Happy Holidays: Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Cusco

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The plaza of Cusco becomes a holiday wonderland draped in twinkling lights and full of cheer.  Street vendors appear selling steaming cups of rich and creamy spiced hot chocolate and ponche, a hot rum punch. It seems as if every store is selling the traditional panetón, a special Christmas fruit cake topped with dried fruit candies. 

Cusco | Late December & Early January

On the day before Christmas, artisans flock to the historic Plaza de Armas in Cusco to participate in a street fair called Santuranticuy, or the selling of saints.

These artists set up stalls or spread out colorful blankets on the ground and artfully arrange their Christmas creations to tempt passersby. For months beforehand, the artisans make little figurines for the nativity scenes that most Peruvians faithfully display in their living rooms.

Christmas day can be quiet in Cusco, when most Peruvians spend the day at the homes of their oldest family members, eating chicharron (slow-cooked pork) or turkey. However, far from being a disadvantage to the traveler, this affords wonderful opportunities rare for visitors to Cusco.

Visit the incense-filled cathedral and the numerous churches displaying intricate and somewhat fantastic nativity scenes to hear choir groups sing traditional holiday and Andean songs. This is also a perfect time to wander the streets of this picturesque city and appreciate the exquisite architecture incorporating Inca stones into colonial construction.  Afterward, step into one of the English pubs serving special Christmas menus to a fairly rambunctious international crowd.

New Year’s Eve is basically the opposite of the calm and family-oriented Christmas.

On the evenings leading up to New Year’s Eve, Cusco’s most distinguished theater group, Kusikay, does free performances with firework displays in Plaza de Armas to help people get ready for the main event. This is a good transition time because, as you are about to learn, New Year’s Eve in Cusco can get a little crazy.