Despite the religious tenor of the Holy Week in Cuzco, the city’s unique Andean spin on the festivities means it’s a fun time for tourists of all backgrounds to enjoy. What can you expect? Fireworks, concerts, and lots of food… It begins with Palm Sunday on March 24th and culminates with Easter Sunday on March 28th, although in contrast to Holy Week celebrations in other cities, in Cuzco the principal day of celebrations is Holy Monday. This is because it’s the day of the Lord of Tremors processions, which we wrote about in our last post.
Here, we’ll talk about the events planned for the main days of Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Holy Monday, and Good Friday.
Palm Sunday begins with 9am mass in the Basilica Cathedral. During mass, you can visit the fascinating monument without paying an entry fee. However, although you are free to admire some of the treasures it houses, you’ll be expected to refrain from taking any photos. As in other countries, street vendors peddle palms bent into crosses and religious meddles.
On Holy Monday, close to 80 thousand devotees are expected to gather in the main square (the Plaza de Armas) of Cusco in order to receive the blessing of the city’s patron saint, the Lord of Tremors. As the statue of the Lord of Tremors is carried in procession throughout the square and the city’s main streets, the faithful will throw red ñucchu flowers upon it to symbolize the blood of Christ. The statue will exit the Basilica Cathedral shortly after noon, as Cusco’s archbishop will be performing mass on the hour from 8am to 12pm. The day will end with an outdoor concert in the main square and a fireworks show. Despite it being a religious holiday, expect there to be plenty of beer flowing.
You can enjoy the afternoon spectacle in comfort from one of the colonial balconies that surround the square, such as that of Plus Restaurant, which is part of our hostel in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco.
On Good Friday, the faithful will depart from Plaza San Francisco (where Pirwa Colonial Hostel is located) en route to the Papal Cross located by Sacsayhuaman Fortress, the Incan site overlooking the city. This event is organized by the San Francisco Convent, and entails a tiring uphill walk. If you decide to undertake it, however, you’ll be rewarded with wonderful views of the city of Cuzco from the site of the cross.
At the same time, the Hampi Rantikuy fair will be taking place in Plaza San Francisco. Sellers generally come from the countryside communities, laden with medicinal plants to sell. You’ll notice plenty of crosses made from spiny cactuses and other plants, which are intended to be hung from the back of doors in order to protect local households from evil.
Many Cuzqueños spend Good Friday with their families, indulging in the traditional 12 dishes, which represent the 12 apostles. The dishes are generally small, and common choices include simple soups made from corn or lizas (a yellow Andean tuber with fuschia dots), fish and seafood dishes, and deserts of sweet rice and milk and stewed fruits.
You’ll notice street vendors selling a variety of baked goods, especially sweet empanadas. These aren’t the same as the turnovers of the same name, they are like flat cookies covered in colorful sprinkles. They are the treat most associated with Holy Week.