Festivals in Peru are a riot of colour and noise, sometimes with a sombre element, and always a great excuse for family and friends of all generations to get together. Exquisite costumes unique to each region or dance school, pounding music and special food combine to create a heady mix. If you can coincide you trip with one of the festivals in Peru you’ll experience a true slice of living culture. For me, what’s most fascinating is the way these events combine pre Colombian, Spanish and modern traditions in one big melting pot. Indigenous beliefs rooted in nature collide with Catholic symbolism and traditions.
Here are my favourite Top 5 festivals in Peru;
The mighty mountain of Ausangate between Puno and Cusco rears up from the Altiplano to 6,384m above sea level. Every year thousands gather to celebrate the Qoyllur Rit’I festival, meaning “Snow star”. The 3 day event celebrates the stars, marking the reappearance of Pleadies and the start of the harvest season. Up until recently men dressed ‘Ukukus’, half man half bear mythical creatures used to cut ice from the glaciers and bring it back to their communities. This one takes some effort to participate in, with an initial hike of 6 miles from 4200m to 4600m then again through the night for another 14Km.
For something far more accessible, Cusco’s Inti Raymi festival is celebrated at the winter solstice each year, (24 June). Inti Raymi comes from the times of the Inca and celebrates ‘Inti’ the Sun God. These days a re-enactment of the festival takes place in the main plaza, then it moves to Sacsayuaman in the hills above Cusco. A huge crowd of locals and tourists get to see the ceremony, which includes a fake llama sacrifice, but in old times only the very Inca, nobility and army would have been allowed to be present. Yellow features heavily in the traditional costumes, representing the sun, and there are some impressive feather headdresses.
This 2 week epic festival requires some stamina if you were to see the whole thing through. Comparable in size and importance to the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, this event is held in honour of the Virgin of Candelaria, the patron of the city of Puno. Each local community creates their own dance and costumes and in total around 40,000 dancers take part. The dance of the devil is the central event, and on February 2nd the statue of the virgin is taken from the church and taken on a procession. The festival is also huge in Bolivia especially Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
This small Andean town comes to life every year on 15th July when the town celebrates its patron saint Virgin del Carmen. Originally it was a celebration of Pachamama (‘Mother earth”) but during Spanish rule the name was changed to appease the Catholic clergy. Of course the Andean traditions and symbolism are as strong as ever, my favourite are the Maqtas which are men dressed in knitted masks who run around being mischievous, making sure everyone takes their hat off in the presence of the Virgin during the procession. Around 20 dance groups take part, they’ll spend weeks rehearsing and making their costumes and their hard work really pays off. Paucartambo is a few hours drive from Cusco, note that accommodation can be hard to find so you may have to stay up partying with the locals all night. Or, try your luck with a visit to Tres Cruces while you’re there, it’s famous for its amazing sun rise when, given the right conditions it appears as though there are 3 suns.
This procession takes place on the Monday of holy week (Semana Santa), displaying a true mix of catholic and pre-hispanic beliefs. During an earthquake in 1650 people prayed to the shrine of Jesus in the Cathedral and it stopped. Since then el Señor de los Temblores became the city’s patron. During Inca times mummies were taken out of their shrines and paraded around the city during special celebrations. The King of Spain put a stop to this saying they had to be replaced by Saints and Virgins which is what still happens today as part of this celebration. It takes several men to carry the statue of Christ, slowly around the plaza. It is bedecked in crimson flowers to represent the blood of Christ, making a dramatic image as dancers follow. The streets are packed with onlookers, grab a place early in one of the cafes with a balcony for an amazing view if you can.
Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about Festivals in Peru and how we can incorporate one into your Peru holiday.