When it comes to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Peru’s most popular destination is Cusco. Although you’ll find the city rather deserted on Christmas Day itself (as most businesses stay closed and people spend time with their families), Christmas Eve is very lively. From the early hours of Dec 24th, Peru’s largest folk art fair, Santurantikuy, fills the Plaza de Armas as it has since Incan times. Artisans from throughout the surrounding provinces bring pieces for sale, especially the nativities and Niño Manuelito which have been so popular since the time of the Spanish conquest. (The latter is Cusco’s version of the child Christ, the most traditional version of which is the child sitting in a wooden chair with a wound in his raised foot. Buyers request wishes and insert a thorn in the wound, where it will remain until the wish is granted.) Other products include leather goods, carved wood and stone, leather goods, and decorative ceramics. While browsing the fair, you can warm up with some ponche or hot chocolate and sample some street food. Expect the main square to be very crowded during Santurantikuy, and be wary of pickpockets.
In the evening, most people enjoy a traditional Christmas Eve dinner with their families. (Peruvians consider Christmas Eve to be the main day of celebration, not Christmas Day.) Many restaurants offer set menus for travelers on this night, but they are very pricey by local standards.
All of the guests at our Cusco hostels are invited to join us at our own traditional dinner, this December 24th at 9pm at Pirwa Colonial Hostel. We offer this at cost, which is a third of the price that the same dinner will be selling elsewhere, so that all of us away from home can celebrate Christmas Eve together. (You can find invitations with the details at all of our reception desks.
At midnight, Cusco lights up with fireworks and firecrackers set off by local families. Although much of this clusters around the main square (which can sound like a war zone at this time), you’ll find the noise inescapable throughout the city. If you’re so inclined, you can choose to light a few of your own, as they’ll be on sale along the city streets throughout the day. Wherever and however you choose to spend the day, we hope that all of you have a Christmas filled with holiday cheer.