TRADITIONAL FIESTAS IN PERU
Peru celebrates about 3000 typical fiestas every year. The majority of these are organized to honor the day of a santo patron, a patron saint. These saints originally formed part of the Christian calender but were integrated into local traditions and the Incan belief system during Colonial times. In their attempts to subdue the local population, the Spanish imposed their own traditions and Christian religion on indigenous peoples and their festivals. Consequentially there are hundreds of festivals and celebrations that range all over the calender and all over the country, varying slightly from region to region and in Andean or Catholic sentiments. A good example of this “cultural syncretism” is the Festivity of Corpus Christi in Cusco. This religious day, introduced by the Spaniards, was easily integrated into Andean practices as it coincided with a major Incan pilgrimage to Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i. As almost every town and community has its own patron saint, it is nearly impossible to take into account all of the festivities celebrated in Peru. We've compiled here a list of the most important traditional festivals and some modern day additions that are also sure to please.
Jan 1st – Feb 1st: Marinera Festival
Where: Trujillo, La Libertad
About: Trujillo, located about 450 km north of Lima, is also known as the City of Eternal Spring and is the largest city on the north coast of Peru. Known best for their colonial center and the pre-Incan ruins at Chan-Chan, Trujillo also boasts a month long festival that celebrates Marinera dance. With its origins in Hispanic and African styles, Marinera dance is now a uniquely Peruvian tradition that celebrates Peru's multicultural background. Marinera dance is a game of seduction. The man imitates movements of the Peruvian Paso horse as he flirts with a women who is characterized as coquettish but also arrogant. The man dresses in a straw hat and poncho while the woman wears a silk blouse and long, full skirt that she uses to great effect. They both flutter white handkerchiefs as they move to the music of guitars and a local percussion instrument called the Peruvian Cajón. During the month of January there are several exhibitions, shows and contests that culminate in the last week with a large parade and the final Marinera dance contest.
Jan 6th: Reyes Magos
Where: Ollantaytambo, Cusco
About: Reyes Magos, or the Wise Kings as they are called in English, is a festival celebrated in the small, picturesque town of Ollantaytambo each each. Ollantaytambo is located in the Sacred Valley and is where you catch the train to Macu Picchu. It is best known for the still-function irrigation system that brings water throughout town, earning Ollantaytambo the nickname of Living City of the Inca for the beautiful sight and sound of water running along town streets. In this festival, Ollantaytambo celebrates the arrival of the three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Bathasar, bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
Where: Puno, Lake Titicaca
About: Virgen de la Candelaria, also known as Candlemas, is one of the liveliest festivals out of all the religious holidays in South America. An explosion of music, dance, and alluring costumes descends upon Puno for the span of two weeks, turning the small city into one huge party. If you attend the Virgen de la Candelaria festivities, expect to see many parades, processions, folkloric shows, and a mix of Quechua, Aymara and Creole communities showing off their best and brightest.
7 weeks before Easter: Carnival
Where: Cusco, most places in Peru
About: Carnival is celebrated in most Latin American countries to usher in the beginning of Lent, the month before Easter when according to the Catholic tradition followers are supposed to give up meat as a form of penitence. In most countries, Carnival is a crazy party meant to release excess energies before the subdued time of Lent and to indulge in the delicacies that Lent prohibits. In Cusco and the Sacred Valley, as well as in other places, Carnival is one of the favorite holidays of children because the local tradition essentially turns the city into a giant water fight. On this day everyone is given free license to drench anyone else by almost any means. Today this means water-guns, water balloons, buckets of water, and more recently a sprayable foam (like styling hair gel) that comes in tin bottles. Children take to the streets, raging war on anyone who comes into their range. Adults drop their formalities and run like their children through the streets in revenge for a snipe water shooting. Carnival is also celebrated with many parades and dance groups that take to the street under a shower of foam sprayed from the audience and even, sometimes, fellow dancers!
