Christmas in Peru?
Perhaps Peru does not spring to mind as a traditional place to visit for Christmas. But why not? A Peruvian Christmas is very different to Christmas in North America and much of Europe, although there is certainly a Spanish influence, due to the fact Peru was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century.
Here are 7 great reasons you should consider a Christmas in Peru.
1. Visit the Christmas market of Santurantikuy
Each year, since 1689, the 24th December has seen a Christmas market in Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. Last year almost 1500 stalls offered a wide variety of goods, nativity figures, decorations, handmade toys, seasonal foods and much more. Since 2015 it has been extended to 2 days, the 23rd and 24th December.
Christmas in Peru can be pretty humbling
Aside from those who have paid to rent a stall at the market, many people sell informally. People from the local hill communities can be seen around the edge of the Plaza de Armas. Dressed in their traditional clothing of ponchos, polleras and big hats, they come down to the town to literally sell twigs and moss. They do so in order to make a little money to provide some kind of Christmas to their families. The twigs or moss are bought by the townsfolk to use when making their nativity scenes.
These hill people begin to gather in Cusco, in the week before Santuranticuy starts, sleeping under the arches around the main square, in order to get themselves a good spot. In response to the hundreds that come down from the hills, some locals and charities offer food and drink to them, normally hot chocolate and bread, known as a chocolatada, to stave off the cold and fill hungry stomachs. It is a very real reminder of a side to Peru that exists outside the tourist sites.
In the run-up to Christmas, many local tour operators visit local communities. They take hot chocolate and cake. This again is known as a chocolatada Someone may dress as Santa and bring toys for the kids in the communities. Here at Amazonas Explorer, while we understand that it is done with good intentions, it is not something we encourage.
- Firstly, the toys are usually made from cheap, often toxic, plastic. They usually end up broken within a few days and littering the countryside for a long time to come.
- Secondly, the whole concept of helping someone just because it is Christmas feels wrong. We feel there are much better ways to help local communities, in a more sustainable way with benefits that last through the year, rather than a day or so.
Origins of Cusco´s Christmas market
Traditionally the main focus of the market was to sell ceramic statues of the baby Jesus in a crib. El Niño Manuelito, as he is known here is then taken to the churches to be blessed before being placed in the family’s nativity scene.
While they actually have a prize for the best Niño Manuelito each year, for most people bigger is better. Thus the traditional nativity scenes consist of a few small donkeys, pigs and cows, and one huge baby who is usually about five times as big as his parents and born with a full head of dark curly hair.
Whether you buy anything or not, Santuranticuy is a great day out and a very important part of Cusco’s traditions.
2. Visit Machu Picchu for Christmas- it is open as normal
Machu Picchu is open every single day of the year. In fact, all Inca sites are open on Christmas, which is fitting, as the Incas and the civilisations that came before them, did not celebrate Christmas. In Machu Picchu, Christmas Day is just like any other day, no Christmas trees, no decorations, none of those things.
Remember Christmas is a Christian festival, and Christianity, in the form of Catholicism was not brought to Peru until the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century.
While Catholicism is on the wane here, it is still strong, especially among older generations, and celebrating Christmas mass is an important part of the ritual for many local families. So please do not try and visit churches or cathedrals on the 25th December when there are masses going on.
If you are wanting to visit a museum, check beforehand, as many of them close on the 25th, which is a public holiday here in Peru.
3. You can still find hotel spaces in Cusco at Christmas
Christmas in Cusco is quite popular. So you need to be flexible when requesting hotels, but there are still spaces available. The five and four-star categories are much harder to find spaces for than the three-star hotels.
At the time of writing, for Christmas 2019 this is the availability of high-end hotels:
- In Machu Picchu- Belmond Sanctuary Lodge and Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo are both sold out but Sumaq has space.
