Cusco’s Carnaval Festivities: 10 things for travelers to know
25 February 2020
Every February, an important celebration takes place in Cusco- the festival of Carnival, or Carnaval in Spanish. Of course, Carnaval takes place all across Peru and in many other countries and cities where Catholic traditions are a strong part of the culture, most notably in Rio de Janeiro and at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.
But the Cusco Carnaval has particularly interesting aspects that are worth exploring. Here are some things to know about Cusco’s Carnaval:
1. The days of celebration
Carnaval usually takes place in February, although sometimes in March, and the exact dates are moveable. Celebrations begin on a Thursday five days before Ash Wednesday, which is 40 days prior to the start of the Catholic Lent. Interestingly, the Catholic Church does not recognize Carnival as a religious holiday, but certain Catholic traditions, such as special masses, are often included in the celebration.
2. The origin of the carnaval
Carnaval originated very long ago, possibly with Sumerian and Egyptian religious rituals. Later, Europeans transformed the rituals in honor of Bacchus, Dionisius and other gods, and eventually carnival spread across Europe. Spanish and Portuguese colonists brought the celebrations to all of Latin America, and French colonists began the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
3. The compadres day
Carnaval in Cusco begins with a related pre-celebration that takes place two Thursdays before the main Carnaval event- El Día de los Compadres, or Godfathers’ Day. On that day, mothers and entire families visit the godfathers of their children, to honor them and celebrate their important roles in the lives of their children. They also make fun of them by hanging comical life-sized dolls representing the godfathers out on the streets.
4. The comadres day
A week later, on the following Thursday in Cusco, is Godmothers’ Day, El Dia de la Comadres, to honor the all-important godmothers, the strong women of the Andes that are so essential in keeping families close-knit and thriving. Activities for Comadres’ Day also include hanging funny dolls, going to mass in the morning, sharing home cooked foods, big family parties and dances.
5. Main events
The main events of the Cusco city Carnaval take place on the Sunday of Carnaval Week, with parades with splendid Andean dances, costumes, and one of the most fun activities of Carnaval time- water and foam battles.
6. Traditional water battles
Water battles take place on neighborhood streets and plazas, but especially at the main square, the Plaza de Armas. It’s not just water- water balloons, buckets of water, and lately, the main way of getting really messy is spraying foam, a sort of harmless white cream. If you take part in this, be ready for wild fun and for getting back home (or to your hotel) quite soaked and covered in foam. You will feel like a kid again!
7. The carnival delicacies
The traditional Carnaval meal is puchero, (or t’inpu in Quechua), a combination of soup with stewed Andean maize, potatoes, garbanzo beans, sweet potatos, carrots, lamb and veal, and served with hot peppers and chicha, traditional corn beer. This hearty meal is usually served on Compadres’ and Comadres’ Days.
8. Celebrations all across the Cusco region
In smaller towns of the Cusco region, including the major towns of the Sacred Valley, Carnaval celebrations are very important and take on more traditional forms of expression. The principal ritual in traditional communities is the Yunza. Family and guests gather at the home of the sponsor of the Yunza, where a tree sapling has been planted a few years prior just for the purpose of this event.
Guests place various gifts at the foot of the tree, including cases of beer. Everyone participates in couple dancing, chanting, and skits, and then in cutting down the tree, all accompanied by traditional Andean huayno music, and of course the party continues with great home cooked food and Cusco’s favorite lager.
9. Carnaval weather
The Andean summer during February is an especially pleasant time of year to visit Cusco and the Andes, if you can put up with occasional periods of rain. It is a warmer season, though often cloudier, and the Andes Mountains are covered in lush green vegetation. Just bring a rain jacket and good boots. And Cusco is less crowded in the summer than the June-August peak tourism season.
10. Knowing the Cusco region
At Andean Lodges and our new branch, Andean Excursions, we are ready to help you plan your journey to the Andes at any time of the year you choose.
As the top adventure trek outfitter in the Cusco region, and one of the best in Peru, we can help you plan an unforgettable adventure trek to Ausangate, Cusco’s sacred mountain (best done in the drier season from April to October) where you’ll experience the most spectacular scenery in the Andes, with overnights at our four state-of-the art mountain ecolodges.
In the summer season or at any time of the year, we are ready to host you on a culture-based acclimatization tour, where you’ll experience the very best of Cusco city, the main Inca sites, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and all the destinations the region of Cusco is so well known for. Please check out out website at andeanlodges.com, and feel free to contact us to find out more about the best way to experience the amazing Andes of Peru.