February 24th - 25th International Adventure Sports Festival
About: Peru is well known for what it offers in adventure tourism. From white water rafting to over-night treks through the Cordillera Blanca, Peru has it all. The Latin American Association of Adventure Sports (ALDEA Asociación Latinoamericana de Deportes de Aventura) promotes all things adventure tourism, adventure sport, and ecotourism in Peru. For more than 15 years they have organized in the Lunahuan Valley in Canhete, Lima a huge event that gathers together in one place the best sportsmen of the region. In the International Adventure Sports Festival sportswomen and men have the opportunity to compete in rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, and mountain biking competitions.
First week of March: Fiesta de la Vendimia/International Harvest Festival
Where: Ica, about 300 km south of Lima
The southern Peruvian coastline has the perfect climate for grape growing and wineries abound. Ica is the heartland of wine and Pisco production in all of the southern coast. Peruvians like their wine sweet, and many visitors find it too cloying for their taste. The Pisco produced in this region, however, is some of the best in the world and locals take great pride in it. (Pisco is a type of alcohol produced from grapes as well). The ubiquitous cocktail made of Pisco is the Pisco sour which mixes Pisco with raw egg, lemon and ice among other spices. Wine and Pisco flow in the famous Fiesta de la Vendimia, or Harvest Festival, which celebrates the grape harvest and is one of the largest and most important in South America. Hundreds of booths sell Pisco and wine from producers around the region and daily performances of music and dance provide ample merriment for all. A Miss Harvest competition, cock fighting, and Peruvian horse riding add to the fun.
Where: Ayacucho, Cusco and most other places in Peru
About: Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week before Easter. In Peru, it is one of the busiest and most anticipated of all festival weeks. Every day of the week leading up to Easter, there are parades of saints through the streets, accompanied by music and dancing. On Friday, families gather for a special meal that includes 12 typical dishes, each representing an element of the Easter celebration.
About: Señor de los Temblores, Lord of Earthquakes, is the celebration of the patron saint of Cusco. In 1650, it was claimed that a statue of Christ on the Cross restrained a devastating earthquake that was rattling the city of Cusco. Ever since then, the locals have been paying homage to the image of Taitacha Temblores, the Lord of the Earthquakes. The celebration is held on the Monday before Easter and kicks off Easter Week in the city of Cusco. This holiday is of particular interest because it provides a glimpse of the fusion of Andean religions and Christianity.
Sunday before Qoyullur Rit'i, or 50 days after Easter Sunday: Santisima Cruz del Señor de Choquekillca
Where: Ollantaytambo, Cusco
About: The celebration of the patron saint of Ollantaytambo, Señor de Choquekillca, is spread over four days and includes dancing, music, parades, masses at the local church, fireworks, a bullfight and cockfighting. (There is a segment of the Peruvian population fighting against the continuation of bullfighting and cockfighting in festivals as it is a terrible form of animal abuse). Ollantaytambo is also known as the Living City of the Inca for the ruins that loom directly over the small town to both sides and for the Incan irrigation system that still brings water running throughout the streets. The bus station for Machu Picchu is located in Ollantaytambo.
Late May or early June, it coincides with the full moon: Qoyllur Rit'i
About: Qoyllur Rit'i means 'snow star' in Quechua. Many people call this festival Señor de Qoyllur Rit'i, referring to the mountain god Apu, who is the central figure of this celebration and pilgrimage. It is believed that Qoyllur Rit'i is rooted in a pre-Incan fertility rite related to the Pleiades star constellation. The appearance of the Pleiades constellation in the sky was the herald of harvest time in the Andes. Thousands of pilgrims from all over Peru come to the base of the mountain of Ausangate to make their way to the foot of a massive glacier where they set up camp for three days.
60 days after Easter Sunday: Corpus Christi
Where: Cusco and most of Peru
About: Corpus Christi, body of Christ in Latin, is a festival that honors the Holy Eucharist but that became wrapped up with the festivities for Qoyllur Rit'i. The Holy Eucharist is the reenactment of the Last Supper when Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine in representation of his body and blood.
