.