Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria, Puno (February 1 —14)
For two weeks, the highland city of Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca, becomes the Folklore Capital of Peru. This festival unites over 200 troupes of Andean singers and dancers in a celebration of religious faith and pre-Columbian agricultural traditions. Performers are clad in spectacular costumes and elaborate masks, while musicians play the zampona pan-pipes and dancers stage the diablada, the dance of the demons.
Carnival in Cajamarca (Mid-February to Mid-March)
Cajamarca comes alive for carnival as locals celebrate with a series of masked parades, parties and festivals. One particularly lovely tradition is the yunza in which revellers dance around a tree covered with gifts. As they dance, they chop at the tree with axes or machetes. The couple who finally fells it, must plan next year’s yunza.
Easter Week in Ayacucho (March—April, varies)
The re-enactment of Christ’s last days starts with his somber entry into the city on muleback, on Monday. Wednesday the streets are carpeted with fresh flowers as Virgin Mary and Saint John are paraded through town. On Friday evening, Christ is taken through the white-rose strewn streets in a mourning procession lit only by white candles. And on Sunday the city bursts into celebration as the resurrected Christ again is carried among the now-festive locals.
The Festival of Corpus Christi, Cuzco (July, varies)
Sixty days after Easter Sunday, fifteen patron saints from churches in surrounding districts, representing the former Inca rulers, are borne in a procession to the Cathedral in Cuzco, to the tolling of bells from the city’s principal churches. People gather in the main square, in a festive mood to pay homage to the saints, eat, drink and dance. Finally, the delegations return home amidst hymns and prayers.
Feast of the Virgen del Carmen, Paucartambo, Cuzco (July 15—16)
Four hours from Cuzco, in the quaint colonial town of Paucartambo, the feast of the Virgen del Carmen is a festival honouring the area’s patron. Richly dressed musicians, singers and dancers celebrate in the main plaza, through the town and on housetops. The colorful procession goes around blessing those present and scaring away the demons, ending up in the cemetery to render homage to the souls of the dead.
The Lord of Miracles Procession, Lima (October 18—28)
This is the largest religious procession in the Americas, where worshippers carry the painted image of a black Christ, which survived intact on a church wall, despite an earthquake in 1746 which leveled all surrounding buildings. The faithful devotees dress in purple tunics and carry a 2-ton litter with the image through the city, in a series of one-day processions. In October, to commemorate the Lord of Miracles, Lima hosts its bullfight season, featuring famous international toreros in the oldest arena in the Americas.