Art, Folklore and Feasts in Cusco

Art, Folklore and Feasts in Cuzco

In Cusco you found many native expressions of art as ceramic, textiles, silver and gold jewels, paints. Cusco celebrates some hundreds festivals a year (Feasts' Calendar). Most of them are held in homage to a patron saint and are part of the Christian calendar adopted in colonial times, although they have blended with the magical beliefs of ancient forms of worship. The celebrations of the Inti Raymi, Holy Week, Carnivals, Corpus Christi, and the feast of "Señor de los Temblores" (Lord of the Earthquakes), have special significance for cusquenians, becoming a great folkloric expression of their people. The Cusco Cuisine, heated in a firewood oven, earthenware of the highlands gathers odors and flavors linked to earth. Meats, tubers, grains and herbs are used in a great variety of simple but tasty dishes, also the Novo-Andina Cuisine

Art and Crafts of Cusco

Peruvian artisanry ranks possibly amongst the most varied arts and handicrafts found on Earth. Proof of this stems from the growing network of exporters who each year exhibit the creativity of Peruvian artists on markets in Europe, Asia and North America. The diversity, color, creativity and multiple uses of Peruvian craftwork make it a fundamental activity not just to forge Peru’s identity, but also ensure the survival of thousands of families.


Cusco’s pottery is heavily influenced by Inca tradition. In a movement that has revitalized Cusco art, known as Inca Renaissance, potters have created a vast collection of pieces. These include the Tica Curuna (a flower motif), ppucus (dishes) and various types of colorful crockery, such as keros, arybalos, qochas, ayanas and raquis. Another trend in pottery is the so-called “grotesque” tradition, originally created by artisan Erilberto Mérida, and apparently inspired by the figures in Quinua pottery. This style comprises rough, unpolished figurines such as peasants and Christs, with deformed and even tormented facial features with oversized hands.


Modern Peruvian weavers are heirs to a long running pre-Hispanic tradition that was developed across the length and breadth of Peru. Preferred materials –which are still used today– include brown and white cotton; vicuña, alpaca and llama wool. Cusco decorative work often featuresthe tika, representing the potato flower, and the sojta, a geometric design symbolizing the sowing season. Cusco weavers produce a wide variety of chullos (woolen caps with earflaps), woolen coca leaf pouches, blankets featuring geometric patterns, cummerbunds and chumpis weaved by the meter, like the ones sold at the Sicuani market, or in the Sunday market at Písac and Chinchero where offer rural tourism and special contact with weavers, also Willoc and Patacancha.


This art form dates back to artisan traditions during the Vice-regency, and involves the creation of objects linked to religious and even magical ceremonies. The departments of Ayacucho, Cusco and Huancavelica produce the greatest variety of figures. These traditional images include the retablo de San Marcos or cajón, crosses, saints, Nativity scenes, the Holy Family and the many different portrayals of the infant Christ. In the city of Cusco, it is recommended to visit San Blas's neighborhood, in which numerous artists and artisans live. In San Blas the artisans like the Mendívil, Olave and Merida families have reached the international fame for the quality of their works.


Many Andean dances use masks as part of the dancer’s costume. The most common motifs include demons, angels, blacks (negritos), Spaniards (españoles) and all kinds of animals.

Jewelry (Silversmithy and Gold Filigree)

The abundance of minerals and semi-precious stones in Peru have made it possible to develop creative metalwork since pre-Hispanic times. The oldest example of goldsmithy in South America dates back to the Chavín culture (1,000 BC).

T’anta Wawas

Another technique which is practically an art form is the baking and preparation of t’anta wawas, or decorated breads. The wheatflour breads represent a wide variety of motifs such as children (wawas), families, homes, crowns of flowers and animals.

Coca leaf and offering to the Earth Goddes

The mystique of fertility - Pre-Columbian religions have lived on as part of ancestral rites that link Man with Nature, particularly in the Andean world, rites that take on major symbolic importance. The Pachamama or Mother Earth, goddess of fertility, lives in Urkhupacha, or the inner world, whose fruits she offers up to feed mankind. This is why, within the reciprocal logic of the Andes, during August the villagers make offerings (known as pagos or pagapus). The offering consists of coca leaves, unworked silver, chicha, wine and jungle seeds attributed with symbolic and magic powers called huayruros. The same offering is made to the Apus, the spirits of their ancestors who are said to live within the mountains. Coca, a sacred plant which served to mediate between the inner world (the Apus and the Pachamama) and the exterior world (Man) can be found in countless mestizo religious ceremonies in communities in the provinces and even in the cities. The leaves, when chewed and mixed with saliva to form a wad in the mouth (a process called chakchar), help the user forget his weariness while working. Spread over a blanket on the ground, coca leaves are also read to predict the future.

