Peru’s rich history of the Inca entwined with influences from the Spanish colonial era have combined to create amazing festivals. Some of the festivals are religious and to be respected but are open for the enjoyment of everyone who visits Peru. This article includes some of the best festivals and where to find them.
Inti Raymi (Quechua for "Sun Festival") is a religious ceremony of the Incan Empire that honors the dios Inti, one of the most esteemed and revered deities in the Incan religion. It is the commemoration and festival of the winter solstice — the shortest day of the year between sunrise and sunset and the Inca New Year, which is held on June 24. This was the most important of the four Inca festivals held in Cusco, according to the famous chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega. The celebration takes place in the Haukaypata or the main plaza in the city.
Quyllurit'i (Quechua: quyllu rit'i, quyllu - bright white, rit'i - snow - "bright white snow,") is a spiritual festival that is held annually at the Sinakara Valley, in the south Cusco Region of Peru. The indigenous people of the surrounding Andean communities know this anniversary as a native celebration of the stars above. They are festivities of the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation, known in Quechua as Qullqa, or "storehouse," and is correlated with the imminent harvest and New Year. The Pleiades disappears from view in April and reappears in June. The turn of the year is marked by the local districts of the Southern Hemisphere on the Winter Solstice in June, and it is also a Catholic festival, which has been celebrated for hundreds if not thousands of years. This pilgrimage and event takes place in the latter part of May or early June and coincides with the cycle of the full moon. It normally occurs a week before the Christian feast of Corpus Christi. Events typically include processions of holy icons and dances in and around the shrine of the Lord of Quyllurit'i. Many thousands of people will kneel to greet the first rays of light as the sun rises above the horizon. The main event for the Church is carried out by Ukukus, mythical demigods who climb glaciers over Qullqipunku mountain and return bearing crosses and blocks of ice to place along the road to the shrine. They are known to be therapeutic with healing qualities.
The main part of this fiesta consists of a temple-like structure used for religious and astronomical purposes. Located in the Apurímac Region, Andahuaylas, (204 miles west of Cusco) the Sondor Raymi festival starts at Pacucha lagoon with the dramatization of the origins and expansion of the Chanka people. According to various legends, Usquwillca, a mythical character who emerged from the depths of the lake, subjugated the local ethnic groups, and later began his campaign of military expansion. The festival continues at the Sondor archaeological site, where a mystic-religious ceremony is held, representing the servitude of the Quechua and the consolidation of the Chanka Confederation. Start by arriving at Andahuaylas, visit a local vineyard where wine with honey is fermented. Head to the hot springs of Hualalachi, incorporate an overnight community stay at the Bosque de Piedras. There are many incredible sights to incorporate in this region of the Apurimac, along with the festival of Sondor Raymi.
Virgen del Carmen
This original Andean patrimonial festival takes place in a quaint and long-established white-wash town of Paucartambo, decorated with blue doors and windows. Around mid-July of each year campesinos (peasant farmers) from all over the Sacred Valley trek to the small mountain town to dance in the festival of the Virgen Del Carmen. Many Andean towns have patrimonial festivals with traditional dances that mix indigenous beliefs, local legend, and Catholic worship, though Paucartambo’s is the most historic & best of all. The spirit of debauchery is infectious. The fresh mountain air comes alive with the music of a dozen marching bands and the cracking sound of fireworks. Over the course of the festival each of the dance groups, in their full community regalia, enacting the stories of their existence. One group represents the wealthy landowners of Spanish-descent — they are easily identified by their large noses, spurs on their boots and jugs of beer in their hands. A group of devils, masked in Chinese dragon-style headdresses, scale the roofs of the town engaging the crowds, tempting them to sin. After a day of parading through the town, each dance group retreats to a large house or meeting hall for a night of extravagant Andean cuisine and copious amounts of beer and pisco. The beer halls are packed to the rafters, with revelers spilling out of the doors late into the night. For the brave of heart, there is an early morning excursion which is perhaps the greatest part of all the festivities. After an arduous climb through the piercing cold, with bottles of rum in hand, you'll find yourself at Tres Cruzes, the edge of the Andes, looking out at the sunrise exploding over thousands of miles of rainforest. The festival-induced slumber cannot help but be broken by this stunning mountain view and the glory of the Amazon before you.
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