A Guide To Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Situated in the historical downtown district of Arequipa, the Santa Catalina Monastery (Monasterio de Santa Catalina in Spanish) is a monastery of nuns of the Dominican Second Order and a must-see attraction in the city. This historic complex is a sprawling 20,000 square-meter, walled community dating back several hundred years.

Often referred to as a city within a city, the complex features well-preserved colonial architecture and design from various periods between the 1500s and 1700s. You may be surprised to see cobblestone streets, plazas, gardens, fountains, courtyards and various living quarters laid out much like any other city district!

Inside the colorful adobe buildings, you’ll find antique furniture, beautiful artworks and fascinating artifacts that served various purposes through the centuries.

Santa Catalina Monastery

Today, the Santa Catalina Monastery is one of the most important religious sites in the country and one of the most striking colonial sites in Arequipa. A small group of religious devotees still live at the monastery.

Curious to discover more about this intriguing place? Continue reading! In this post I will tell you everything you need to know about Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa, including a few useful tips to help you plan your visit.

Make sure to read my post The Best Things To Do In Arequipa.

Santa Catalina monastery

The History Of Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Constructed in 1579, Santa Catalina Monastery has a very long and fascinating history. The monastery was founded by Maria de Guzman, a wealthy widow. In Peru at that time it was customary for the second son or daughter of a Catholic family to enter into a lifetime of service to the church and most of the women who found themselves at the monastery were from upper-class families.

Up to 450 people lived at the monastery during the busiest times and one-third of the residents were nuns while the rest were servants.

Throughout the history of Santa Catalina Monastery, it served as a safe haven for unwanted children. Local people who were unable or unwilling to care for their children for any number of reasons could anonymously leave them at the front door and the nuns would care for them. Some wealthy children were temporarily left in the care of the nuns who provided them with a proper education.

In the 1960s, the monastery was twice damaged by earthquakes. Some of the damage was so extensive that new living quarters had to be built nearby.

Over the years, several notable things happened at the monastery. The first was when the nuns witnessed what has become known as “the miracle”. One of the residents who lived there during the 1600s, a woman by the name of Ana de los Angeles Monteagudo, was successful in predicting the fate of many people. Many people also claimed that they were healed of various ailments after having contact with her.

The other major event at the monastery happened in 1970 when it was opened to the public for the first time.

Today, the nuns still live quiet and relatively secluded lives but are not completely shut out from the public as they once were. While some customs have evolved, many remain the same as they always did.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina

Top Sights In Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Santa Catalina Monastery is an amazing place to explore, especially if you love architecture and history. If you have a fascination for both of these things, you’re in for a special treat! The buildings were constructed with volcanic sillar stone and finished with eye-popping colors. Below are some of the most notable things you’ll see during your walk through the monastery.

Cloister of the Oranges

This group of orange trees is located in the area of the monastery where nuns gathered after graduation from their novice service. Nearby is the Profundis Room where departed nuns were mourned. Three crosses are placed in the orange trees during Passion of the Christ ceremonies.

Cordova Street

Considered to be the main street in the Santa Catalina Monastery, Cordova Street is where you’ll see many of the nuns’ living quarters, some of which were quite lavish, some of which were quite simple depending on the nun’s personal wealth. The Spanish influence is very evident along this street that’s lined with hanging geraniums.

Santa Catalina monastery

Main Cloister

A cloister is a covered walkway with a wall on one side and open to a courtyard on the other. The Main Cloister at Santa Catalina Monastery features confessionals and artworks portraying the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Plaza Zocodover

This was the place where the nuns met on Sundays to barter their religious crafts and other items.

Laundry Area

In this area, you’ll see large storage containers that served as wash tubs using the water that was delivered via the canals.

Calle Sevilla

Sevilla Street

Once the street that led to the church of St. Catherine, it’s been transformed into the kitchens. Here, you’ll see genuine cooking utensils from the past.


This church was rebuilt a number of times due to earthquake damage over the years, but it maintains its original design.

Burgos Street

This is where you’ll find a vegetable garden that connects to Sevilla Street and the kitchen area.

Iglesia de la Compania

Other Notable Sites Near Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

The Andean Sanctuaries Museum

This archaeological museum in Arequipa has many interesting exhibits including one that showcases the Jaunita mummy which was discovered in a volcano. As you explore this museum, you’ll also see many religious and indigenous artifacts. It’s located about a mile (1.4 kilometer) from Santa Catalina Monastery.

Casa del Moral

Constructed in the mid-1700s, the Casa del Moral is a large well-preserved Andean-Baroque home that’s open to the public. Inside, you’ll find a collection of colonial artworks and a library with thousands of books. It’s located less than a mile (1.2 kilometer) away.