Flavors, scents, colors and textures

The local cuisine is also something for the traveler to look forward to, including superb combinations of typical Andean foods, such as corn, potatoes and chili pepper, with pork and mutton introduced by the Spanish. Cusco has one of the best cuisines of the Peruvian Andes where the use of the potato prevails, remembering that this is of Peruvian origin, and well developed since the Incas, being achieved the production at the present time of more than 300 potato varieties.

Peru boasts one of the most exquisite and varied cuisines on Earth, as local chefs have succeeded in adapting a diverse variety of native ingredients while remaining open to outside influences. Peru's cooking is an invitation to discover flavors and fragrant smells which are as authentic as they are ancient.

The Andean Cuisine, heated in a firewood oven, earthenware of the highlands gathers odors and flavors linked to earth. Meats, tubers, grains and herbs are used in a great variety of simple but tasty dishes. Starters include corn with Andean cheese, chochos (tarwi) salad, "mote con chicharrón" or large white boiled corn and "deep-fried" pork, "cancha" (roasted corn), "humitas" (Ground corn and enveloped in its own leaves for cooking), "papa a la huancaína" (boiled potato pieces under yellow pepper and cheese cream) and "inchik uchu" (boiled manioc with peanut, yellow pepper and coriander sauce). Cusco and Oropesa town also emphasizes by their famous bakeries and breads (called chutas and wawas).

Novoandina Cuisine (New Andean Cuisine) is a modern style of cuisine from Peru and Andean countries, which combines modern techniques with traditional raw materials of the Andean and Peruvian cuisine, such as herbs, spices, meats, vegetables and fruits. This trend, which appeared in the eighties, uses old Andean culinary traditions adapted to international cuisine preparation and presentation. Recipes are strict and food is very tasty and well presented, with little spices and fat, and lightly cooked.

Starters and soups: cheese and spinach rolls in a passion fruit sauce, fresh snail and quinoa salad, cheese and barley flake flan, manioc pie, celery and leech cream with barley flakes.

Main courses: grilled quinoa taboulé, pickled fish with carob syrup, “reventón ayacuchano” (with “pachamanca” and “sancochado” ingredients, but in earthen pots served with sauces), quinoa risotto, manioc and freeze-dried potato, lasagna with “morón”, broad bean stew, alpaca stew, stuffed trout, duck in a pear and elderberry sauce, crab in coconut and pineapple sauce, kid and corn purée (pepián), guinea pig in an oyster sauce, squid and veal.

Desserts: quinoa imperial (with milk and passion fruit jelly), “quinoa” and “guanábana” mousse, “oca” tart (with “oca” and “chirimoya”), “misky súmac” (made of “kiwicha”), “cañihua” custard, “pacae” nougat.

Beverages: “aguaymanto” shake, quinoa and mamey chicha, grape and cañihua chicha, maca sour, lúcuma sour, frozen tumbo and cumpa (cat’s claw sweet condensed milk, pisco and egg).

Cusco's Festivities Calendar

People who love joy and pilgrimages. The spirituality of Peruvians flowed from the syncretism of ancient Andean religions and the Catholic faith brought by the Spanish.

Entrega de Varas (Cusco and surrounding areas)
January 1

A Ceremony in each village dating back to the pre-Hispanic era to commemorate the assumption of power by the highest authority, or Varayoc, who receives a scepter from his predecessor symbolizing power. The scepters, made of native wood species such as tucuma, black hualtaco (tagetes minuta), huallacán or quince, measure approximately 1 meter in length and have silver and gold inlays.

Chiaraje (Canas)
January 20

A war game, or pucllay, in which the peace-loving members of the community do battle to enhance the fertility of the soil. Those who occupy the largest area of land and force the enemy to retreat, win. The war game takes place on the Chiaraje plains (4,700 masl) in Canas province, which is accessible by road.

