From January to December each year, the historic city of Cusco observes a virtually year round calendar of remarkable festivals. Whether religious, folkloric, or civic in nature, each festival is accompanied by spectacular displays of folkloric music and dance that render homage to the city’s rich history and cultural traditions.

Here are the highlights of the Cusco cultural calendar, with dates for 2018.

February

Carnival

2018: February 10-13

In Cusco, Carnival is celebrated with city-wide water fights, parades of dancers and musicians on the Plaza de Armas, and an old Peruvian tradition called the yunza. The yunza is a dance ritual wherein couple dance around a tree laden with colorful balloons, ribbons, and gifts. Couples take turns chopping at the tree trunk with an axe and whoever causes the tree to fall is responsible for organizing the next year’s yunza. Note that the on first Sunday of Carnival, the historic center of Cusco becomes a playful ground for water fights. Be prepared to get wet or join the fun.

March/April

Semana Santa

2018: week of March 25

Semana Santa (Holy Week) opens with a bang in Cusco with one of the city’s most important religious festivals. On Easter Monday, thousands of the faithful gather on the Plaza de Armas to receive the blessing of Señor de los Temblores or Lord of the Earthquakes. After noontime mass in the Cusco Cathedral, the dark-hued image is placed on a silver litter and carried in procession around the historic center. Easter Sunday is typically celebrated with family. After mass, people gather in homes to share the 12 typical dishes of Cusco, featuring local products like choclo (a variety of corn with giant kernels), river trout, and diverse tubers.

 

Photo: Alicia Gonzalez

May/June

Qoyllur Rit’i

2018: May 27-30

On the slopes of the glacier-capped Ausangate, tens of thousands of pilgrims from indigenous Quechua and Aymara communities around Cusco and beyond gather in a 3-day ritual festival that combines pre-Columbian and Catholic elements. Processions of religious images are accompanied by troupes of dancers and brass bands, while a group of ukukus dressed in furry cloaks and masks meant to represent bears trek to the top of the glacier to retrieve crosses. On the last day of the festival, some pilgrims continue to Cusco to participate in Corpus Christi the next day. Not for the faint of heart, the festival requires a rigorous trek and camping at altitudes exceeding 4,600 m.

 

Photo: La Ceguera

Corpus Christi

2018: May 31

Among Cusco’s most visually stunning events, Corpus Christi takes place 9 weeks after Easter. On Wednesday, parishioners from churches around Cusco carry their respective patron saints and virgins in procession to the Plaza de Armas. Brass bands and dancing troupes also in elaborate dress follow closely behind. The saints are placed inside the Cathedral where they remain for 8 days until they are carried back to the parish churches. The traditional Corpus Christi dish is chiri-uchu, consisting of stewed chicken, spiced pork sausage, alpaca jerky, fresh cheese, fish roe, seaweed, sweet fried bread, toasted maize, hot peppers, and roast cuy.

Inti Raymi

2018: June 24
Cusco pays homage to its Inca past with the festival of Inti Raymi. Originally, the festival celebrated the June solstice and the beginning of a new planting year. Today, the city’s residents and travelers from near and far gather to witness the reenactment. It is the highlight of the Cusco cultural calendar. Actors representing the Inca king and his multitudinous entourage parade from Qorikanka, the old Inca Temple of the Sun, past the Plaza de Armas, and to Sacsayhuaman where crowds gather for the final act. Tickets are required to sit in bleacher seats at Saysayhuaman. Incas Expert can help you get tickets and plan your trip to Cusco for Inti Raymi.

 

Photo: Alicia Gonzalez

July

Virgen del Carmen

2018: July 15-17
The festival in honor of the Virgin of Mount Carmel takes place outside of Cusco in the towns of Paucaurtambo, en route to the Manu rainforest, and in Pisac, located about 50 minutes from Cusco. Mamacha Carmen is regarded as the patron saint of mestizos, or people of mixed ancestry, and the festival likewise reflects the mixed Catholic and Andean traditions that define the region. Dance troupes in brilliant costumes accompany the Virgin in procession around the main plaza and surrounding streets filled with spectators.

Fiestas Patrias

2018: July 28-29
All of Peru comes to a standstill to honor the date of the country’s independence in 1821. In Cusco, you can expect parades and folkloric dances during the day and fireworks and music concerts at night. Keep in mind that July is peak travel season in Cusco. Incas Expert can help you book hotels, tours, and Machu Picchu tickets in advance so you don’t miss out.

September

Señor de Huanca

2018: September 14
On the eve of September 4, faithful from as far away as Bolivia gather on Plaza San Jeronimo just south of the historic center of Cusco and together they undertake an overnight trek to the sanctuary of the Lord of Huanca. According to tradition, the shrine was built in the cave where Christ appeared to a Quechua miner named Diego Quispe. In the subsequent centuries, the cult of Señor de Huanca has spread through the Andean world. Today, the event is intensely communal. Pilgrims arrive to petition for relief from physical and spiritual ailments and to bathe in the glacial waters of a stream that runs off Mt. Pachatusan.

December

Santuranticuy

2018: December 24
On the day before Christmas, a traditional market sets up on the Plaza de Armas. Andean craft makers set up stalls displaying statues of Niño Dios (the Christ Child), images for nativity scenes, and handicrafts. Note that December 25 traditionally a time to spend with family and some businesses may be closed. But don’t worry because the city livens up again on New Year’s Eve.

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Written by Anabel
Anabel is Incas Expert’s nomadic wordsmith. After 5 years on the road, she's developed a knack for making impromptu workplaces out of cozy cafes across South America. When not writing, she's probably out searching for the best food, coffee, and bookstores in town.