Peru's syncretic pagan-Catholic religion is legendary, and did we mention Peruvians love a party? There is no better way into the heart of Peruvian culture than to attend one of these festivals where you'll experience traditional costumes and dances, processions that last for days, and ceremonies that effortlessly embrace contradictory religions. The festivals we attend incorporate the Catholic God, mountain deities, and shamanic practices - not to mention pre- and post-conquest history and the Latino love of a good time - into one colourful, joyous whole. These are the ultimate Peru cultural tours.
The dances and especially the costumes have to be seen to be believed. The stories behind them have to be heard, ideally from our expert guides, who are embedded in this culture and capable of articulating its chaos and contradiction like very few others.
Few tour companies offer foreigners the opportunity to go to Paucartambo and Quyllur Rit’i. It’s difficult to organixe to get yourself there without local support, and no small job for us to organise for our groups. We do it because that’s what we do: share the best things about our destinations.
Paucartambo and Quyllur Rit’i are highlights of our year, and the hard work pays off with the buzz we get out of giving like-minded travellers the opportunity to experience these unique cultural events in a fully guided, well-organised, supported tour.
Inti Raymi is far more accessible and less confronting. Unlike Paucartambo and Quyllur Rit’i, it is possible to attend while staying in hotel accommodations, and is suitable for anyone.
Each of these cultural tours includes Machu Picchu and all the other highlights you come here to see, so they’re a once-a-year opportunity to fit a unique event into a comprehensive tour – it’s worth planning your trip to Peru around festival dates if you can.
If these dates don’t work for you, you’ll probably get a small taste of this side of Peru on any of our other trips – it’s rare that a week that goes by in Cusco without a parade. Let us know you’re interested and we’ll be sure to make it part of your experience.
Suitable for experienced travelers with previous camping experience
Tens of thousands of pilgrims walk to a shrine erected on the site of a manifestation of the young Jesus Christ in 1780. Here they buy and bless prosperity totems and carve blocks of ice off a glacier to appease mountain spirits and Apu Taytacha (Father Earth), in between fervent Catholic masses.
Processions go on day and night. Devotees dance and whip each other (literally) into a frenzy. Masked men in bear costumes maintain order. The event, in a 4,800 metre glacial valley, is alcohol-free and has an atmosphere of reverence and solemnity.
Attended by only a handful of foreigners, this is the ultimate cultural encounter trip and most overwhelming event we personally have experienced. If you think this sounds like you, you’ll love it. If you’re not sure, you should probably pick another trip. If you can’t handle camping in cold, crowded conditions, you should definitely give it a miss.
Raymi means ‘celebration’ in Quechua (the language of the Incas which is still widely spoken in the Andes). Inti Raymi takes over Cusco every year on June 24, the winter solstice, re-enacts the day of homage to the Inca – the supreme ruler of the far-flung Inca empire, who received homage and tribute from all his many subject peoples on this day.
In the morning, groups of dancers representing all those subject peoples dance through the streets, and in the afternoon, a ceremony takes place at the Inca parade ground, Sacsayhuaman, above the town.
Inti Raymi is a great chance to experience the biggest and brightest of Cusco’s many processions, without compromising on comfort. It’s recommended for families and first-time visitors to Peru.
Suitable for people who consider themselves adventurous
The small town of Paucartambo is taken over in July by Peru’s most famous festival, in honour of the Catholic Virgen del Carmen. Parades fill the streets all day. Selected highlights of Peru’s long history, as well as assorted other matters including nothing less than the battle between good and evil, are played out by masked devotees. The Plaza de Armas is given over to elaborately-costumed allegorical dance by day, and massive firework displays by night.
In true Peruvian style, Paucartambo manages to be of equal interest to students of syncretic religion and dedicated party people. This is the absolute classic Peru festival – by turns hilarious, sombre, uplifting, and thought-provoking, Paucartambo is quite a ride.
On this trip we stay in very basic local accommodations.