Christmas in Cusco
Christmas in Cusco is fascinating and the Santuranticuy Festival held on the 24th of December in the Plaza de Armas (the main square) is a major highlight. The streets start filling up a few days before as people travel in from remote hilltop villages to sell things to make a bit of money so that they can buy some nicer food for their Christmas meal. When I say sell things, you will be surprised. Most of these people are selling twigs and bits of moss, that they have scavenged from the countryside and will sell for a few cents for use in nativity scenes in Cusco households.
Each year large numbers of people come in from the countryside, often whole families with many kids tagging along, so many that will be seen sleeping in the archways for a few nights before the market on the 24th. Local charities offer handouts of hot chocolate and bread for which there are large queues. It puts the typical Western over commercialised Christmas into perspective.
On the 24th is the full Santuranticuy market and the Plaza de Armas of Cusco is full to bursting. Makeshift stands selling handmade toys, pencils carved from twigs and figures for the nativity scenes fill the centre of the square. Around the edges, those who came in from the surrounding hills and valleys crouch on the floor offering their meagre wares. And amongst it all, throngs of locals and tourists alike, coming to browse, buy and take some photos. As darkness falls on the 24th everyone packs away and begins to head home to prepare for the traditional evening meal.
Christmas celebration on the 24th or 25th?
The main event of Christmas in Cusco, Peru and most parts of Latin America is actually on the night of the 24th rather than the day of the 25th as in the US or UK. This is something fairly common to the Spanish speaking world. At about 10pm or 11pm people head to each other’s houses, usually within family. They prepare a meal which they will eat around midnight or as late as two in the morning in some houses. The meal varies, but often there is panettone , a kind of fruit cake, eaten with hot chocolate while the presents are opened. Yes you read correctly, the poor kids are expected to be awake at midnight on Christmas eve in Peru to open their presents. Father Christmas is not really that big a thing here, in many households he is not even mentioned. I tell you this in case you are wondering how he sneaks in and leaves the presents if everyone is awake!
What is the typical Peruvian food at Christmas?
Turkey seems to be the modern choice, though that is an imported American custom. However, the way the turkey is prepared can be a bit different to the USA. Many families inject the turkey with Pisco, a local grape-based spirit. Others inject red wine. Traditional stuffing is not used but often the cavity is stuffed with meats, chicken, sausages and beef. In a conversation today a friend told me about the flat above him where they were preparing the turkey with mustard and mayonnaise. Before it goes in the oven!
Basically, meat, potatoes and vegetables are the order of the day for Christmas in Cusco. But more than likely the vegetables will be served cold. There is no Christmas pudding as such. But alcohol is always in order and many households continue into the early hours of the morning. Thus the 25th itself is a write off in most households and people just lounge around and do very little. For those of you visiting the country around this time and planning to spend Christmas in Peru, you do not have to worry about waiting up till 2 am to eat your dinner. Many hotels include dinner on the night of the 24th as obligatory, while the local restaurants also offer some delicious Christmas meals. And you will be glad to know they serve it at a sensible hour!
Is Machu Picchu open on Christmas day?
Some of the Cusco city museums are closed but for the archaeological sites around Cusco and the famous Machu Picchu, it is business as usual. What could be more special than visiting Machu Picchu on Christmas day? For some trekkers, perhaps a day on the Inca Trail could top that and you can guarantee your trekking crew will give you a Christmas in Peru to remember.
At Escaped to Latin America, we can offer you a variety of Peru tours to make the most of Christmas in Peru, or any other Latin American country. While many places such as the Galapagos and Rio book out over the Christmas and New Year period, somewhere like Peru seems to always be able to accommodate those travellers who decide to book late. You may not get your first choice of hotel, but with so many nice hotels in Peru to choose from that is not really much of an issue.
For more information about Christmas in Peru, contact us now by filling out the form on the right-hand side of this page. We look forward to helping you plan a Christmas to remember.