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Fiestas, festivals and public holidays

Public holidays, Carnival and local fiestas are all big events in Peru, celebrated with an openness and gusto that gives them enormous appeal for visitors; note that everything shuts down, including banks, post offices, information offices, tourist sites and museums. The main national holidays take place over Easter, Christmas and during the month of October, in that order of importance. It is worth planning a little in advance to make sure that you don’t get caught out.

In addition to the major regional and national celebrations, nearly every community has its own saint or patron figure to worship at town or village fiestas. These celebrations often mean a great deal to local people, and can be much more fun to visit than the larger countrywide events. Processions, music, dancing in costumes and eating and drinking form the core activities of these parties. In some cases the villagers will enact symbolic dramas with Indians dressed up as Spanish colonists, wearing hideous blue-eyed masks with long hairy beards. In the hills around towns like Huaraz and Cusco, especially, it’s quite common to stumble into a village fiesta, with its explosion of human energy and noise, bright colours, and a mixture of pagan and Catholic symbolism.

Such celebrations are very much local affairs, and while the occasional traveller will almost certainly be welcomed with great warmth, none of these remote communities would want to be invaded by tourists waving cameras and expecting to be feasted for free. The dates given below are therefore only for established events that are already on the tourist map, and for those that take place all over the country.

Festivals and public holidays

JANUARY

New Year’s Day. Public holiday.

FEBRUARY

Candlemas. Folklore music and dancing throughout Peru, but especially lively in Puno at the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria and in the mountain regions.

Date varies Carnival. Wildly celebrated immediately prior to Lent, throughout the whole country.

MARCH/APRIL

Date varies Semana Santa (Easter/Holy Week). Superb processions all over Peru (the best are in Cusco and Ayacucho); the biggest is on Good Friday and in the evening on Easter Saturday, which is a public holiday.

MAY

Labour Day. Public holiday.

2–3 Fiesta de la Cruz (Festival of the Cross). Celebrated all over Peru in commemoration of ancient Peruvian agro-astronomical rituals and the Catholic annual calendar.

JUNE

Beginning of the month Corpus Christi. This takes places exactly nine weeks after Maundy Thursday, and usually falls in the first half of June. It’s much celebrated, with fascinating processions and feasting all over Peru, but is particularly lively in Cusco.

24 Inti Raymi. Cusco’s main Inca festival (see Fiestas in the Cusco region).

29 St Peter’s Day. A public holiday all over Peru, but mainly celebrated with fiestas in all the fishing villages along the coast.

JULY

15–17 Virgen de Carmen. Dance and music festivals at Pisac and Paucartambo.

28–29 National Independence Day. Public holiday with military and school processions.

AUGUST

13–19 Arequipa Week. Processions, firework displays, plenty of folklore dancing and craft markets take place throughout Peru’s second city.

30 Santa Rosa de Lima. Public holiday.

SEPTEMBER

End of the month Festival of Spring. Trujillo festival involving dancing – especially the local Marinera dance and popular Peruvian waltzes (see Fiestas in Trujillo).

OCTOBER

Public holiday to commemorate the Battle of Angamos.

18–28 Lord of Miracles. Festival featuring large and solemn processions (the main ones take place on October 18, 19 and 28); many women wear purple for the whole month, particularly in Lima, where bullfights and other celebrations continue throughout the month.

NOVEMBER

Fiesta de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day). Public holiday.

Día de los Muertos (All Souls Day). A festive remembrance of dead friends and relatives that is taken very seriously by most Peruvians and a popular time for baptisms and roast pork meals.

1–7 Puno Festival. One of the mainstays of Andean culture, celebrating the founding of Puno by the Spanish conquistadors and also the founding of the Inca Empire by the legendary Manco Capac and his sister Mama Ocllo, who are said to have emerged from Lake Titicaca. October 5 is marked by vigorous, colourful, community dancing.

1–30 International Bullfighting Competitions. Bullfights take place throughout the month, and are particularly spectacular at the Plaza de Acho in Lima.

12–28 Pacific Fair. One of the largest international trade fairs in South America – a huge, biennial event, which takes place on a permanent site on Av La Marina between Callao and Lima Centro.

DECEMBER

Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Public holiday.

25 Christmas Day. Public holiday.

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