Plan your trip to Peru to coincide with the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice, or Andean New Year. You’ll find the mountains in Cusco alive with energy and jubilation.
1. Take part in an offering to Pachamama: Mother Earth
The trek to Salkantay, a mountain rising to 6271 meters in the Vilcabamba Range (Cusco), is not an easy undertaking. Nevertheless, the experience is so intense that anyone who has the physical strength, the desire and the time available, should add it to their itinerary.
You leave Cusco for the village of Mollepata and from there to Cruz Pata and Soraypampa (3850 meters). The route to Pampa Salkantay is more arduous and passes close to Mount Humantay before reaching the highest point: the Salkantay Humantay pass, at 4500 meters, from which some imposing glaciers can be seen. Here, by Lake Humantay, is where a traditional ritual of thanks to the gods takes place.
The tribute to Mother Earth, or pachamama, is the responsibility of the community of Q’ero, a village near Ausangate mountain. Ausangate is considered the last bastion of the Incas and is part of the Cultural Heritage of Peru. The people of Q’ero maintain cultural practices, farming techniques and customs of the Inca Empire. Being part of this tribute is a life altering experience.
2. Celebrate Inti Raymi: The Festival of the Sun
Another festival during Andean New Year is the Inti Raymi. It is celebration in honor of the Sun, which is the Incas’ most important deity. It began during the reign of Pachacutec and is celebrated at the beginning of the winter solstice (June), when the sun is furthest away from the earth. This is also the end of harvest time, which marks new year for the people of the Andes.
The historical reenactment that takes place today was developed by Faustino Espinoza Navarro, a Quechua writer and actor from Cusco, and historian Humberto Vidal Unda, based on the book Comentarios Reales de los Incas by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1612).
The celebration is held on the June 24 in the city of Cusco, involving around 600 actors in a spectacle of color and dance. The celebration starts in Qorikancha temple, then moves to the city’s main square and ends in Sacsayhuaman with the central ceremony.
2. Go to Qoyllur Rit’i preceding Andean New Year
This is one of the most traditional festivals taking place in the area of the ancient Inca empire. This impressive gathering of many tens of thousands of people takes place in a high Andean isolated area near the Apu Ausengate. Qoyllur Rit’i takes place every year at the end of May. Though the festival now is controlled by imposed beliefs from the Catholic church, it has a very indigenous origin related to the stars, and to ancient mythologies related to the winter and the dry season.
There are many tours that you can book in order to go to Qoyllur Rit’i, but you can also make the trip yourself. In order to get to the pilgrimage site, you need to get transportation to the town of Mahuayani, which is about 3 hours from Cusco. And during the times of the festival, there are frequent transport options.
Once you get to Mahuayani, you will need to walk 8 km to get to the pilgrimage site. Be prepared for extremely cold weather, many people, and music and dancing that lasts all night long.
Credit: Ultimate Journeys Peru
Cover photo: lawtonjm/Flickr
This article has been updated from its original publication on December 5, 2018.
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