Cathedral Museum Arequipa

This museum showcases more than 400 years of history through valuable artifacts. The cathedral is considered the most important temple in Arequipa. It’s located half a mile (one kilometer) away from the monastery.

Church of the Company

Situated in the historic downtown district less than a mile (1.2 kilometerthe ) from Santa Catalina Monastery, Church of the Company features incredible mestizo architecture. The interior is home to wooden carvings and murals depicting tropical plants and animals.

in Arequipa Peru

Practical Information For Visiting Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Entrance fee and opening hours

The Santa Catalina Monastery is open from Monday to Sunday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, but you won’t be able to enter after 5:00 pm as that’s when the last visitors are admitted. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings, you can explore the site by candlelight. The site is closed on Holy Friday, Christmas Day and New Years Day.

Admission to the site is $10 USD (40 Peruvian Soles). The cost of a guide is not included in your ticket.

To get your tickets in advance, click here.

Santa Catalina Monastery

Do you need a guide to visit Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa?

As with most sites in Peru, it’s possible to explore the Santa Catalina Monastery on your own, but if you want to learn more about the site, the people who lived there over the years and its history, it’s best to hire a guide. You can always go through the complex on your own after you explore it with a guided tour. It will cost about $20.00 USD (75 Peruvian Soles) to hire a guide at the entrance to the monastery, and there are English speaking guides available. The tour takes about an hour.

Alternatively, you can visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina on a guided tour that will also go to other sites in Arequipa. The cost of a guided tour varies depending on the duration and the number of sites visited. Keep in mind that only female guides are allowed insite the Monasterio, so if your guide is a man, you’ll change guides once on the site,

For information on guided tours of Arequipa that also go to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina click here, here or here.

Monasterio de Santa Caterina

How to get to Santa Catalina Monastery

The Santa Catalina Monastery is centrally located in the historic downtown district of Arequipa which means it’s easily accessible from anywhere in the city. The downtown area is only five miles (eight kilometers) from the airport, so if you’re coming from the airport, your best bet is to take a cab downtown which costs about $5.00 or $6.00 (19-22 Peruvian Soles). Arequipa bus offers a service from the airport to various areas around the city, including the downtown area for $2.00 (8 Peruvian Soles).

Although Santa Catalina Monastery is an actual city within the city of Arequipa, and there’s no public transportation inside its walls, there are bus stops just outside and a number of routes travel to every area of the city. It’s safe to walk around downtown Arequipa during the day, so if your hotel is in the downtown area or in a nearby district, it won’t take much longer to walk there than if you took a bus or cab, and it’ll save you some money.

How to explore the Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Although you can tour the Santa Catalina Monastery in an hour, it’s recommended that you spend at least two to three hours exploring it in order to get the best experience. Start with the three main cloisters and go from there. The complex is quite large but it’s hard to get lost, especially if you follow the map that’s provided with your entry ticket.

Make sure to enter all the buildings that you’re permitted to enter and absorb all of the sights and sounds of this amazing place. Perhaps you like to get lost in places like this. That’s okay too, because there’s not limit on how long you take to explore it. Make sure to take a moment to relax in the park area or sit down with a coffee or other beverage in the on-site coffee shop.

Santa Catalina Monastery Arequipa

When to visit Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

If warm, sunny days are your preference, the best time to travel to Arequipa and the Santa Catalina Monastery is during the dry season which is between May and September. This is also when there will be more tourists around, so if you wish to avoid crowds, consider traveling just outside this season in April or October.

As for the time of day, earlier is better if you want to avoid the crowds and the hot midday sun and if you want to spend as much time as possible exploring the complex.

What the take on a trip to the Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa

Unlike many of the other sites around Peru, the Santa Catalina Monastery is in an urban location with level terrain that makes for easy walking. That being said, since you’ll be doing quite a bit of walking, a comfortable pair of shoes is recommended. They don’t have to be sturdy hiking boots, just a pair of sneakers or sport sandals that are comfortable for walking long distances.

The weather tends to change throughout the day in Arequipa. Temperatures can fluctuate from near freezing to hot in a matter of hours and rain is possible any time of the year. Wear layers that are easy to take off and put back on with the changing conditions. It’s also a good idea to take a light rain and windproof jacket.

Make sure to take a small, easy-to-carry daypack to store your items. Inside this pack, make sure to have enough money for the admission ticket, transportation, souvenirs and snacks. Although there are many shaded areas around the monastery, you should take some sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses as the sun does get very hot in the afternoon. There are plenty of places in the area to buy bottled water, but you should always have some of your own in your pack. Finally, don’t forget to take your camera because there are many great photo ops around the Santa Catalina Monastery.

Further Readings

For more ideas for your Arequipa trip, these posts may be useful:

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Check out this guide about Santa Catalina Monastery, Arequipa - via @clautavani

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