A week of celebrations will shake up Cusco


Whoever arrives in Cusco on Saturday June 18, will witness an unforgettable experience, without precedent in the last 200 years, according to the Municipal Enterprise of Festivities in Cusco (Emufec). The non-stop celebration, one festivity after the other: Qoyllur Riti (June 19-21), Corpus Chirsti (June 22 and 23) and Inti Raymi (June 24).

The first two are cults that vary in their date each year. This year the Liturgical and Cusqueño calendar have coincided so that for one consecutive week the fervor of the the three most spectacular Andean celebrations in America will merge. This is without taking into account the activities for the Day of Cusco (June 24) and the 100 years of the discovery of Machu Picchu (July 7). The expectations are so big, according to Miguel Zamora, general manager of Emufec, most hotels in the Imperial City are already saturated with reservations for those dates.

Devotees at the Ausangate glacier, celebrating Qoyllur Riti. (Photo elcomercio.com.pe)

Sunday, June 19

The Snow Star.

On this day, Cusco begins to vibrate with faith. Some 100,000 people from Peru and abroad will begin a pilgrimage of 9 km by foot, from Mahuayani to the Señor Qoyllur Riti Sanctuary in Ocongate, province of Quispicanchis. In the middle of fireworks and under the incessant melody of quenas (Andean flute) and drums, visitors and ukukos (people devoted to the Señor Qoyllur Riti who wear wool masks), will dance forth carrying rocks representing their sins under temperatures that drop below -4C. All this to get to the image of Señor Qoyllur Riti, or The Lord of Snow Star, that appeared on a stone sometime in 1780.

That year, the story goes, a blond boy in drags appeared many times before the pastor Mariano Mayta. Seeing his clothes, Mariano looked for leftover pieces of clothing from which to make him a new suit, but realized he wouldn’t find them nearby. Intrigued, the parish priest of Ocongate decided to figure out who was this strange child. When the child was in front of him, he disappeared amid a glow of light and Mariano died instantly. All of a sudden, on a stone exactly at the bottom of the Ausangate glacier appeared the image of Christ crucified. It’s there where people arrive to camp, pray and purify with the waters from the glacier.

Monday, June 20

On the second day, the ukukos risk their lives walking to the top of the glacier where they cut pieces of ice to take to town (in the last few years, they extract only glasses of clear water as a consequence of melting glaciers). The sacrifice is done so the population of highland Cusco have abundant water for the whole year.

Tuesday, June 21

The third day, the strongest of the local population and tourists will continue the pilgrimage to Tayancani, place where Mariano found the child for the first time.

Wednesday, June 22

Fifteen processions. Some ukukos will continue the rituals in Ocongate. Others, in turn, will walk for five hors towards the city of Cusco to join the Corpus Christi celebration, a Catholic festival infused with Andean nuances and where the body and blood of Christ consecrate.

Fifteen Cusqueño Saints and Virgins will come out of their parishes over humble wooden biers or gold or silver banners, depending on the economic condition of the neighborhood they are from. Surrounded by a congregation of 60,000, the carriers, some barefoot, will take the images at an accelerated pace towards the Plaza de Armas of the Imperial City. And while the sacred sculptures rest in the Cathedral, the residents will enjoy chiri uchu, an overwhelming ancestral dish that includes cuy, hen, pork, sausage, cheese, huevera de pescado, and scrambled eggs.

Thursday, June 23

The next day, the Virgins and Saints will go out on procession in route to their parish. This time it will be before mass and the procession of the Holiest, represented by a sacred host that tours the streets on a five ton float made out of pure silver.

It’s said that during the Tawantinsuyo all the neighborhoods of Cusco took out a noble mummy in procession during the winter solstice (time when the sun is furthest from the earth) to ask the sun god to return next year. The tradition was modified upon the arrival of the Spanish, when Catholic priests replaced the bodies of ex-rulers of the Incas with figures of Virgins and Saints. In his chronicles, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega says that the first celebration of Corpus Christi, as it’s known today, was performed in Cusco between 1547 and 1550.

Friday, June 24

Majestic Festival of the Sun

The celebrations up until now will exhaust any mere mortal. It might be worthwhile to recover for what’s next. The biggest festival of the Inca empire is celebrated on June 24: The Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun, when the crop year comes to a close. The ceremony extends from the Koricancha temple, going through the Plaza de Armas, up to the Saqsaywaman archeological complex. Here, the Inca, his wife, the acllas (women chosen to serve the Inca or Sun God), the warriors and other members of the royal court are revived by some 800 actors. And just as it was performed six centuries ago in the Tawantinsuyo, more than 50,000 people will witness the imposing rituals of chicha (fermented beer), the sacred fire and the sankhu.

It’s free access, but if you want to enjoy the celebrations seated comfortably, Emufec has enabled 3,800 seats around Sacsaywaman, where the main stage will take place. Tickets can be bought in www.emufec.gob.pe. The prices vary between 70 and 110 dollars, and more than 57 percent of the seats have been reserved.

After this intense week, Cusco will not easily let go of its visitors. Starting July 3, a special program to celebrate the 100 years of the discovery of Machu Picchu will begin. Theater presentations, traditional music concerts in the Inca city, simultaneous "pasacalle" dances in provinces and artistic festivals in all the plazas will capture you with the usual ancestral magic. We should start getting used to it, in the Imperial CIty the festivities never end.

Thinking about visiting Cusco? Contact the LivinginPeru.com travel department, PeruExperience.com, where local knowledge meets world class service.