Peruvians love an excuse to celebrate. This rings particularly true in Cusco, Peru’s cultural capital. In the days leading up to Christmas, Cusco’s main square bursts into life with Santuranticuy, a magical Christmas festival that merges Spanish and Quechua traditions. Here’s what to do in Peru over Christmas.
Here’s what to do in Peru over Christmas
Translated as “the sale of saints,” Santuranticuy is an authentic Christmas market that takes over Cusco’s main square. The market is centered around the tradition of building a pesebre, a carefully-crafted nativity scene that is kept in the home. As the tradition goes, the nativity scene is lit on Christmas Eve. This is the day the Plaza de Armas is at its liveliest.
For those seeking Christmas cheer, this magical market is among the best things to do in Peru over the holidays. Admire the artisan-made figurines and keep warm with a cup of traditional rum punch. At night, the fair takes on a new glow: biblical animals covered in lights decorate the square.
Artisans and sculptors come from throughout the country to sell their pesebre adornments. The ornaments range from traditional to contemporary, affordable to high-end and everything in between. For many locals, the goal is to acquire the most realistic, glorious looking pesebre.
The nativity scenes are placed in churches, homes and public plazas. Families comb through the market, pouring their heart into finding ever-better pieces for their pesebre. The star, of course, is baby Jesus, or Niño Manuelito in Andean terms. There is even clothing on offer for the figures, should you want to give them a new look.
The night of Christmas Eve – or “la noche buena” (the good night) – is the big celebration. Families gather together for dinner and merriment before opening presents. It’s a very festive occasion with lots of music and dancing. Mass, or Misa de Gallo, takes place at about 10:00pm. After mass, fireworks crack in the sky and the party begins. Friends and family gather in a living room and push the furniture to the side to make room for dancing. The music often goes on all night.
If you’re in Peru for a Christmas dinner, you’re in luck. A traditional Christmas dinner is served after midnight. As in many countries, the meal centers around turkey. However, some families from Cusco serve cusqueña, or hen. Apple sauce, tamales and salad are served on the side. Dinner is accompanied by a rich Peruvian hot chocolate mixed with cinnamon and cloves. Many restaurants offer traditional Peruvian Christmas menus, so it’s a great time of year for a Peru trip.
If you don’t have a pesebre to shop for, don’t worry. You can start perfecting yours this year. Our expert Peru travel guides can help.
Find out here when is the best time to travel to Peru is!