The Ultimate How to Guide on How to pass Semana Santa in Cusco
The Ultimate How to Guide on How to pass Semana Santa in Cusco
What is Semana Santa?
The Holy Week in Peru lasts from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. During this week, many spiritual festivities take place, celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Travelers in Peru can witness numerous spiritual processions, traditional costumes, and local culinary delicacies all throughout the country of Peru during this religiously significant week.
What is there to see for travelers during Semana Santa?
The Holy Week is a significant religious festivity for the people of Peru. During the holidays of Semana Santa, many locals travel, witness the spiritual processions or spend time with their loved ones.
Likewise, for international travelers in Peru, this special week has a lot to offer!
Especially in Cusco, visitors can observe extraordinary expressions of local culture, in which they mix their ancient Inca origins with the newer influences of Christianity.
Sunday, April 9th, 2017: Palm Sunday
This day marks the beginning of Semana Santa. Palm Sunday is called Domingo de Ramos in Peru. On this day, many Peruvians will attend church and commemorate Jesus’ entrance into Israel. The most impressive festivals in Cusco revolve around the day after Palm Sunday, known as the Lord of the Tremors.
Monday, April 10th 2017: Lord of the Tremors (Señor de Los Temblores)
Also known as the Lord of the Earthquake, the Lord of the Tremors in Cusco is probably one of the most impressive festivities of the year. This tradition traces its origin back to the year1650 when a figure of Christ allegedly stopped a powerful earthquake that shook the city of Cusco, according to the stories. As such, the statue of the Señor de los Temblores is still considered a mystic character in the history of the city. The festivities begin on Lunes Santo, Holy Monday, with the procession of the Black Christ around the Plaza de Armas to the Plaza de San Francisco and back again, stopping at other churches along the way. This is a unique event in South America that you should not miss during Semana Santa in Cusco!
Thursday, April 13th 2017: Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo)
Holy Thursday is an important day for Cusco, as many devout Catholics fast up until this point in order to empathize with the sufferings and humility of Christ. Finally, on Thursday they break the feast in remembrance of the Last Supper of Jesus. Traditionally, 12 dishes are prepared, each one a symbol for the 12 disciples. Don´t miss this unique culinary experience during Semana Santa!
Friday, April 14th 2017: Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
Marking the day of Christ´s crucifixion and burial, Holy Friday is a quiet day, spent mourning the death of Christ. Many people from the countryside come from far away to the center, bringing with them herbs and medicinal plants that are said to receive blessings as they make their journey to remember the Lord.
Sunday, April 16th 2017: Easter Sunday (Pascua)
In comparison with the rest of the Holy Week in Cusco, the day of Easter Sunday is relatively quiet. It is generally celebrated only amongst one´s close circle of friends and family. However, in Ayacucho,, Easter Sunday is a big event of joyous religious rites for Christ’s resurrection. Locals there celebrate with music, prayers and fireworks honoring the end of the Semana Santa.
What should I not miss during a Semana Santa in Cusco?
Semana Santa is a fascinating fusion of Andean and Catholic traditions. For the average traveler, it offers a great way to get in touch with the local Cusquean culture. While all of the various activities are fascinating in their own right, there are a few traditions that should absolutely not be missed!
- View the procession of El Señor de los Temblores
You should not miss out on witnessing this spectacular procession, as it is entirely unique to the Cusco region. This procession also offers a good glimpse into how Incan traditions are still infused with modern-day Catholicism in this region of Peru.
What Should I Know as a Traveler during Semana Santa?
Semana Santa is an amazing cultural experience for a traveler, but it can make getting around a little difficult. For example, you can expect lots of traffic in the city during all of the processions. If you are planning on traveling outside of the city, especially during Easter weekend, make sure you buy your plane or bus tickets in advance, as many people travel to spend time with their family for the holiday. You can also expect many restaurants and shops to be closed outside of the touristic center. However, many of the many attractions, like Machu Picchu will still be open.
The procession will begin as a statute of El Señor is carried out of the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas and makes his way throughout the center of the city. Following the statue are different floats decorated with ornate figurines of important biblical figures like Jesus, Mary, and the disciples. These floats can sometimes weigh up to a few tons, and carried by people dressed in robes. The whole procession is dazzling in its opulence and color. After a while, the procession will finally make its way back to the cathedral where El Señor returns to his resting place.
Make sure you have your camera ready to get some good photos during the procession! Throughout the event, there are plenty of photographable moments to be had. One of the best places to take photos will come from the Plaza de Armas.
This procession usually takes place sometime in the afternoon, between 2-3pm, but be sure to get there early in order to get a good viewing spot.
- Enjoy the 12 Plates of Holy Week Feast
One of the best things about Semana Santa is the delicious food you can eat, particularly during the traditional lunch of the 12 plates. During this feast, there is a wide variety of food served, generally with six salty dishes and 6 sweet dishes. However, you will not find red meat, only fish. This is because red meat is not permitted as people are doing a fast in honor of Christ for Lent.
Perhaps the best part of this feast is the deserts. Peruvians go out all went it comes to the desert portion of the 12 dishes or plates in the holy week in Cusco. They typically serve different puddings, stewed peaches and pears, and sweet empanadas to name a few.
Most restaurants in the center of Cusco will be open and offer this feast as a lunch special.
- Visit the Local Markets on Viernes Santo
On the Friday before Easter, you´ll definitely want to check out some of the local markets. This is the day that many indigenous people will travel to the city to sell their medicinal plants. These plants have a lot of meaning for the local people because they have been blessed especially for Semana Santa. For example, some of the vendors will sell thorns that represent the crown of thorns that Christ wore on the cross. People buy these thorns and hang them in their doorways to ward off bad spirits.
Not only is this another interesting marriage of ingenious and Catholic traditions, it is great opportunity to buy some herbs and ingredients that aren´t otherwise available in the city!