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Cusco Colorful Carnival

The ancient city of Cusco blooms with color during the Carnival, when locals and tourists are united in an exciting celebration where attendees splash each other with talc and water, among other lighthearted traditions. Keep reading to learn more about these famous festivities.

The main event of Cusco Carnival is held in the city’s Plaza de Armas (Main Square) bringing together an array of public and private organizations to offer an incredible spectacle featuring dances and music performed by different types of troupes known as pandillas and comparsas. Many of these groups have won numerous prizes at the different festivals celebrated in the Sacred Valley and the South Valley.

The Celebration of the Compadres and Comadres
Traditionally, Carnival begins two Thursdays before the main event, with one day dedicated to compadres and the other, to comadres. On these dates, prominent local men visit their female counterparts and vice versa.

One of the defining features of this celebration are the dolls made in the image of well-known public personalities, important workplace figures, and even regional authorities. Some place a humorous emphasis on their subject’s most notable traits, while others carry a powerful symbolic message for society. Whatever the case, these dolls always represent something.

These dolls are generally made from recycled materials such as cardboard, bottles, discarded clothing articles and shoes, plastic, etc. Once they are ready, they are hung from high places as soon as Wednesday ends, the better for all to view them.

Cusco Carnival Main Celebration
The most important day of Carnival is held on Sunday. At this point, everything grows more intense, from the music to the colors, with water, talc, mixtures of the two, and even paint flying everywhere. The winning dolls from the compadre and comadre competitions are paraded through the streets. And of course, you cannot miss the dances performed by numerous public and private organizations.

Traditional Foods at Cusco’s Carnival
With all these lively activities, celebrants’ bellies are sure to require a good meal. Luckily, Carnival comes with its own culinary fair featuring three traditional dishes from Cusco:

  • Kapchi: Also spelled capchi, is a dish made with fresh broad beans, seasoned potatoes, milk, and cheese or mushrooms. It is usually accompanied by a stuffed rocoto chili pepper and a bit of rice.
  • Timpu: Also known as puchero cusqueño, consists of a mouthwatering variety of stewed meats served with potatoes, chickpeas, rice, whole cabbage leaves, sweet potatoes, peaches, yucca, pears, and a local tuber called moraya. There are two different presentations which can be served on separate plates or together in combination.
  • Frutillada: To complement our meal (and quench our thirst) we have the famous frutillada, an iconic drink from the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This beverage is prepared with chicha de jora mixed with boiled strawberries (with lemon verbena and cinnamon). The key step in making frutillada is to leave the chicha to ferment for eight days. By the time Carnival rolls around, it will be ready to drink.
  • Chicha de jora: Chicha de jora is a drink made from fermented purple maize. While it is often used as the main ingredient in more elaborate beverages, it is also popular all on its own.

Octava or Kacharpari
Octava or Kacharpari, is celebrated one week after the main event to cap off Carnival festivities for the year. On this date, we can catch a glimpse of the famous yunza or cortamonte, where people get together to dance around an artificial tree that has been adorned with gifts. During this event, participants move in a circle around the tree, using a machete or ax to strike blows until they overthrow it. After the tree falls, you have better be quick and crafty if you want to grab one of the gifts. As a curiosity, this tradition can be found in various celebrations in different regions of Peru that happen to overlap with Carnival season (February and March).

Kacharpari always marks the end of festivities and Cusco Carnival is no exception, where it wraps up one of Peru’s most important celebrations.

Carnivals in Cusco’s Provinces
The city of Cusco isn’t the only place where Carnival is celebrated; these unforgettable festivities can be found in the different provinces throughout the department, as well. To name just a few, we have:

  • The Sacred Valley of the Incas: Calca, Urubamba, Qoya, Pisac, Lamay, Yanahuara, etc.
  • South Valley: Canchis, Oropesa, and San Jerónimo.
    While these events share many features, each community has its own traditions. For example, women take charge of Carnival in the District of Tinta. Towns such as Calca and Mollepata celebrate a yunza for singles and married couples, very similar to the traditional yunza, where participants take part in chopping down the tree to the beat of traditional songs such as huaynos.

Thinking of visiting Cusco during Carnival season? Then be sure not to miss the view from the PeruRail Vistadome train, which offers exceptional comfort and an unrivaled experience on your journey to Machu Picchu. Get your tickets here.

There is no better way to start off your February than by reveling in Cusco’s incredible Carnival!

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