Carnavales (Carnivals) - The festival of Joy
February (movable)

Peruvian carnivals are marked by the festive character of Andean areas, which regularly break with their solemn traditions. Beyond regional variations, a common characteristic of nearly the entire highland chain is the ritual of the yunza, called umisha in the jungle and cortamonte on the coast. It involves artificially planting a tree trunk laden with gifts, around which the guests dance until it is chopped with a machete or an ax. The couple who make the final hack that brings down the tree will then both be in charge of organizing the yunza next year. Peruvians across the country are extremely fond of tossing buckets of water at each other during this festival, so onlookers would be wise to take precautions.

Easter Monday - Señor de los Temblores - The Black Christ and the Carmesí flower (Cusco)
March - April (movable)

Worship of the effigy of Taitacha Temblores (Lord of Earthquakes). This ceremony is an expression of Andean-Christian syncretism. The effigy is taken out in a procession from the Cathedral of Cusco, which was built on top of the temple of the god Wiracocha, and is paraded around the streets of the city as the faithful throw ñucchu flowers –in ancient times used as an offering to the Inca gods– symbolizing the blood of Christ.

Fiesta de las Cruces (Cusco and surrounding areas)
May 5

A ceremony in which each community decorates the cross of its church and prepares it for its procession to churches in neighboring communities. This celebration, held in gratitude to pre-Hispanic gods for bountiful harvests, also serves as a setting for folklore shows.

Qoyllur Rit'y - (Province of Quispicanchi, District of Ocongate)
First week of full moon in June

The feast of the Shining Snow - is one of Peru's most incredible expressions of faith and tradition. Starting on Trinity Sunday, more than 70,000 people come together at the Sinakara Valley in the province of Quispicanchis, Cusco, to embark on a pilgrimage of hope to the top of a snow covered mountain, 15,090 feet above sea level. After a 5 mile walk, thousands of dancers, hundreds of bands and countless believers finish their journey toward the "Apus" -the mountain gods- asking for money, love, luck, or whatever else they feel they are lacking.

The greatest indigenous pilgrimage in the Americas. Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual whose external aspect appears to be the image of Christ, but whose real objective is to bring Man closer to Nature. The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of Apus, the spirits of the mountains, forms part of the greatest festival of native Indian nations in the hemisphere: Qoyllur Rit’i. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate, at 4.700 meters, where temperatures often plunge below freezing. The ritual brings thousands of pilgrims, including shepherds, traders and the merely curious who gather at the shrine at Sinakara. Popular belief has it that the infant Christ, dressed as a shepherd, appeared to a young highland Indian boy, Marianito Mayta, and they quickly became friends. When Mayta’s parents found them dressed in rich tunics, they informed the local parish priest, Pedro de Landa, who attempted in vain to capture the infant Christ who had disappeared and left behind only a stone. Marianito died immediately, and the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i appeared on the stone. Today, the festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 10.000 pilgrims climb to the snowline, accompanied by all sorts of dancers in full costume (chauchos, qollas, pabluchas or ukukus) portray various mythical characters. The ukukus, or bears, are the guardians of the Lord and the Apu mountain spirits and apachetas, stone cairns built along the way by pilgrims to atone for their sins. The ukukus maintain order during religious ceremonies. A group of hefty queros, members of what is probably Peru’s purest Quechua community, dress up as pabluchas and set out for the mountaintop, at 6.362 meters in search of the Snow Star which is reputedly buried within the mountain. On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.

Inti Raymi - The Inca festival of the Sun (Cusco)
June 24

The Winter Solstice in the southern hemisphere and the local harvests are the driving force behind the greatest, most majestic pre-Hispanic ceremony to render homage to the sun.

Today, the Inti Raymi festival evokes the splendid Inca ritual of yore, being carefully scripted by Cusco professors, archaeologists and historians.