May 3rd: Fiesta de la Cruz
Where: Cusco, Lima, Ica, the rest of Peru
About: Fiesta de la Cruz, or Festival of the Cross, is another example of Catholic and Andean traditions mixing together. While the main reason of the festival is the procession of crosses throughout the city, these crosses are decorated in vibrant, singularly local ways. Folk dance and music abound, the most unique being the famed 'scissors dance' which traditionally was performed on the tops of churches.
October 18th- 28th: El Señor de los Milagros
About: El Señor de los Milagros, Lord of Miracles, is a massive procession, the largest in South America, that lasts a full 24 hours and honors a painting of Jesus Christ. An Angolan slave created this masterpieces which gained its fame after a 1746 earthquake that destroyed almost everything around the painting. The painting itself miraculously survived and this gave name to the painting and origins to the festival. Devotees of Señor de los Milagros wear purple and the streets fill with wave upon wave of purple-clad followers.
May 4th and 5th: Nazca Tourist Week
Where: Nazca, Ica
About: This festival presents multiple traditions including farming, handcraft, and commercial activities. Cockfighting is popular and visitors can sample the Peruvian snacks picarones and anticuchos. Creole music and fireworks take over the main square and trips to near-by archeological sights like the Nazca Lines round out the series of events for many.
June 23rd - 25th: Saint John
Where: Peruvian Amazon
About: Celebrations of John the Baptist in the Amazon are another excellent example of how indigenous people pulled from Christianity what they were most familiar with and what rang true with their own culture. John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan river, preaching his gospel. In the Amazon, water has long held the power of life and death in both a religious manner and in a very real way for people who depend on the rivers for food, transportation, and their livelihood. In cities such as Iquitos and Pucallpa, citizens go to the water to purify themselves. In celebrations of John the Baptist and the power of water you can find dance and music festivals as well as agro-industrial and handcraft expositions. Juanes, rice tamales, are a popular item and come in the shape of the saint's head.
About: Inti Raymi, the Sun God Festival, is a massive celebration that begins in the Santo Domingo Church, built on the ruins of the central Incan temple Qoricancha. It parades around the main square (Plaza de Armas), and eventually moves to the ruins of Saqsaywaman above the city. Inti Raymi celebrates the winter solstice and is a complete re-enactment of a true Incan ceremony, or at least as close to it as possible following the few descriptions Spanish chroniclers left behind. Hundreds of people dressed as priests, nobles, virgins of the sun, and soldiers stage an elaborate procession and ritual across the city. The role of the Inca ruler Pachacuti is elected only after extensive auditions.
Where: in most places in Peru, especially in Paucartambo
About: Paucartambo is a small and remote village located in the eastern Amazonian jungle about four hours from the city of Cusco. While the town may be tiny, the festival is not! Three days of dance, music and incredible costumes takes the whole town by storm as visitors literally camp all over the village. Finding a place to stay can be quite a challenge. Like many other festivals in Peru, Virgen del Carmen revolves around the fusion of the Andean image of Mother Earth (Pachamama) and the influence of the Virgen Mary of Christianity.
July 28th: Independence Day
Where: All of Peru
About: On July 28th Peru celebrates their Independence day, Día de la Independencia. July 28th is the official celebration, which continues over into the 29th with many concerts and festivities organized by local governments. While independence from Spain was secured in the Battle of Ayacucho on Dec. 9th, 1824 in a massive routing of the Spanish army by the Peruvian army, official independence didn't arrive until 1826.
August 1st - 7th: Cruz de Chalpon
Where: Motupe, Lambayeque
About: Motupe is located about 90 kilometers north of the better-known city of Chiclayo on Peru's northern coast. The history of the Cross of Chalpon centers around a hard to access mountain located about 10 kilometers from Motupe called Chalpon mountain. Sometime during the 1600s a hermit placed a wooden cross on the mountain, saving the town below from a great flood. Since then thousands of pilgrims travel to this part of the mountain in devotion. At night in the city of Motupe are more boisterous festivities with fireworks, music, typical northern food, and Peruvian Paso horse exhibitions.
