Jan 20th – Fiesta de San Sebastián
This is a feast to honor San Sebastian, the patron saint of Cusco. There are great festivities such as folkloric dances and feasts of local food and fruit.
February/March – Carnaval
Carnaval is celebrated in Cusco in fine style with a big street party to mark the occasion. This is done in typical Andean fashion with solemn traditions and processions taking center stage, lit up with the expected dash of color, music and dancing. One tradition that travelers would be advised to look out for is the people of Cusco throwing buckets of water over each other!
March/April – Easter Monday - El Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes)
This celebration began in 1650 after a painting of Jesus entitled Cristo de la Buena Suerte purportedly stopped an earthquake that was rocking Cusco to its foundations. The image of the Señor de los Temblores on the crucifix, a somber painting of Christ with brown skin, is paraded around the streets before returning to the Plaza de Armas to bless the thousands of people who have gathered there. This is the key celebration of Semana Santa (Holy week) in Cusco, and is a particularly interesting insight into the fusion of Old World and New World religions that has taken place in Cusco. The image of Christ is processed in much the same fashion as the Inca’s used to process their mummified ancestors – a key aspect of their religious beliefs. The pinnacle of the celebration also focuses on the ñucchu flower that used to be used to worship Andean deities, but that now, with its deep crimson petals, signifies the blood of Christ.
May 2nd-3rd – The vigil of the cross
This celebration takes place atop every mountain with a crucifix on it. It has been native tradition to decorate the crosses brightly as a figure and bless them. The crosses are first taken down and dressed in fineries amidst a celebration of food, drink and dancing. The following day they are then taken to a special mass before returning to the house that it was decorated, again amidst jovial scenes of music and dancing that last into the night. The crosses are then returned to their resting places in the mountains.
June – Corpus Christi
During this Catholic festival Cusco comes alive with colorful parades through the city streets. Corpus Christi has been celebrated since just years after the arrival of the Spaniards and their religion and it has grown into a significant cultural event. The main parade begins at 11am with the procession of statues of the five virgins dressed in elaborately decorated clothing on the Plaza de Armas. Each Cusco church also displays a statue of its own saint on the procession; these are accompanied by dancers and music and are carried to the cathedral before returning to their church where they remain throughout the year. There is also a feast of cuy, chiriuchu (a dish of grilled cuy and chicken), bread and beer.
May/June - Cusco beer festival
Organized by the local beer company, this is one of the largest music festivals in Latin America: several important national and international artists from across the continent travel to Cusco to perform. And what better way to enjoy live music in Cusco than with a cold glass of the local beer Cusqueña? The beer is in plentiful supply from the Cusco garden of beer which fuels this joyous party. The festival lasts for three days and kicks off a month of celebration in the city.
June – Qoyllur Rit’I (Snow Star Festival)
This festival is held annually in honor of Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i, a mythical tradition based around a white image of Christ that was painted on a boulder in honor of an indigenous peasant who had died in 1783 to whom Jesus had appeared. The festival is associated with fertility and worship of the land; as many as 10,000 agricultural workers of indigenous origin attend the festival as an annual pilgrimage. Various religious processions and rituals are performed throughout the event. This is a hugely important event for indigenous people in the region, but it should be noted that conditions are often harsh and cold and sanitary facilities are virtually nonexistent.
24th June - Inti Raymi
The Inti Raymi festival is held every year to celebrate the most important god in the Inca World: “Inti” (the sun). Occurring on the Winter Solstice of the Southern Hemisphere, the celebration brings together thousands of worshipers from Peru who join those travelers fortunate enough to time their Peru vacations with this ancient Inca ceremony with roots dating as far back as the 13th century. Considered the most important ceremony of the Inca Empire, the rituals that take place during the event are re-created thanks to the oral histories and memories of local people which have kept the traditions alive for centuries. Read our Inti Raymi blog post to find out more about the festival.
Last Sunday of August – Huarachicoy Festival
Also held at Sacsayhuaman, this is an authentic reenactment of the Inca manhood rite entitled "party in order to arm gentlemen" by the Spaniards. This practice was common during Inca times to mark men coming of age. In order to prove their worth, boys of around 12 years old had to pass athletic tests and perform in mock battles. Their success was marked by giving them their first Wara (breechcloth) and they were then deemed suitable for marriage and war. To celebrate the event today, several boys from the local school perform in stunning Inca costumes to mark their transition to adulthood.
September 8th – Corpus of Almudena
Also known as “Day of the Virgin”, this is a colorful and vibrant procession from the church of Almudena on the southwest of Cusco to the Plaza San Francisco. As a part of the procession, masked dancers perform typical dances from Cusco and the highlands. There is also a large fair at the church itself which features the chiriuchu dish of grilled chicken and cuy (guinea pig). There is also a bull fight held the following day.
December 24th – Santuranticuy
Held on Christmas Eve, this “sale of saints” is one big celebration of Christmas shopping on Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. Many artisans descend on the square form the surrounding countryside to sell their Christmas gifts, predominantly to celebrate figures from nacimiento (the nativity). These are crafted in many different forms: pottery, embroidery and wood carving for example. Artists also come from San Blas to sell their paintings and there are a range of other gifts on sale. This brings the magic of Christmas to Cusco in fine style, a celebration that lasts to the early hours.
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