The central event is acted out on the esplanade below the imposing fortress of Sacsayhuamán, 2 Km outside the city of Cusco, easily reached by car or on foot. There, step by step, thousands of actors enact a long ceremony giving thanks to the sun god, Inti. The Inca ruler is borne on a royal litter from the Koricancha, or Temple of the Sun to the Huacaypata, the city’s main square, where he commands the local authorities to govern fairly. Then all the participants set out for Sacsayhuamán, where the ceremony calls for the sacrifice of two llamas, one black and one white. The llamas’ entrails and fat are handed to a pair of high priests: the first, the Callpa Ricuy, examines the intestines to predict what sort of year lies ahead; while the second priest, the Wupariruj, makes his predictions based on the smoke that wafts up from the burning fat. The high priests’ predictions are then interpreted by the Willac Umo, the lord high priest, who bears the news to the Inca. Finally, at sunset, the Inca orders all to withdraw from the site, and the entire city breaks out into a festivities that will rage for several days.

If you planning visit Cusco for Inti Raymi Feast is recommended to reserve 3 months in advance.


Corpus Christi (Cusco)
June (movable)

The festival of Corpus Christi has been celebrated all over Peru since colonial times, but reaches a high point in Cusco. Fifteen saints and virgins from various districts are borne in a procession to the Cathedral where they “greet” the body of Christ embodied in the Sacred Host, kept in a fabulous gold goblet weighing 26 kilos and standing 1,2 meters high. Sixty days after Easter Sunday, the members of each nearby church bear their patron saint in a procession to the chimes of the María Angola, Peru’s largest church bell, forged in a copper-gold alloy in the sixteenth century by local artisan Diego Arias de Cerda. At night everyone gathers together, for an overnight vigil, where typical dishes such as chiriuchu (spicy guinea pig), beer, chicha and cornbread are served. At dawn the procession sets off around the main square, bearing the images of five virgins clad in richly embroidered tunics, plus the images of four saints: Sebastian, Blas, Joseph and the Apostle Santiago (Saint James) mounted on a beautiful white horse. Then the saints enter the Cathedral to receive homage, time after which representatives and authorities from various communities of Cusco meet in the main square to discuss local affairs. Finally, the delegations return to the churches amidst hymns and prayers. Participate all the towns and Cusco. Is the most important religious feast, in which all the saints and virgins images are taken from the churches to visit the image of Christ that is in the Cathedral. The processions, the street decorations, the fervor of the citizens are an indescribable show.

Virgen del Carmen (Paucartambo)
July 16 - 17

Four hours from Cusco, in the town of Paucartambo, thousands of devotees hold festivals in honor of the Virgen del Carmen, known locally as Mamacha Carmen, patron saint of the mestizo population. The gathering, that raises the curtain on these days of celebrations is held in the main square, where troupes of musicians play their instruments while richly dressed choirs sing in Quechua. The setting gives way to a series of ingenious choreographies that portray events in Peruvian history. For five days, dance companies in various costumes (Doctorcitos, Waca Waca, Sarjas) take to the streets to accompany the Mamacha throughout the entire procession through the main square, the church and the city streets. On the main day, the virgin is borne aloft in a procession to bless those present and scare away demons. The dancers take to the housetops, performing daring gymnastics, showing off their colorful Inca and colonial garb. At the end of the procession, war is waged on the demons, from which the faithful emerge in triumph. Finally, the gathering ends up in the cemetery to render homage to the souls of the dead.

Virgen del Rosario (Quispicanchis and Canchis)
October 10

In the districts of Urcos (province of Quispicanchis), as well as Combate and Checaupe (province of Canchis), homage is paid to the patron saint of the town with processions, fairs, bullfights and hearty pachamancas, meals prepared in shallow holes in the ground and cooked over hot stones.

Santuranticuy - The Sale of Saints (Cusco)
December 24

A festival dating back to the colonial period, it now ranks as one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru. It is held every year in Cusco’s Main Square, where the painters of religious images and artesans offer a wide range of Christmas figurines to go with the Nativity scenes found in homes and chapels across Cusco.

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco

    Inti Raymi - Feast of the Sun (Cusco)

    © PromPeru

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco

    Inti Raymi - Feast of the Sun (Cusco)

    © PromPeru

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco

    Artisan in Sacred Valley of the Incas - Cusco

    © Patricia Godoy

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco


    © J. Mazzotti

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco


    © J. Mazzotti

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco

    Cusco's Dancers

    © PromPeru

  • Art and Folklore in Cuzco

    Qoyllur Rit'y Feast

    © PromPeru