Celebrated continuously since the devastating quake of 1650, Cusco’s procession of the Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) traditionally begins at Cusco’s cathedral on the Monday before Easter.
One of Peru’s most enigmatic festivals is Qoyllur R’itti, which takes place in May or June before Corpus Christi on the slopes of the Nevado Ausangate at 4,800 meters. During the three-day festival, elaborately costumed men climb in the middle of the night to hew huge blocks of ice, which they carry on their backs down the mountain at dawn. Thousands of campesinos from neighboring communities come to this spot to bring ice down from the mountain or participate in the colorful masked dances.
This festival, Christian only on the surface, grew out of the Andean tradition of worshipping mountains, or apus, to ensure rains and good harvests. The pilgrims trek toward the mountain from the town of Tinki, which is several hours away from Cusco on the rough road to Puerto Maldonado. If you are in Cusco during this time, you can find agencies along Plateros in Cusco that sell transport and camping.
During Cusco’s Corpus Christi, which usually happens in early June, elaborate processions fill the streets of Cusco as all the bells in the city ring. Each procession carries a different saint, which is treated as if it were a living person, in the same way the Inca paraded their ancestors’ mummies around these same streets five centuries ago.
A country festival that is straightforward for travelers to attend is the June 15–17 festival of the Virgen del Carmen in Paucartambo, a pleasant colonial town that is a four-hour bus ride from Cusco on the way to the Manu. The festival includes an extraordinary range of dances and costumes. Many Cusco agencies offer inexpensive lodge-and-transport packages to the festival, which include a dawn trip to Tres Cruces, a fabulous place to watch the sun rise over the Amazon basin.
Cusco’s biggest festival is Inti Raymi, the Inca celebration of the June 21 winter solstice. The festival, which lasts 10 days on either side of the solstice, was banned by the Spaniards in 1535. But in 1944, a group of Cusco intellectuals re-created the sacred ceremony by studying chronicles and historical documents.
Each year, hundreds dress up as Inca priests, nobles, and chosen women, and one man, chosen by audition, gets to be Inca Pachacútec. The main day, June 24, begins at 10 a.m. at the Coricancha (the sun temple) and ends around 2 p.m. at Sacsayhuamán, where thousands of tourists sit on the fort’s walls for a good view as Pachacútec speaks with a sun god through a microphone. It is a highly staged, touristy production, completely unlike the more down-to-earth countryside festivals.
Fiestas Patrias, the national Peruvian holiday at the end of July, is one of Peru’s most important holidays. The festival honors Peru’s independence on July 28 and Peru’s armed forces on July 29. A large amount of Peruvians travel in the week that falls around these dates. Hotels, transport, and other services are often booked during this time.
Santuranticuy, on December 24, is one of the largest arts-and-crafts fairs in Peru. Nativity figures, miniature altars, and ceramics are laid out on stalls in the Plaza de Armas by hundreds of artists.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition