• Traditional Celebrations

Eight of the best festivals and celebrations in Peru

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo

Posted: February 18, 2022

Peru festivals are colourful displays of the country’s history, culture, and traditions. If you’re travelling to Peru, attending one of these celebrations might be the highlight of your trip.

From festivities with origins stretching back thousands of years, to Catholic celebrations introduced by Spanish colonists, Peru’s festivals have many diverse influences. But they all have one thing in common – each one brims with exultant dancing, singing, and people coming together to celebrate Peruvian culture. 

If you’re volunteering in Latin America, seeing one of these events is an essential experience. After experiencing the festivities, you’ll be glad you selected Peru as your travel destination. Here are eight festivals and holidays in Peru to add to your Peru bucket list.

1) Semana Santa

Semana Santa, which translates as “Holy Week”, is Peru’s Easter extravaganza. Jubilant celebrations are held in the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The fiesta takes place all over the country, but Cusco and Ayacucho are famed for their particularly elaborate events.

The festival combines elements of Catholic religious rites with customs unique to the Andes. Colourful processions, folk dancing displays, traditional feasts, local music concerts, and near-constant street events will keep you busy all week.

 

 

2) Carnaval

Carnaval (or Carnival) is the week of celebrations leading up to Lent, which is usually held in February. This festival is rooted in Catholic traditions brought to Peru by the Spanish.

Celebrated widely in Latin America, Peru is no exception. The party is countrywide, but Cusco is central to the action. Carnaval festivities see Andean and Catholic traditions being tied together.

Highlights of the parades that swirl through the town are the dances and distinct outfits on display.

People often spray water and foam on each other in the crowds, a tradition that dates back to the seventeenth century. If you go to Carnaval in Cusco in the post-COVID era, take your water balloons along and get ready to be immersed in a riot of colour and water fights.

3) Inti Raymi

Inti Raymi is the most important date in Cusco’s events calendar. For more than 500 years, the festival has marked the celebration of Inti Raymi (the Sun King) and Pachamama (the Earth Mother).

Taking place on June 24, it also celebrates the winter solstice – the shortest day of the year. When the Incas ruled, nobles and priests of the empire would gather in Cusco, along with thousands of people from the wider Inca empire. Celebrations started at dawn and carried on into the night, with much singing and dancing. 

Today’s celebrations still carry elements of the historic festival, with the Sapa Inca (emperor) opening the festival by praising the Sun God in front of Qorikancha (the Inca Temple of The Sun) in the town centre.

The royal entourage then parades through Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. Later in the day, the festival culminates in a staged sacrifice of a llama (no animals are harmed) at the Saqsaywaman citadel.

4) La Virgen de la Candelaria

This festival takes place in Puno on the days around Candlemas, in early February.

It’s the most important festival in the region around Lake Titicaca and celebrates Virgen Candelaria, the patron saint of Puno.

 

 

The roots of Fiesta de la Candelaria can be traced back to Andean celebrations of Pachamama. Honouring Mother Earth was believed to guarantee good weather and crops.

After the arrival of the Spanish colonists, celebrations merged with Catholic traditions. Puno overflows with performers during the festival – with thousands of dancers and musicians coming together from across the region.

The masks and costumes worn by performers are expressions of cultural pride. Keep an eye out for the spectacular Diablada, or “dance of the devil” masks.

5) Mistura

Food is serious business in Peru, and the Mistura festival is the best way to experience authentic Peruvian cuisine. A food lover’s dream, the annual festival takes place in Lima in early September.

 

 

Culinary experts and street vendors from all corners of the country converge on the capital, bringing regional delicacies with them. All the major geographical areas are represented, with every vendor displaying their pride in Peruvian cuisine.

This could be your chance to sample specialties like cuy (guinea pig), papa a la huancaína (saucy boiled potatoes), or lomo saltado (a traditional stir-fry). Lively music and dance performances, as well as a large market where you can stock up on local produce, complete the festival.

6) La Vendimia

 

 

La Vendimia is Peru’s festival for wine lovers. Celebrating both wine and pisco (a type of brandy) the festival is held in the second week of March each year. It takes place in Ica, the centre of traditional Peruvian wine country.

The festival began in 1958, and shines a light on Peru’s wine and pisco production. You’ll get to sample delicious wines and pisco from different makers, and learn more about the wine industry in Peru.

During the celebrations, you’ll see your fair share of dancing, fireworks and even traditional grape stomping. Eat, drink and be merry!

7) Virgen del Carmen

Virgen del Carmen is one of the biggest events in Peru. Held in July in the small town of Paucartambo (four hours from Cusco), this festival dates back to the thirteenth century.

 

 

The festival has its roots in the legend of a young woman who was on her way to Paucartambo and came across the head of a woman. The bodiless head spoke to the young woman and told her its name was Carmen. The head granted wishes and made miracles happen in the village, leading to her becoming the patron saint of Paucartambo and the Mestizo population. 

During the festival, residents of the town carry an image of Carmen through the streets, chasing away demons and blessing onlookers. Dancers in masks leap onto rooftops and the procession culminates in the cemetery, where people can pay homage to the dead.

8) Pachamama

 

 

Peru’s festival dedicated to Mother Earth, Pachamama Raymi, takes place in the first week of August. Celebrations unfold in Cusco, the former Inca capital. People give tributes to Pachamama to show thanks for the bounty of crops that support their communities.

On the first day of August, farmers halt work on their land and prepare offerings as a sign of respect to Pachamama. The first plate of food from the feast they prepare is given to Pachamama and any other offerings are buried in the ground. In Cusco, the festival celebrates traditional Peruvian music and games.

GVI’s volunteer projects in and around Cusco give you the chance to visit the former capital of the Inca empire. Basing yourself in Peru for a week or more as you contribute to a sustainable volunteering program will give you deeper insight into Peruvian culture, and increase your chances of being able to attend one of these festive events.

As with any community gatherings, and cultural or religious festivals, it’s key to ensure that you’re participating as respectfully as possible, as well as observing the COVID-19 regulations of the country you’re in. Visit our FAQs page which explains our latest safety protocols in response to COVID-19. 

Take a look at our volunteering opportunities in Latin America – where you’ll find award-winning programs and some of the best travel experiences in Peru.

Disclaimer: The images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

By Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.
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