- In Cusco, Inkaterra La Casona is sold out but Belmond Monasterio and Palacio Nazarenas have space
- In the Sacred Valley, Sol y Luna has space as does Belmond Rio Sagrado and Inkaterra Hacienda Urubamba
- Dropping to 4 stars, the Casa Andina Premiums in Cusco and the Sacred Valley have space, as does El Mapi by Inkaterra in Machu Picchu town
4. The weather is probably better than where you live
Weather in December in Cusco and the Andes
December in Peruvian Andes is the rainy season. However, with recent climate change, December is a lot drier than before. While it will probably rain at some point if you spend a Christmas in Peru, here in the Andes, the sun will still shine almost every day, for at least a few hours if not more. It is best to plan on half-day activities in the morning and leave the afternoons free. The weather is more reliable in the morning, allowing you to enjoy free time in the afternoon when rain is more likely. Temperatures in Cusco reach the high 60s to low 70s in Fahrenheit (mid-20s in Celsius) during the daytime and rarely drop below the mid-40s in Fahrenheit (7 Celsius) at night, during December in Cusco.
Weather in December in the Peruvian Amazon
In the Amazon, it is also rainy season and can be very hot and humid. Both in the Amazon and the Andes, when it does rain, it can be very heavy indeed, but when the sun comes out afterwards, you soon warm up.
Weather on the Peruvian coast in December
On the Peruvian coastline, by contrast, Christmas is the start of summer. The coast is desert, which never sees much rain, but at this time of year, the skies clear and the sun shines almost constantly. The temperature ranges from the mid-70s into the 90s in Fahrenheit, mid-20s to 30s Celsius. The further north you go, the hotter it can get. This is the time of year people spend their weekends at the beach. Many families own or rent a beach house for the summer, enabling them to escape the city and enjoy some fresh air.
Many Peruvian families spend Christmas day at the beach, perhaps with a barbeque lunch. Hotels in popular beach destinations such as Mancora are likely to be busy, but if you grew up celebrating Christmas in the middle of winter, then it can make a lovely change to spend Christmas day swimming in the ocean.
5. Christmas dinner is different in Peru
Whether you want something Christmasy, or something as far from that as possible, such as ceviche, Peru always has good food available.
Most Peruvians eat Christmas dinner at midnight on the 24th of December, known as Noche Buena. Restaurants and hotels will serve it earlier, to accommodate their guests. Peruvian families usually give each other presents at the time of dinner.
Turkey is on the menu in most Peruvian homes at Christmas. Roast meat of some sort was traditional for many years. But the tradition of eating turkey has crept in from the USA over recent years. Many cooks inject their turkey with Pisco, the Peruvian spirit made from grapes. As with much of the world, the stuffed turkey for Christmas has largely replaced more traditional dishes eaten at this time of year. It is accompanied by rice and or potatoes plus as a selection of vegetables. Usually, there will be other side dishes too.
Make sure you try Panettone, a type of cake eaten in Peru during the Christmas period that originated in Italy. Accompany it with Peruvian hot chocolate, made by grating a bar of close to 100% cacao and melting with water, before adding spices and milk. Cacao is grown in the tropical areas of Peru. Panettone and hot chocolate are essential to any Peruvian Christmas.
Note most of the luxury hotels charge extra for the dinner and it is compulsory for anyone staying. You do not have to eat it, but you have to pay for it when you book.
6. You can escape Christmas if you wish
For those who would prefer to avoid Christmas, Peru celebrates it in a much lower-key way than the west. So with a careful bit of planning, you can avoid most of it. It is not such a long-lasting affair as in the western world. Most people work on the 24th then again on the 26th. So life does, for the most part, go on as normal and it is quite easy to avoid Christmas if you wish.
7. It is still Peru
Christmas in Peru will always be special because Peru is special. Whatever day of the year you visit or whatever type of Christmas you want, this is still a stunningly beautiful, vibrant and colourful place to spend some time.
If you want to find out more about spending Christmas in Peru either this year or 2020, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to use the contact form.