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Major Festivals and Public Holidays in Peru

Around 3,000 typical celebrations and festivals are held in Peru every year. The majority of those are organized to celebrate the day of a santo patron (a patron saint). Those saints originally formed part of the Christian calendar in the Colonial Period but the Andean people added elements of their own religions into these festivities, creating an intriguing blend of beliefs, known as cultural syncretism.

Many of the most vibrant and important celebrations in Peru are held remote villages high up in the mountains or the jungle, and most are linked to ancient mythology or important agricultural dates.

Calendar of Major Peruvian Holidays and Important Festivals

DatePeruvian National Holiday or Traditional FestivalLocation
January 1New Year’s Day (Año Nuevo)Across the country
Early FebruaryVirgin of Candelaria or Mamacha CandelariaPuno
FebruaryCarnival (Carnaval)Across the country
March/AprilEaster Week (Semana Santa)Across the country
Easter MondayLord of the Earthquakes (Señor de los Temblores)Across the country
May 1Labor Day (Día del Trabajador)Across the country
May/JuneCorpus ChristiAcross the country; most spectacular in Cusco
June 24Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi)Cusco
July 15-18The Virgin of Carmen (Mamacha Carmen)Paucartambo near Cusco
July 28/29Independence Day (Fiestas Patrias)Across the country
August 30St. Rose of Lima (Dia de Santa Rosa de Lima)Across the country; parades in Lima.
October 8Battle of Angamos (Combate de Angamos)Across the country
October 18, 19, 28Lord of the Miracles (El Señor de los Milagros)Lima
November 1, 2All Saints’ Day (Día de Todos los Santos), Day of the Death (Dia de los Muertos)Across the country; interesting rituals near Piura
December 8Immaculate Conception (Inmaculada Concepción)Across the country
December 25, 24Christmas Eve (Noche Buena), Christmas Day (Navidad)Across the country

The Virgin of Candelaria - Mamacha Candelaria, Puno

The Virgin of Candelaria or Mamacha Candelaria

For the first weeks of February, the highland town of Puno becomes the Folk Capital of the Americas. During the 18 days over which this Peruvian festival is held, 200 groups of musicians and dancers gather to celebrate the Mamacha Candelaria or the Virgin of Candelaria. This festival is celebrated across the continent, although Puno in Peru and Copacabana, across the border in Bolivia, host the liveliest and largest of all.

The celebrations begin when the first procession of devotees arrives at the Santuario de la Virgen la Candelaria and follows with various celebrations of Mass, extensive banquets and firework displays.

February 12 is the central date of the celebrations and marks the day when the statue of the Virgin is finally led down through the city, followed by a colorful processions of priests and local worshippers and accompanied by troupes of around 2,000 musicians and up to 50,000 dancers.

This traditional Peruvian festival blends Christian and Andean beliefs and many of the dances are made in demonstration of devotion to the earth goddess Pachamama.

The Trajes de Luces, the main dances held in the local stadium, feature various indigenous styles of dance, including the Waca Wacas, El Rey Moreno and the Diablada. The latter, also known as the Dance of the Demons, is the festival’s main dance and supposedly claims origins from when a group of miners trapped down a mine promised their souls to the Virgen de la Candelaria in return for help.

Carnival - Across Peru

Carnivals in Peru

Like all of Latin America, Carnaval (Carnival) held annually throughout the month of February across the Peru is one of the country’s most significant and lively events.

Celebrations normally revolve around typical dancers dressed in elaborate costumes and masks representing spiritual and religious beings, plus festivities held in the main square of all towns and cities across the country. Plenty of food and drink is prepared, while water balloons become a weapon used between revellers – so you might find you get very wet during this festival!

Another typical ritual held during carnival is yunza. One family plants a tree and hangs gifts from its branches and then the guests begin to chop at the tree with an axe, aiming to bring it down. The guest to land the final chop organize the yunza the following year.

Señor de los Temblores - The Lord of the Earthquakes, Cusco

The Lord of the Earthquakes

The curious Señor de los Temblores is another significant Peruvian festival held every Easter Monday. At this celebration, Taitacha Temblores, a black sculpture of Christ, is carried from the cathedral in Cusco, with a procession taking it through the streets in much the same way that the Inca and his army of mummified dead were once carried around the city.

The name of this sculpture dates back to 1650 when a fierce earthquake struck Cusco. This statue was being carried out into public for the first time and as it did, the earthquake came to an end, earning it the name of Señor de los Temblores or the Lord of the Earthquakes, as it was believed to have silenced the quake.

Its dark coloring stems from centuries of being impregnated with the smoke of candles and incense. Because of its alleged miracle-granting properties, no one has ever dared to clean it.

Corpus Christi - Cusco

Corpus Christi

The colorful and traditional festival of Corpus Christi is commemorated across the whole country, but this Peruvian celebration is most impressive in Cusco. It’s celebrated sixty days after Easter Sunday, so the exact date varies each year.

The night before the celebrations begin, twelve typical dishes are prepared and consumed, including cuy (guinea pig), beer, chicha (typical local beer) and bread.

