Peruvian Culture: Discover Cusco Carnival

Have you already been in the Inca Empire’s former capital, Cusco? If you haven’t, Proyecto Peru will give you yet another reason why you should visit it and discover the Peruvian culture!

Cusco’s Carnivals

Cusco catches the eye of all world travellers and is one the first options when planning a trip to Peru. For this, and more reasons, the US website News & World Report ranked Cusco first on the best places to visit in Latin America.

Photo: Pinterest

However, Cusco is not only a tourist destination due to its architecture , archaeology and dream landscape, but also because it is full of traditions and festivities. The Carnival in Cusco is one of the biggest representations of Peruvian culture because of the happiness and emotions it brings to locals and visitors.

When do the Cusco’s Carnivals take place?

This traditional festivity is very important to the Peruvian Culture, and it has already started. But don’t worry! You have plenty of time to enjoy it. Carnivals in Cusco are celebrated between January and March. You can see it through its colourful typical outfits, gastronomy, and dances.

This festivity dates back to colonial times. Each Peruvian region has celebrated this differently; and in Cusco this goes along with the Carnival of Compadres (mates) and Comadres (girlfriends).

Photo: Robert Luna’s Flick

Apart from the parades and dances in every district of Cusco, there is another tradition: water balloon fight! (some of the balloons might be filled with flour as well). During these months, don’t be surprised to be splashed with water balloons or flour when leaving your homestay or hostel. Be on the lookout for groups of kids or teenagers. However, it’s easier and funnier to join the party and be part of the festivity.

Yunzas: The gift tree

Apart from the water and flour, yunzas are also part of the party! Yunzas are trees decorated with gifts. The tradition consist of planting a tree in a shallow surface and hang gifts from its branches. This tradition is part of the Peruvian culture.

Photo: Pirwa Hostel

The trees are also decorated with colourful paper and balloons. The tradition consists of people from the neighbourhood (where the tree was planted) playing music and dance around the tree. While they dance in a circle, each person is granted one hit with an axe until the tree falls. Once the tree falls, everyone goes to the tree to get the gifts once hung. This is a tradition tourists can also participate in.

According to the tradition, whoever takes down the tree will be in charge of organising the yunza the following year. This tradition is also accompanied with food, drinks and jokes from all participants.


Festivity of Compadres and Comadres

These are the names given to the characterisation these characters. These festivities are carried out the last two Thursdays before the carnival. On these days, the locals make dolls called compares (mates) and comadres (girlfriends). These dolls satirise one person from the neighbourhood, work, or a local authority. The main goal for this is to have fun highlighting qualities and physical features of the chosen person. This is done with no disrespect.

On the second to last Thursday before the carnival, the comadres visit the compadres in order to pay them tribute. They also make jokes about the compadres, but in a nice way. The next Thursday, it’s the compadres who now pay the comadres a visit and recreate everything. These events are accompanied with food.

In order to make these dolls, people recycle cardboard boxes, bottles, old clothes, and plastic. Most of these dolls are hung on poles or high places for everyone to see. This is done late at night the day before (Wednesday night).

Almost every year, people participate to win the best doll. The best ones are part of the carnival parades.

Main Day in February

The main day is around mid February, on a Sunday. People prepare buckets full of water balloons in order to be prepared for battle. Age, sex, and nationality are no issues here. It is very common to see people from all over the world participating at the Main Square. It is something great to see and, moreover, participate in.

On this day, you can also see parades in different parts of Cusco. People show their best outfits and dances.


After the dances, games, food, and more comes the Kacharpari. This is the carnivals’ farewell, and it’s another happy festivity. It’s here where yunzas take place, local authorities give a speech, and locals share this festivity with tourists.

Gastronomy during the Carnivals

In almost every Cusco festivity, the food plays an important role. There are many typical plates that you can try during these months.

  • Puchero Cusqueño

This is plate known dating from the Inca times. In Quechua, it is knows as Timpu, which means lamb food. This plate is popular in the Andes of Peru it practically represents the Carnivals amongst tourists.

Photo: Cusco noticias

The Puchero is also popular in Spain and other Latin American countries, but it is served dry in Peru. If you are in Peru, you can see this dish being prepared in the markets and streets.

  • Kapchi

You can find this dish in all Peruvian regions. Its preparation depends on where you are. For example, in Ayacucho they use cheese, peppers, and potato, while in Cusco they add broad beans. Kapchi is a typical Peruvian plate and it is not popular in other countries. This dish also comes from Inca times and it’s only served during these months.

  • Frutillada

This is an ancestral drink the Incas used for religious ceremonies and festivities. You can find this drink at the Chicherías (local bars that sell corn beer).

How to spot Chicherías? When you are in Cusco, you can identify them as houses holding red plastic flags outside of them. When you see a house with this characteristic, you can enter and enjoy a glass of chicha or corn beer.

Photo: Cuzco Eats

You can also find this drink as well as the sweet version (it has strawberries in it) on the street of Cusco. During these festivities, people often offer them to tourists.

So, are you ready to be part of the carnivals in Cusco? We’ll guarantee you won’t regret it!

If you are interested in learning Spanish and volunteering in Cusco, visit Proyecto Peru’s website here!

Article translated from Redbus.