Summer has been sneaking up on the seaside city of Lima, Peru, and this is not lost on the city’s residents. As the temperatures slowly rise and the clouds recede back into their annual hibernation, the bicycles have come out and surfers taken to the waves. Patios buzz with ceviche-lovers, rooftops light up with barbecues and dancing, and plazas around the city are serenaded with pop-up concerts, all in celebration of the sunshine.
Meanwhile, 11,000 feet above the surf, the Inca city of Cusco whistles a different tune. November marks the end of another booming busy season in the historic Andean city. Although Cusco is most famous as the ancient capital of the Inca and gateway to the enigmatic Machu Picchu citadel, there is a thriving and vibrant living culture that still call Cusco home, as their ancestors have for centuries. The throngs of eager archeologically-inspired visitors have thinned, allowing the city’s true colours to shine. The descendants of the Inca can reclaim their home, and they do not deliberate in doing so.
The slowing of the tourist season coincides with the start of the holidays, allowing those travellers who choose the path less-crowded exclusive exposure to the uniquely Peruvian holiday traditions. Starting in Lima, Santa hats and hot chocolate take over the beaches along with the typical swimsuits and cervezas. Panettone, a traditional holiday sweetbread, is shared between neighbours and friends as a vessel of cheer. In Cusco, the main plaza hosts a decidedly fun spin on a traditional European Christmas Market. Hot rum punches wash down delectable street eats, and holiday open-air theatre performances are capped of with nightly firework finales. Family’s replace the Christmas tree, not indigenous to the region, with presents around a manger scene, awaiting their opening after a midnight turkey feast as the calendar turns from December 24th to the 25th. Fireworks and fiesta follow, well into early morning for the most spirited Santa fans.
From January through April, the festivities in the highlands do not stop. This is low season for visitors to the country, which allows culturally-curious travellers who are not afraid to go against the grain an exceptional opportunity to witness and even take part in some of the country’s most intriguing traditions. Offerings to the Pachamama (spirit of Mother Earth) are common, as highlanders who depend on the land express their gratitude and reverence for the water that sustains themselves and their crops. These indigenous ceremonies are a moving experience for any lucky enough to witness them, as they reveal the genuine connection to the land that the locals maintain and nurture.
Of course, the Candelaria is the most significant event in this season, taking place in February all over the country. Parades, parties, music and feast are enjoyed in abundance as the Catholic Candlemas tradition takes on a decidedly Peruvian flavour. It is not uncommon for those lucky visitors who incorporate the Candelaria festivities into their itinerary to be swept up in the action, rubbing shoulders and sharing dances with the locals.
As the sunshine tickles the South Pacific coast, Peru seems to prickle with anticipation of the festivities on the horizon. For locals, this is the beginning of the best season of the year. For visitors, the unrivalled cultural exposure that is possible during this time may well have them feeling like locals in no time.