Arequipa, second city of Peru and a day's journey from Lima, sits poised at the edge of the Andes against an extraordinary backdrop of volcanic peaks. Recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the white stone architecture of Arequipa – particularly the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, a complex enclosing a complete world within its thick walls – constitutes perhaps the city's main appeal to travellers. If you're coming from the north, it's one of the last places to really merit a stop before continuing on south to the Chilean border.
This wealthy city with a population of almost 800,000, maintains a rather aloof attitude towards the rest of Peru. Most Arequipans feel themselves distinct, if not culturally superior, and resent the idea of the nation revolving around Lima. This self-comfortable image arose in the nineteenth century as the city found itself wealthy largely on the back of the wool trade with England. Located 2335m above sea level, and with El Misti, the dormant, 5821-metre volcano poised dramatically above, the city enjoys a distinctly poetic appearance. The most traditional of Arequipa's restaurants – La Tradición Arequipeña – goes so far as to issue Arequipa passports to its clients, only partly in jest.