Cusco: city of festivals

June 1, 2008 - Cusco, Peru

Someone told me that Cusco has 42 festivals a year: I believe them. In my two-week stay in and around the former Inca strong-hold there were parades and festivities for Corpus Christi, Saint San Blas´ birthday and a military parade (perhaps for the founding of the city, I never actually found out why...).

Cusco is a vibrant city that caters for huge tourist crowds that arrive to go trekking in the nearby mountains and visit Machu Picchu. But there´s a lot more to this place than boutique clothing stores, cheap massages and mercardos selling dime a dozen alpaca jumpers. Cusco citizens are very proud of their city, and you get the feeling that these festivals would take place whether or not there were any tourists in the Plaza de Armas.

Set in a valley with ´El Peru´ etched into one of the nearby mountains, the rainbow flag of Cusco flies proudly in the main square, alongside the national flag and two churches. Most Cusco residents are devout Catholics and these festival days are an opportunity to see the locals as locals, rather than those dressing up to make a quick buck in a tourist photo featuring them in traditional garb holding an alpaca or llama.

Corpus Christi celebrations covered more than a week, with the model saints from 16 local churches being carried into the main plaza, paraded around for serveral hours and housed in the huge cathedral that dominates the Plaza de Armas. Thousands attended the festival each day; people were shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the huge plaza. Brass bands are an integral part of society and each church had its own contingent, playing the same song at slightly different speeds (see the videos).

However, for a real local festival, it was necessary to walk five blocks up the hill to the suburb of San Blas, named after the local church. Saint San Blas had a birthday, and that´s an excuse to party. A huge tiered cake that resembled something from a massive wedding was placed in front of the church, and a band played on the church steps. A second band played on a stage in the adjacent plaza and then there was the visiting brass band from Puno that marched through the street. Everyone got in the dancing mood (yes, me too) as the battle of the bands commenced, with each trying to hog the spotlight. Then music subsided temporarily and bamboo constructions with fireworks entertained the crowd for an hour or so. The night sky was ablaze with colour and people looked out for low-flying parts of the bamboo structures. Eventually, the structures had all been lit and died out, and the bands kicked into gear again, entertaining crowds until the early hours of the morning.

The following day the market stalls were back, and just a few fragments of the festival around the church reminded people of the fantastic night when the streets came alive and tourists and locals joined together to party, Cusco-style.


Lunch somewhere in the middle of Peru
Lovers' garden, Lima
Mosaics in lovers' garden, Lima

1 Comment

Denise Otkin:
June 6, 2008
I love they way you explained peru, I have always been thinking about getting into Alpacas, I know I could take care of them thats what I do take care of animals, I would of loved to see them there in the mountains. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and storys I love them. Take care Denise
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