Experiencing Native Indian Celebration in Peru: Qoyllur Rit´i
Visiting Peru is an everyday adventure, especially if you are in Cusco in the month of June when festivities are at their peak. Along with Qoyllur Rit´i, there are the celebrations of the Q´eswachaka Bridge, Corpus Christi, and the most Important, Inti Raymi, each year on June 24th.
Qoyllur Rit´i – the Snow Star Festival – is unique in many ways and offers an experience that travelers in Peru will never forget. Beginning to celebrate on Saturday, people hike in the dark and extreme cold in order to get to the Sinakara Valley, near the town of Mahuayani and Ausangate peak (6,372 meters) where the celebration of the Qoylllur Rit’i Festival will take place. The area is filled with more than 10,000 participants attending the festival: the mayority of them are local people, but there are also some national tourists, and a few foreigners who have all come to participate in this grand event. Many come with a special request, hoping the Señor de Qoyllur Rit´I will answer, and others simply come asking for grace.
Qoyllur Rit´i – the Festival of the Snow Star – is an annual festival that comes from a mix of the indigenous Andean people and the Catholic religion that was integrated later around 1780 when an image of Jesus Christ appeared on the sacred boulder. Before Catholicism, the native Indians always considered this mountain to be sacred and worthy of praise. They worshipped it, believing that the gods (apus) of the Andes had the power to change the weather and thus controlled the prosperity of their crops.
The hike up the mountain is five miles and begins from the town, Mahuayani, east of Cusco. Many devout believers carry images of Jesus with them or stop to kneel at crosses during the journey to pray. Along the way there are places to buy supplies and food. Once at the top of the mountain at 4,600 meters above sea level, the grassy area is covered with tents and shelters for the people who made the long voyage up. There is a main church at the peak and believers sometimes wait several hours to enter in, lighting candles and leaving offerings.
The main event will be carried out by the “Ukukus”, who play an important role at the Qoyllur Rit’I Festival. “Ukukus” are men dressed in furry cloaks and woolen masks, named after the word for bear in the local Quechua. It’s their role to climb glaciers over Qullqipunku to bring back crosses and big blocks of ice which are said to be medicinal. Another important moment for many devote people is the sunrise on Monday morning where tens of thousands indigenous Peruvians kneel down to the first rays of light as the sun rises above the horizon.
This religious and spiritual festival is an experience unlike many others, and is not for those who want an easy adventure. The climb up is difficult, cold and far from any roads, vehicles, or modern luxuries. However, the hard trip is worth it. Beyond the gorgeous sites from the mountaintop, beautiful and elaborate costumes adorn the people, and incredible dances and parades accompany the unique festivity. Qoyllur Rit´i is an amazing cultural learning experience and an expedition of which you will want to be a part!
For more information about the details of our 2014 Qoyllur Rit’I trip, please contact Dos Manos Peru.