Having just spent an afternoon at a tapas bar here in Ghana, I was suddenly flooded with fond memories of my beloved Arequipa - which reminded me that I’ve been meaning to share some more photos from my stay in Arequipa for a while now, before work rudely got in the way. As such below are some photos of the Santa Catalina monastery. 

When you hear the word monastery, you typically think about nuns living a humble and modest life devoted to God - but this particular monastery was home to some very naughty nuns indeed.

santa catalina monastery chapel

The Santa Catalina chapel

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The Santa Catalina Monastery was built in 1579 and covers an area of 22,000 square meters. It is a city within a city and when it was founded it was not run like your typical monastery. Back in the day it was common for rich Spanish families to send their second daughter to a monastery to live a life in service to the church. The Santa Catalina monastery didn’t accept any odd girl into their walls though. They had to be from upper class families so that their parents could afford the outrageously high dowry equating to roughly $50,000 today. The novice nuns also had to bring some of their luxury possessions with them, including paintings, silk curtains and other expensive items. Each nun was then assigned up to four slaves to do household chores.

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santa catalina monastery alley

Each of these doors leads into a private apartment belonging to the nuns

monastry quer 2The monastery was more like an exclusive social club and it was apparently quite common for the nuns to have lavish parties in their quarters. There is even a rumor that the monastery was connected by underground tunnels to a nearby church that housed monks. The monks could freely visit the nuns and many believe that is was not unheard of for the nuns to fall pregnant. In fact, the skeleton of a baby was supposedly found encased in one of the monastery walls, but the church authorities never talk about that and deny that it happened.

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The stories of outrageous wealth and pregnant nuns made it as far as the Vatican and in 1871, Pope Pius IX sent Sister Josefa Cardena to Arequipa to sort out the mess. Once she took control she sent all of the rich dowries back to Spain and freed all the servants and slaves.

monastry quer 1santa catalina monastery pillarssanta catalina monastery flower potThe Santa Catalina monastery wasn’t opened to the public until 1970, when the mayor forced the convent to comply with local laws and install electricity and running water. The nuns couldn’t afford the modernization requirements so they opened up parts of the monastery to tourists to raise funds.

santa catalina monastery kitchen

The former common kitchen

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The whole complex has since been beautifully restored. I spent about 2 hours inside the grounds totally mesmerized by the brightly painted walls, beautiful flowers, and the secret little doors and alleyways all around. A visit to the monastery is well worth it, and the fact such a holy place was so scandalous makes it all the more interesting in my opinion.

santa catalina monastery steps

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Mysterious stairways and alleyways that lead to a brick wall can be found all over the complex. What lies behind these walls will probably always remain a secret.

santa catalina monastery flowers

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About 20 nuns still live in the monastery today but they live in a part of the convent that is not open to the public. I often wonder what kind of lifestyle they live these days?

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Would you ever visit the monastery of Santa Catalina, and if you’d met one of the naughty nuns of days gone by would you praise their ingenuity or tut at their unholy naughtiness?



  • Opening times are from 8:00 - 17:00
  • Visit the monastery on Tuesdays or Thursdays to see the complex lid-up in candle lights at night
  • You can rent guides who can speak English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish
  • Admission fee is 35 Soles

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

16 Thoughts on “The naughty nuns of the Santa Catalina monastery

  1. These photos are gorgeous. Looks like my kind of place, though I’m definitely not the nun type, I do love great architecture, color and a good story!
    Penny Sadler recently posted…Where Would You Go? Creating A Bucket ListMy Profile

  2. facepalm at the naughty nuns.. but hey, I would love to visit this place out of curiousity ^_^.. do you think it’s possible to live there for a few days too? not that i wanted to be a nun but I do love staying in these kinds of places.
    grasya recently posted…Project Updates and plotting my escape planMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 15, 2022 at 6:06 am said:

      Hmmmm, not sure if it would be possible to stay there, unless you underwent a significant lifestyle change and committed for the long haul! But it might be worth asking to see if they’d let you sneak in overnight for one of their secret parties which I imagine they still have on a regular basis 😉

  3. Lovely story of the naughty nuns and stunning pictures!

    • Tammyonthemove on March 15, 2022 at 6:04 am said:

      Hi Alison! How is life treating you in Asia? We still miss Cambodia hugely :-(. Hope you are having a great time, and a big hug from Ghana!

  4. It’s a gorgeous place. I love all those strong colours in the sunshine. Thanks for posting so many photographs 🙂
    Stephanie Jane recently posted…A short hop and we are in AlcossebreMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 15, 2022 at 6:02 am said:

      Thank you, Stephanie. It really was such an easy place to take great, colourful photos. Some of them almost took themselves it was so photogenic there!

  5. Hilarious! And oh yeah, I would visit! I love it!
    Corinne recently posted…Cherry Blossom Time in JapanMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 15, 2022 at 6:01 am said:

      In which case maybe you should bring a travel bag with you, Corinne, in case you love it so much you want to stay with the naughty nuns 🙂

  6. The monastery looks lovely! I am sad we didn’t hit Arequipa when we were in Peru last year!
    Emily recently posted…Enjoying These DaysMy Profile

  7. Amazing photos! Loved Peru we hope to get back there in 2016 after our time in Southeast Asia is up.
    Hannah @Getting Stamped recently posted…Is Street Food Safe? – A Guide to Survive Street FoodMy Profile

    • Tammyonthemove on March 19, 2022 at 1:47 pm said:

      I’d love to go back one day too. Haven’t been to the Amazon region yet despite having lived in Peru for a year. But I guess that’s a good excuse to go back. 🙂

  8. Carlos Bastian Velasco on November 1, 2021 at 4:51 am said:

    I love to be the gardener of the convent, it is amazing place!!!

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