The next day, fifteen statues of saints and virgins are carried into the cathedral of Cusco from their parishes surrounding the city and followed by huge crowds of worshippers.

The main procession then starts around 11:00am, when the saints are paraded around the Plaza de Armas, amid folkloric music and dancing. During the procession, you can also hear the chimes of the María Angola, the mythical bell of Cusco’s cathedral, which was cast in 1659 and is the largest bell in the country.

Once they’ve been paraded around the square, the procession of saints is then returned to the cathedral, after which representatives of local communities come together to discuss local problems.

On El Octavo, the eighth day of the festivities, the procession is held once more, before the statues are carried back to their parishes, where they remain for the rest of the year.

If you have a chance to be in Cusco during this celebration, don’t miss out on joining the crowds in the Plaza de Armas, although you’ll want to get there early to find a good spot.

The Festival of the Sun - Inti Raymi, Cusco

Inti Raymi

One of the biggest and most impressive celebrations held in the country, the Inti Raymi festival or Festival of the Sun has it roots in the Inca tradition of worshiping the Sun God, Inti. It’s held annually on the date of the Winter Solstice, on June 24.

Thousands of revellers descend on the former Inca capital of Cusco to celebrate the return of the sun.

The ceremony starts earlier the same day at the Koricancha (the Temple of the Sun, in the city of Cusco), followed by the Plaza de Armas (the Huacaypata, in Inca times). However, the main part of this traditional Peruvian celebration takes place at the Ruins of Sacsayhuaman.

Around noon, the actors who have been selected to perform the roles formerly played by the Inca and his subjects in the ceremony lead a procession of the thousands of spectators up to the crest of the hill where Sacsayhuaman lies.

In an impressive ceremony that draws heavily on the original Inca festivity, the Inca leads a worship ceremony for Inti, culminating in the very real looking (but completely fake) sacrifice of a llama.

The Virgin of Carmen - Mamacha Carmen, Paucartambo

The Virgin of Carmen or Mamacha Carmen

Between July 15 and 18 every year, thousands of devotees hold festivals in honor of the Virgen of Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of the mestizo population.

The celebrations take place four hours from Cusco in the town of Paucartambo. They are held in the main square, where troupes of musicians play their instruments and choirs dressed in traditional costumes sing in Quechua as the Mamacha Carmen is paraded around the square.

This music gives way to a series of ingenious dances that portray events in Peruvian history. These are led by dance troupes masked to represent mythical beings and different cultures from across Peru, who take to the streets to accompany the Mamacha Carmen.

On the main day of the celebrations, the virgin is borne aloft in a procession to bless those present and scare away demons. Some of the dancers take on the role as demons, taking to the rooftops where they attempt to “tempt” the Mamacha Carmen.

At the end of the procession, war is waged on these demons, and the events end at the cemetery where homage is paid to the souls of the dead.

The Lord of the Miracles - El Señor de los Milagros, Lima

The Lord of the Miracles

Gathering one of the largest processions in the world, the festival of El Señor de los Milagros or the Lord of the Miracles is held in Lima on October 18, 19 and 28, with a procession on each day.

The festival dates back to the 17th-century when a slave brought to Peru from Angola drew the image of Christ on the walls of his hut in the plantation of Pachacamilla, near Lima. An earthquake struck soon after and all of the houses in the village were destroyed, except for that of the slave, whose image on the wall was intact.

This resulted in the formation of a cult, who worshipped this image. Festivities continue to these days, with worshippers of the Lord of the Miracles having grown into their thousands. Now, a replica of the image is carried on a litter on the shoulders of believers on a 24-hour procession across Lima, from Iglesia Las Nazarenas to Iglesia La Merced, with hundreds of thousands of devotees, many dressed in purple, following it in its wake.

Día de los Muertos - All Saints Day, across the country

All Saints Day

Although better-known as a festival celebrated in Mexico, the Día de los Muertos is when Peruvians celebrate their dead. Many attend Mass, followed by a trip to the cemetery, where flowers and even picnics are brought to share with their deceased family members. The atmosphere of the day is jovial and reflects a keen desire to venerate the dead – an idea seen throughout Andean culture.

One of the most interesting places to spend the Día de los Muertos is in the village of La Arena, near Piura. Here, families who have lost a young child take candied sweets, donuts and other sweet treats called “Angelitos” (“angels”) to hand out to other children from the village. The night of November 1, these families then hold a vigil in the cemetery.

Christmas - Navidad, across Peru

Christmas in Peru

Christmas was adopted by the Andean people following the arrival of the Spanish and remains an important national holiday to this day.

Homes and churches are decorated with Nativity scenes, which can be bought at the market of Santuranticuy, held every December 24 in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. These Nativity scenes are kept on display until January 6 and La Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the three wise men).

In and around the craft city of Ayacucho, you can also find Nativity scenes carved in local Huamanga stones and carved gourds called "burilados”.

In Cusco, Christmas Eve or Noche Buena is the night when gifts are exchanged. Families get together to eat holiday food such as turkey or chicken, while paneton (panettone) is consumed with hot chocolate.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, communities, churches, organisations and even workplaces often organise "chocolatadas", where they share hot chocolate and small gifts with poor children and families their community.