Peru's festivals offer fascinating insights into ancient customs that have been passed through the generations since the Inca times. Centuries-old food, clothing, song and dance all play an integral role in these celebrations.
Like many other South American nations, contemporary Peru is a rich mix of modern and old, with many Quechua and Aymara people (descendants of the Incas) in the Highlands, and European, Mestizo (mix of Spanish and indigenous), Afro-Peruvian, Japanese and Chinese immigrants along the coast. What unites the country is a reverence for religion and family, as well as a love for soccer, or futbol, as it’s called here.
You might find that your Peru adventure coincides with one of these popular festivals.
1. La Fiesta Candelaria
Every November, the city of Puno in southeastern Peru throws an epic two-week party known as La Fiesta Candelaria. It's held in honour of the Virgin of Candelaria, the patron saint of Puno, who represents fertility and shares similarities to the Incan goddess, Pachamama.
As Peru’s largest festival, people travel from all over the country and beyond to watch traditional dancing, marvel at colourful costumes and masks, and shimmy to the sounds of Peruvian folk music. La Fiesta Candelaria unites the country's Catholic and Indigenous communities and has been named by UNESCO as part of Peru’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
2. Mistura Culinary Festival
Peruvian cuisine has blown up in the international culinary scene in recent years, particularly in the capital city of Lima where you'll find some of the world’s top restaurants. Held every September, the 10-day Mistura Culinary Festival showcases the best of Peruvian cuisine and agriculture and is a brilliant opportunity to sample as many local specialities as your stomach can handle.
3. Cusco Inti Raymi
Every year on the winter solstice, the city of Cusco in southeastern Peru celebrates Inti Raym, or the Festival of the Sun. Inti Raym was the biggest festival in the ancient Inca Empire as it marked the end of the winter and was a chance to give thanks to Inti (the Sun God) and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
Tens of thousands of people would gather in Cusco to take part in elaborate ceremonies, rituals and feasts, including animal sacrifices and a parade of ancestral mummies who were brought from temples. Things are a bit different these days, and while there are no mummies, you can watch a spectacular reenactment of the ancient traditions performed by local actors at the Sacsayhuamán ruins.
4. Carnaval de Cajamarca
Each year before Lent, colourful Carnaval celebrations pop up across Peru. But the festivities in Cajamarca in the northern Highlands are known for being the wildest – and wettest! More than 60,000 visitors from all over the world flock to the city for nine days of dancing, partying, parades and water fights. Most of the fun takes place around the Plaza de Armas and the surrounding streets.
5. Pisco Sour Day
Pisco sour is Peru’s beloved national drink. It even has its own holiday, AKA National Pisco Sour Day on the first Saturday of February. This creamy, zesty drink is made by mixing pisco (a type of brandy made from fermented grape juice), lime juice, egg whites and sugar.
6. Peru Independence Day
Every year on 28 July, Peruvians gather across the country to celebrate the day Peru gained independence from Spain in 1821. Festivities usually kick off on the evening of the 27th with street parties, traditional folk music and fireworks. The biggest celebrations are in major cities like Lima, but you’re almost guaranteed there’ll be something going on no matter where you are. The celebrations on 28 July are more patriotic with military parades and flag-raising ceremonies.
Q’eswachaka takes place in Cusco every second Sunday in June and is one of the country’s most unique festivals. Local villagers gather to repair and celebrate one of the country's final remaining Inca rope suspension bridges at the Apurimac River in Canas Province.
This ancient weaving technique involves twisting grass into cords which are then used to make larger cables. After the bridge has been repaired, locals celebrate with singing, dancing, eating and drinking.
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