A visit to see the Juanita mummy Arequipa, at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum, is a must while exploring Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city. At this small museum, you get to see Incan history eerily up-close as you meet face-to-face with the macabre Ice Maiden Juanita. This offers an unforgettable, vivid understanding of Incan human sacrifice. Aracari arranges private, guided tours of Arequipa, including the Andean Sanctuaries Museum, as part of any tailormade trip to Peru.
Meeting the Juanita Mummy Arequipa
Juanita, the 500-year old Ica Maiden
Located only about a block from the Plaza de Armas is the Andean Sanctuary Museum, home to the ‘mummy’ Juanita. Discovered atop Ampato Mountain in 1995, in the Andes of Southern Peru, Juanita is in fact not a mummy but a frozen 12 year old Inca girl who was sacrificed to the gods in the 1450s.
The Incan Honor of Sacrifice
Considered the best-preserved of all the Inca ‘mummies’ in the Andes, Juanita is an incredible representation of what it meant to be an Incan sacrifice. It would have been a true privilege of the parents for their child to be selected as a sacrifice. Juanita – like other human sacrifices – would have been led up the cold mountain with priests before being sacrificed, carrying with them the likes of coca leaves, food and offerings that formed part of this ritual. Juanita herself would have been dressed in her finest, for what was a highly symbolic ritual for the Gods. When she was discovered, she was bundled with burial items that would have accompanied her, including miniature llamas.
The child was wrapped up before the sacrifice, and due to the altitude likely very cold. Ultimately it was a blow to her head that was the cause of death. While this sacrificial ritual may have represented honor, natural human instinct likely kicked in at the last moment and you can see her hand grasping her own arm!
The discovery of Juanita
Juanita had been buried on the mountain top, and were it not for a volcanic eruption, she would likely have not been found. The result of the volanic activity caused the snowcap to melt, revealing her burial site and causing Juanita to fall out and effectively roll down the hill in her frozen state. This is the reason why one side of Juanita is better preserved than the other, as she would have tumbled down ending up on one side. Furthermore, when her burial site was disturbed, she was still frozen. The fact she was discovered relatively quickly (by an anthropologist, who she is named after) after being exposed to the elements meant she hadn’t defrosted – and thus today at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum in Arequipa visitors have a chance to see such a well-preserved Incan sacrifice.
Juanita is not the only Andean child sacrifice to have been discovered – in fact she is one of a handful. Her fame is in part due to her state of preservation. Juanita is kept at the museum in a temperature-controlled facility. From January to April, Juanita is then switched for a different ‘mummy’, Sarita, so she can be properly preserved and maintained. Both are equally historically significant, but Juanita is slightly better preserved based on the way she fell from the mountain. Regardless of which you see, a visit to the Andean Sanctuaries Museum is worthwhile year round.
Check out our Highlights of Southern Peru itinerary that includes visits to the highlights of Arequipa
The Andean Sanctuaries Museum
This is a fixed one-hour visit, starting with a video (in English or Spanish) explaining the discovery of Juanita. This is followed by a brief guided tour of the museum, which displays artifacts from the burial site and would have accompanied Juanita as offerings to the Gods.
Visit Arequipa with Aracari
As specialists in tailormade travel to Peru, Aracari can arrange a bespoke, private trip exploring the highlights of Arequipa and its surrounds including a trip to visit the Juanita mummy. Check out our round up of the best luxury hotels Arequipa or best restaurants Arequipa to inspire your travel!
Museum Opening Hours (as of 2017)
- Monday to Saturday: 09:00 – 18:00 hrs
- Sunday: 09:00 – 15:00 hrs
- Closed: December 25th and January 1st
Contact us to get in touch with an expert travel planner to start planning a cultural adventure in Peru.