Peru’s most important cultural festivals

Peru’s most important cultural festivals

Peru, a country of such diversity when it comes to landscapes, climate zones and cultural identities that can look back on one of the most interesting histories of the Americas, obviously is also home to great cultural festivities. Many of these festivities have their roots in a combination of local cultural aspects and “imported” religious or cultural influences. As many of these festivals originate from ancient Peruvian times, after the conquest, the Spanish made it paramount to try and replace many of these festivities with mostly Spanish religious festivities and by this trying to replace the local customs and beliefs with the ones they brought from Europe.

This makes that the Peruvian calendar is packed with celebrations and festivities all over the country, varying from region to region. Every day you can find a city or a village where a Saint is celebrated or where a cultural festival dedicated to the region is being held. Therefore making a complete list of all the festivities and festivals in Peru is almost impossible. Taking this into consideration, below we will try to give a summary of the most important yearly festivals one can find in Peru.

Marinera Festival - Trujillo

Dates:  The whole month of January

The city of the Eternal Spring is the nickname of Trujillo, the biggest city in northern Peru located at about 450Km. north of Lima. The city is best known for its colonial center and the ancient city of Chan Chan, also known to be the home of the Marinera Dance. Combining Hispanic and African origins, the Marinera represents the essence of the local cultural roots. This dance represents a seductive game between a man that imitates the movements of the Peruvian Paso horse and a woman who is coquettish but slightly “arrogant”. The music is typically played on guitars and the Peruvian Cajón, a local percussion instrument.  During the whole month of January the whole of Trujillo and in the surrounding areas the Marinera Dance springs to life and one can find several exhibitions, shows and contests of some of the best musicians and dancers in Peru. In the last week of January there is a large parade through the city ending with the final Marinera music and dance contest.

La Virgen de la Candelaria - Puno

Dates:  1 – 15 February

Every year during the first or second week of February, Puno hosts one of the biggest religious festivals on the continent. This celebration is also a good example of how a local earth worshiping ceremony was incorporated into the new cultural era that was created after the arrival of the Spanish. The original festival was celebrated all over the Lake Titicaca region. The region was inhabited by the Aymara and a large part of Peru as well as Bolivia. The ceremony was dedicated to Pachamama or Mother Earth to request a good harvest and climate for the coming season. On the arrival of the Spanish the celebration was converted to the worshiping of the Virgen de la Candelaria, asking for the same blessings as the people did before to the Pachamama.

The festivities take place in the center of Puno and the local stadium. Hundreds of dancing groups from all over the region participate in daily parades and dancing contests to gain the blessing of the Virgen. The festivals lasts for about one week and are accompanied by festivities all over the city that last day and night providing the more than 100,000 visitors with more to do and see than time allows.

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Fiesta de la Vendimia - Ica

Dates: First week of March

Ica, located at about 300Km. south of Lima is the epicenter of the wine and Pisco production in Peru. This whole part of the Peruvian coast is home to a large number of the grape producers of Peru and it is here that the best bodegas can be found. Peruvian wine can be very sweet for many people but the Pisco made in Peru ranks among the best in the world. Peruvians take great pride in their Pisco production and few people will leave Peru without having received several “Pisco Sours on the house”, the famous cocktail made with Pisco. For wine and Pisco lovers the best time of year to come to Peru is together with the Fiesta de la Vendimia in Ica. This festival is the largest grape harvesting festival in Peru and one of the most important in South America. Here one can find hundreds of stands of the best Pisco and wine producers in Peru, all promoting the products from the last harvest. Together with daily music performances, the Miss Harvest contest, the outgoing Ica personality and even cock fighting, this makes for a festival that you will not find easily in other parts of Peru.

Semana Santa - Ayacucho

Dates: March / April

In such a religious continent such as South America, the Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish is one of the busiest and most celebrated weeks all over the continent, and the same goes for Peru. This is a week when a lot of family visits are being made and when people return to their native regions. The whole week is extensively celebrated in almost every city or village with daily parades and processions. Nevertheless the most impressive and famous celebrations take place in the city of Ayacucho in South Peru. Ayacucho is located at about 12 hours north of Cusco or about 1.5 hours by flight from Lima. The roads leading to Ayacucho are not the best in Peru making that overland travelling can be a large undertaking.  The city is known for its churches as it has 33! and all with their religious craftwork typical to this region.

