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Last updated: 31 March, 2024
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

Peru’s most impressive colonial building? It’s hard to beat this 16th-century, 20,000sq m convent founded in 1580.

Like a secret world – secured behind high walls and still perfectly-preserved – Santa Catalina was a complete village hidden in urban Arequipa; a Moorish hamlet of narrow alleys, avenues of arches lined with terracotta paint and whitewash, and secret, fountain-tingling orange-blossom-scented atrium-gardens.

The convent has innumerable works by Cusco School artists, a colonial movement fusing European and indigenous traditions. The painting of Saint Jerome in the convent museum, the Sala Zurbaran, is a treasured example.

Alongside the art, it’s as atmospheric as a Spaghetti Western and sits under a smoking volcano and a permanently blue sky. It also provides an intriguing insight into the life of the Arequipa elite during the colonial heyday.

Logistics

Price from: £8
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Many people visit independently but the on-site guides are multilingual and highly knowledgeable. One-hour tours of the complex are more than worth the price to understand the building’s history and purpose.

When to do it

The monastery is open all year round, seven days a week, with late closing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

For maximum serenity, arrive at opening time on a weekday. When the monastery is open into the evening on Tuesday to Thursday, guests can wander the cloisters by candlelight – a wonderfully ethereal experience.

Who to go with: organised tours

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Monasterio de Santa Catalina Admission Ticket

Arequipa

Monasterio de Santa Catalina Admission Ticket
The Monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena in Arequipa, is considered one of the most important and original architectural works of Peru and Latin America, with more than 400 years of history. It is known as "A city inside the city "because inside there are several streets, cloisters, cells, a square with a pool, laundry, cemetery, etc. In its Pinacoteca you can see an important collection of religious art from the continent, as well as numerous paintings of the so-called Cuzqueña School, the maximum expression of the fusion of two cultures, the Inca and the Spanish. It was opened to the public in the year 1970 and receives daily visitors from all parts of Peru and the world.

Price: $16

Min age: 0

Rating 4.68 / 5 [197 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Arequipa, Historic and Colonial City and Santa Catalina Monastery

Arequipa

Arequipa, Historic and Colonial City and Santa Catalina Monastery
Get to know Arequipa on this history-filled city sightseeing tour. With a professional guide, you’ll see the city’s top historical attractions, including the colonial districts of St Lazarus and Yanahuara, the Monastery of St Catherine and the Basilica Cathedral of Arequipa, as well as two locations that provide excellent views of the city and its surrounds – Carmen Alto and the Mirador de Yanahuara. Travel by air-conditioned coach and hop off at various sites to walk around and soak it all in.

Price: $59

Min age: 0

Rating 4.39 / 5 [28 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Peru

Peru

Peru

A land of spectacular deserts, high mountains and rainforests that teem with wildlife, Peru is also home to an array of dramatically situated pre-Colombian ruins, including Machu Picchu.