Christmas in Peru? Perhaps Peru does not spring to mind as a traditional place to visit for Christmas. But why not?

Christmas market of Santarintukuy

Every year, since 1689, 24th December has seen a Christmas market in Cusco’s main square. Last year almost 1,500 stalls offered a wide variety of goods, nativity figures, decorations, handmade toys, seasonal foods and much more. 2015 will see it lasting two days for the first time ever, now 23rd and 24th December.

Aside from those with stalls, come many people from the communities based in the hills surrounding Cusco. Dressed in their traditional wear of ponchos, polleras and big hats (or simply ‘clothes’ as they would call them because they really do wear this everyday), they come down to the town to sell twigs and moss to make a little money to provide some kind of Christmas for their families. The twigs or moss are bought by the people of Cusco to make their nativity scenes. The people from these hillside communities can be seen for the week leading up to the festival, 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, to stave off the cold and fill hungry stomachs. It is a very real reminder of the authentic Peru that exists outside the tourist sites.

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. There is even a prize for the best Niño Manuelito each year, and for most people bigger is better. Thus, the traditional nativity scenes consists of a few small donkeys, pigs and cows, and one huge baby who is usually about five times bigger than his parents.

Whether you buy anything or not, this is a great day out and a very important and authentic part of Cusco culture.

Machu Picchu is still open

A visit to Machu Picchu makes for a very special Christmas. It is open as normal, as are all the Inca sites. Some of the museums and galleries are closed on 25th December and 1st January. And it is best to avoid visiting churches on 25th December out of respect.

Hotels do have spaces

Christmas in Cusco is actually very busy so you need to be a bit flexible when requesting hotels but there are still spaces available. It is usually easier to find availability in 3* properties than in 5* and 4* properties.

It can be sunny

Many think this time of year is the rainy season, but with recent climate change December is actually a lot drier than before. In Cusco the sun shines almost every day. Even if it rains, the sun still comes out after. It is best to plan on half-day activities in the morning, as the weather is more reliable, allowing you to enjoy some free time in the afternoon.

Some great Christmas dining

The high-end hotels have their own take on Christmas dinner. Usually served on the night of 24th December (as is the custom here), you can get a delicious Peruvian twist on Christmas dinner. Note that most of these high-end hotels make it compulsory.
For those who are staying in other hotels, there are some great options to be had in the local restaurants, whether you want something ‘Christmassy’ or something that strays as far from tradition as possible. Ceviche, perhaps?

It’s even good for those who want to escape Christmas

For those who do not like Christmas at all, it is not hard to avoid it completely out here with a careful bit of planning. It is not such a long-lasting affair as in the West, with most people working on 24th December then again on 26th. So life does, for the most part, go on as normal and it is a lower-key celebration than what we see in our home countries.
It is still Peru

Christmas in Peru will always be special, because Peru is special. Whatever day of the year you come and whatever type of Christmas you want, this is still a stunningly beautiful, vibrant and colourful place to spend some time.

Written by Mark Smith.

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