Every day, you can see processions of the faithful people carrying old saints images all over the city center. At Easter Sunday dawn, the main square is illuminated by thousands of candles and bonfires, creating a very unique atmosphere. This is definitely a celebration that leaves both believers and non-believers with a feeling of belonging.


Inti Raymi - Cusco

Date: June 24

Probably Peru’s best known festival due to its historical importance is the Inti Raymi Festival, celebrated every year on June 24th in Cusco. The festival is celebrated just after the Winter Solstice and is a festival that is born out of the religious belief in the Sun. The Inca’s most important god and the power of all life was the Sun. Therefore during every summer and winter solstice the Inca worshipped the sun with human and animal sacrifice as well as other rituals. 

As the Inca did not have any written language and therefore left behind very few notes on their society, nowadays the festival is a re-enactment of the festival as far as chroniclers which held descriptions by the early Spanish conquistadores and the famous Inca chronicler Garcilazo de La Vega. The festival starts with a gathering at Qoriqancha, the place where the ancient Sun Temple was built and on its foundations the Spanish constructed a monastery. Here the Inca will appear for the first time before being taken in a procession to Cusco’s main square where dances will be performed in his honor. From the main square the procession goes to Sacsayhuaman, the massive fortress looking out over Cusco. Here the true ritual takes places with dancers from all corners of the empire coming to hail the Inca Ruler and to provide the Sun God with the necessary sacrifice and rituals.

The whole week is full of celebrations and this is one of the busiest times in Cusco but also one of the most spiritual enchanting ones in the city filled with mystical energy.

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La Virgen de Carmen – Paucartambo (Cusco)

Dates; July 15 - 16

Every year on July 15th and 16th, in Paucartambo they celebrate the Virgen de Carmen. Paucartambo is located at about 3 hour’s drive from Cusco and is a small quiet little town located in a valley during the year except for these days when it bursts with sounds and energy. These days Paucartambo receives more visitors than the amount of people living in the village, all coming to see the holy Virgin of Carmen or Mamacha Carmen festivity. She is the mother of mestizos, children born from Spaniards and native mothers and the celebration is like many others a mixture of local beliefs mixed with Christian beliefs. This can be seen in the incredible variety of dancers and dances that are performed in honor of the Virgin. All types of animals, as well as different classes of people are being expressed with the dances that form the prelude for the main procession. On the main day the Virgin (who was actually blessed by Pope Jean Paul II when in Cusco) is taken all over the village in a very typical procession. During this procession the virgin is protected by her guards and different groups of dances all fulfilling their role in this impressive procession. The festival would of course not be complete if it weren’t for the night that follows the procession and that allows few people in this quiet village to go to bed before sunrise.

Mistura Culinary Festival – Lima

Dates; First two weeks of September

Lima, when proclaimed to be the new culinary capital of South America in 2006 has done a great job maintaining this title and to all visitors of Lima is clear that few cities on the continent have such an extensive culinary culture as Lima. Apart from the amazing selection of top class restaurants and chefs that Lima offers to its visitors, every year at the beginning of September, Lima proudly hosts the Mistura Culinary Festival. The Mistura Festival is the biggest culinary festival in South America and the showcase for all longstanding as well as new restaurants from all over the country to prepare their signature dishes and celebrate the diversity of Peruvian food. The festival takes place for about 10 days and is home to hundreds of restaurants ranking from high end cuisine to street vendors selling their typical Peruvian products. The festival provides a great stand for all different typical Peruvian food and grows every year in size and international importance with the visit of several worldwide renowned chefs last year all promising to come back this year.

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As you can read, Peruvian culture is celebrated every day of the year in Peru but there are some special occasions that deserve adding a couple of days or alternative destinations to your Peru vacation package. 


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