The Ultimate Guide to Celebrating Carnival in Peru

Carnival in Cusco, Peru
Carnival in Cusco, Peru | © Carlos Adampol Galindo / Flickr
Brandon Dupre

Carnival (Carnaval) is a Catholic holiday celebrated the week leading up to Lent, when places all over Latin America have some of their wildest parties. Of course, you’ve heard about Brazil’s famous Carnival celebrations, but other Latin American countries do it big as well, Peru being no exception. This country wide celebration can be observed everywhere, but a couple cities do it better than others. Here is our guide to getting the best out of your Carnival experience in Peru.

The basics

This is one of Peru’s largest celebrations, so the approaching holiday should be taken with great consideration. Most hotels and hostels in major cities will be booked up well in advance, especially in the major destinations. You’ll need to do proper destination preparation for wherever you may be going just to make sure you don’t arrive somewhere with no rooms or have to pay exorbitant prices for one.

Colorful Costumes

Ayacucho

Ayacucho has gained a reputation as the go-to city for Catholic holidays, especially Carnival and Semana Santa, the week leading up to Easter. That means you’ll need to book well in advance if you plan to spend the holidays here. If you’re looking to only pick a couple of days to attend the festivities, then Sunday and Monday would be ideal. They pull out all the stops, with big parades filled with dancers, musicians, floats and performers dressed in costumes and masks. If you want a cultural immersion, you’ll get it all in one day.

Cusco

Cusco was once the great capital of the Incas and still keeps many of its Andean traditions, making it an interesting place to see a Catholic holiday. People are very religious in Cusco, like everywhere else in Peru, but they also blend their Catholicism with Andean traditions making for unique celebrations. There will be people tossing water balloons and spraying you with white foam, so best arm your self with water balloons and join in on the fun. The city of Cusco becomes a festive scene of color and chaos.

Cusco during Carnival

Lima

The concrete jungle of Lima becomes a colorful party during Carnival. Unlike smaller cities where there is one huge celebration, Lima’s size makes it impossible for that to happen. Instead, there are local parties all throughout the city – and they’re all filled with plenty of water balloon fights. The temperatures during this time in Lima are especially hot, so the water balloon fights are encouraged.

Cajamarca

Along with Ayacucho, the highland town of Cajamarca is wildly known as the place to be in during Carnival. They have a spacious Plaza de Armas that is used as a central gathering place for everyone. You’ll be able to witness one of Peru’s most traditional Carnival traditions, too: the cutting down of a tree decorated with gifts. It’s like a piñata, but a tree which requires an axe. The usually quiet mountain town, for one week each year, becomes host to one of the best parties in all of Peru.

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