Arriving in Arequipa felt like we’d left Peru completely. Its baroque style white buildings, satisfying symmetry and long cobbled streets harked back to a colonial Spain, not what I was expecting of a historical Peruvian city.
The now centuries old combination of Spanish and Peruvian culture has evolved the city into a cultural hub of food, art and history.
However its wealth of cuisine doesn’t come cheap – Arequipa remains one of the most expensive and chique places to live in Peru. Unlike most other cities we visited in the continent, the cars were modern (and intact) and business people swarmed the streets over lunch time, often indulging in Arequipas finest trout or steak at the well known picanterias.
For me, Arequipa’s charm didn’t come from its white stoned buildings or Spanish temperament, but because of an ancient Incan story that took place long before the city was established.
Juanita: a story worth repeating for thousands of years
Although sacrifice was customary for the Incas, I dread to imagine how it would feel to be the chosen child.
Juanita was just 12 years old when she was chosen by the Incan shaman to be given as a sacrifice to the Gods. Although terrifying, this would have been considered a great honour – the opportunity to be reborn into the kingdom of the Gods.
In the year 1440 Juanita walked from Cusco to the Mount Ampato volcano in Arequipa.
Weeks later, upon reaching the mountain, the brave girl would be adorned in the finest clothes, jewels and treasures; the shaman would then carry out the ceremony where Juanita would be drugged and sacrificed.
Over 500 years later her body was discovered almost fully preserved in the ice from the volcano, revealing a legendary story and more information about the Incas than ever known before.
We’ll never know whether Juanita got to live her second spiritual life, but I think by repeating her story for hundreds more years to come she will continue to live forever.
*If you’re in Arequipa I would highly recommend going to see Juanita in the Museo Santuarios Andinos – it was like nothing I’d seen before!