The top things to see and do in Cusco for Christmas include taking a stroll around the Plaza de Armas (Cusco’s Main square) to enjoy the Christmas nativity scenes including animals and lights which appear from Dec 10th onwards and lend a festive air to Cusco’s historic centre.
Christmas Eve on December 24th is a key date in Cusco’s annual festivities and the Main Square is again the focal point hosting the famous ‘Santurantikuy’ market. Directly translated it means the ‘market for the buying of the saints.’ This traditional market is where Cusco locals come to buy the pieces for their nativity scenes. Hundreds of people come from the surrounding Andean communities to sell mosses and plants which are also used to decorate the ‘nacimientos’ or cribs. You can also buy the colourful traditional candles that are on display.
Cusco’s main mass the ‘misa de gallo’ takes place at 10pm on Christmas Eve in Cusco’s Cathedral. Expect a packed house with locals coming out to celebrate in crowds. Locals then head home to exchange gifts and eat a celebratory meal with their families.
An important element of Christmas in Cusco are the ”chocolatadas’ where organisations or groups of people provide Christmas cheer to those less fortunate. The streets are filled with ‘campesinos’ from the communities who spend several days sleeping on the streets of Cusco and participating in ‘chocolatadas’ so that their children can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate, bread or the typical paneton and toys on this feast. Christmas is celebrated on Christmas eve where families gather in their homes to share a meal together.
Christmas day itself tends to be quiet in Cusco with most people celebrating at home with their families. Some of the restaurants and pubs are open on the 25th and serve a Christmas menu so that you can sample some of the typical Christmas fare if you happen to be in Cusco over Christmas.
The ‘Bajada de Reyes’ or Epiphany takes place on January 6th and is a ceremony in the Andean villages dating back to the pre-Hispanic era to commemorate the new village leaders or ‘Varayoc’ coming into power. It is particularly celebrated in the town of Ollantaytambo.