August 15th: Virgen Asunta
Where: Qoya and Calca
About: In Calca a large town in the Sacred Valley, and Qoya, a small town in the Sacred Valley located between Pisac and Calca, locals celebrate the Virgen Asunta. Since colonial times the holy image of the Virgin Asunta is located in Calca ever when it was brought to the small village by an archbishop from Spain in 1753.
Sept. 1st - 30th: Spring International Festival
Where: Trujillo, La Libertad
About: Trujillo, located about 450 km north of Lima, is also known as the City of Eternal Spring and is the largest city on the north coast of Peru. Known best for their colonial center and the pre-Incan ruins at Chan-Chan, the Spring International Festival of Trujillo is a hodge-podge of different cultural events including traditional music, classical and popular music, ballet shows, bull fights, Peruvian Paso horse presentations, fashion shows, a Spring beauty queen contest, and expositions of handcrafts, paintings, engravings and even farming products. The highlight is the parade of cars decked out in allegoric representations that bear the beauty queens past an enthusiastic audience.
First two weeks of September : Mistura Culinary Festival
About: When Lima was proclaimed the culinary capital of South America in 2006 it was clear why. Few other cities in Latin America boast such an extensive culinary culture as does the capital of Peru. Besides the restaurants offering unique plates and savors year-round, Lima also offers the Mistura Culinary Festival which packs into one month more flavors than many other places proffer yearly. It is the biggest culinary festival in South America with participants coming from around the country to show off their new plates, new restaurants, or to continue the tradition of classic oldies. From low end street vendors to high end cream of the crop chefs, this ten day festival has it all.
Semptember 8th: Virgen de Navidad
Where: Chinchero, other small villages in Cusco
About: Virgen de la Navidad is celebrated in many small villages throughout the Cusco region. The largest celebration is in Chinchero where traditional dancing and music transform the streets of the town for this day.
Where: Most of Peru
About: Día de los Santos y de los Difuntos, Day of the Saints and Day of the Departed, is celebrated throughout most of Peru. It is similar to the Day of the Dead and people believe that on this day the souls of the dead can walk the earth. Parents buy sweet bread in the shape of wawas, babies, for their daughters and sweet bread in the shape of horses for their sons. At the traditional dinner laid out for the family, mothers will set aside a table and place for deceased members of the family. Their food is left there until the next day and only cleared once the spirits of the departed family members have partaken of their meal.
First week of November: Puno Week
Where: Puno, Lake Titicaca
About: This festival in celebration of the Día de los Santos y de los Difuntos is a mix of Catholic and Andean roots in Puno on Lake Titicaca. A massive procession into town from Lake Titicaca pays tribute to the legendary founders of the Incan empire who according to legend arose out of the lake to march north to Cusco where they founded the capital of their empire. The week of dance and music begin with the Day of the Deceased when families make trips to cemeteries to eat and celebrate with departed family members.
December 7th - 10th: Immaculate Conception
Where: Arequipa and the Colca Valley
About: The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on December 8th with dances and music in many places in Peru, but it is taken to the extreme in the Colca Valley located four hours from the city of Arequipa. A highlight of the festivities in Colca are men who dress as women in order to get closer to women and steal them away. Colca Valley boasts 16 baroque churches as well as thermal waters and glimpses of the elusive condor.
December 24th and 25th: Christmas
Where: Most of Peru
About: Christmas in Peru is a special event where families come together to recreate the so called “nacimientos”, or nativity scenes. Just like the tradition of putting up Christmas trees in other countries, nacimientos in Peru is the main decorating event of the season, bringing together the whole family, the warmth of the holidays and numerous shopping opportunities. In the week leading up to Christmas, the plazas are filled with stalls selling figurines of Maria and Joseph, the baby Jesus and the saints at the manger decorated with brush from the countryside.
December 31st, January 1st: Año Nuevo
Where: Most of Peru
About: Año Nuevo, New Years, is a huge festivity in most places in Peru. January 1st is a national holiday, and most people get off of work at noon on December 31st. The night is filled with fireworks and much drunken revelry. Many local governments organize concerts and other free public events in plazas.