Happy Holidays: Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Cusco

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The plaza of Cusco becomes a holiday wonderland draped in twinkling lights and full of cheer.  Street vendors appear selling steaming cups of rich and creamy spiced hot chocolate and ponche, a hot rum punch. It seems as if every store is selling the traditional panetón, a special Christmas fruit cake topped with dried fruit candies. 

Cusco | Late December & Early January

Christmas

On the day before Christmas, artisans flock to the historic Plaza de Armas in Cusco to participate in a street fair called Santuranticuy, or the selling of saints.

These artists set up stalls or spread out colorful blankets on the ground and artfully arrange their Christmas creations to tempt passersby. For months beforehand, the artisans make little figurines for the nativity scenes that most Peruvians faithfully display in their living rooms.

Christmas day can be quiet in Cusco, when most Peruvians spend the day at the homes of their oldest family members, eating chicharron (slow-cooked pork) or turkey. However, far from being a disadvantage to the traveler, this affords wonderful opportunities rare for visitors to Cusco.

Visit the incense-filled cathedral and the numerous churches displaying intricate and somewhat fantastic nativity scenes to hear choir groups sing traditional holiday and Andean songs. This is also a perfect time to wander the streets of this picturesque city and appreciate the exquisite architecture incorporating Inca stones into colonial construction.  Afterward, step into one of the English pubs serving special Christmas menus to a fairly rambunctious international crowd.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is basically the opposite of the calm and family-oriented Christmas.

On the evenings leading up to New Year’s Eve, Cusco’s most distinguished theater group, Kusikay, does free performances with firework displays in Plaza de Armas to help people get ready for the main event. This is a good transition time because, as you are about to learn, New Year’s Eve in Cusco can get a little crazy.

New Years Eve in Peru from ItsLiLi on Vimeo.

Plaza de Armas becomes packed with thousands of people who gather hours before the main event. There is hardly room to walk and the only open spaces are full of people setting off fireworks. For a prime viewing spot, we suggest you secure a table at one of the restaurants with a balcony overlooking the square.

There is a countdown to midnight and as soon as the New Year rings in everybody sets off fireworks.  Kids run around setting off bottle rockets, and everyone is drinking, singing, cheering, and having fun.

Cusco New Year’s Eve Traditions

Peruvians also are, in general, pretty superstitious and have quite a few traditions that you may or may not want to participate in.

Holiday Travel Advice

  • In late December & early January, both Peruvians and foreigners take advantage of the holidays to travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu in high numbers. Book early to avoid disappointment. Tickets to Machu Picchu and availability in our preferred hotels are limited.
  • Machu Picchu is open on Christmas Day and there are few things more fabulous than watching the sun rise over these ancient ruins on a holy holiday.
  • If you bring the New Year in Cusco, reserve a table in advance on a balcony overlooking the plaza for a prime spot to experience one of Peru’s liveliest parties!

You deserve the gift of Peru this holiday season. Click “Go Discover” now.

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