Christmas & New Year’s Eve in Peru
If you are spending the holidays in Peru this year, there’s little chance of getting a white Christmas. With temperatures rising to 30°C in the coastal regions this is the perfect opportunity to spend your holidays on a beach while sipping on a Pisco Sour. If the beach or tropical temperatures are not your thing there are many more options. Here’s our guide to spending Christmas & New Year in Peru.
Christmas in Peru
Peruvian Christmas, like in most parts of the world, is a moment for families to come together and celebrate. For some that means roasting a turkey and serving it with rice, a pasta salad and some apple sauce.
The favorite festive food in Peru is a turkey. The traditional way to prepare it is to bake it, and the process of preparation is almost a ritual. First, the turkey is marinated with traditional spices like Ají Panca. Then they put it in the oven for several hours, being careful about the temperature to achieve the best texture: not too dry, and not burned.
Another traditional Peruvian dish that is always on the Christmas table is tamales (sweet or savory); rice, and many different salads with seasonal fruits, because, after all, it’s summer!
But depending on the region and means, they might have their own take on the traditional Christmas dinner. Common alternatives would be a roasted suckling pig or fish dishes around the coastal areas.
The 24th of December is the main event, while the 25th is an opportunity to see the other side of the family and feast on leftovers. One of the most common Christmas traditions on the 24th is the unveiling of Jesus Christ. For this event, a tiny Jesus statue is covered with a blanket and at the stroke of midnight, they remove the blanked, which symbolises the birth of Jesus.
Before or after the big dinner the presents are opened up unlike some other parts in the world where the presents are given on Christmas Day.
If you are spending Christmas in Peru, you’re in for a treat! For breakfast or desert, Peruvians eat their Panetón. The traditional bread/cake is filled with dried fruits and tastes even better with a little bit of butter. This delicious treat is served with Peruvian hot chocolate. You might think it’s silly to drink hot chocolate while it’s summer outside and most Peruvians would agree with you but there is just no match for Panetón when it comes to getting into the Christmas spirit.
There’s a lot of quality differences between different brands of Panetón so make sure you get a good one. Here’s a few guaranteed tasty brands: Todino, D’Onofrio and Motta. For the hot chocolate we highly recommend Sol Del Cusco. If chocolate milk isn’t enough, you can get a Chocotón instead of Panetón. This treat with chocolate chunks inside the bread instead of fruit is ridiculously yummy.
Christmas in Cusco
Cusco is packed during the holidays but also gets really festive. The combination between Andean and Christian traditions make Cusco a unique place to spend the holiday period.
Every year Cusco has a Christmas market on the 25th called Santuranticuy (selling of saints) for which people from all over Peru gather on the Plaza de Armas to sell their merchandise. As to be expected on the 25th of December, their goods are mostly religiously inspired or centred around the nativity.
Because the artisans travel long distances on a budget, some end up spending the 24th sleeping at Plaza de Armas. If you’re in Cusco be sure to check out their merchandise. It’s always good to support local artisanal work.
Christmas at Machu Picchu
During the holiday period you can opt for Christmas tours and treks that let you arrive to Machu Picchu on the 25th. Depending on the kind of tour you will take, you will spend a night at Machu Picchu Pueblo or Aguas Calientes (gateway to Machu Picchu). Although Aguas Calientes is a very touristic town, it is also quite cute and cosy so it’s not a terrible idea to take in some of the holiday cheer at the greatest Inca ruin in the world.
Where to spend Christmas in Peru?
You could spend Christmas in Lima and enjoy the decorated modern streets of Miraflores or maybe go for a more traditional Peruvian location like Lake Titicaca or Cusco. Because there are few big events in Peru revolving around Christmas you can also do things different this year and visit the jungle or hang around the beach. A country as big and diverse as Peru really offers it all.
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you book tickets fast if you are travelling during the holidays. It is the time of year Peruvians travel the most and booking your bus, train or plane only a few days in advance might not cut it!
New Year’s Eve
By the time it’s New Year’s Eve, most young Peruvians have had enough family time so now they can go crazy and wild with their friends. If you are looking for a truly Peruvian New Year’s Eve, you will need to get yourself to the nearest beach and join the party madness!
New Year’s Eve Traditions
Before telling you all the coolest places to spend New Year’s Eve, here are a few local traditions you need to know when spending your holidays in Peru.
One of the most fortunate traditions is the 12 grapes tradition. When the clock strikes twelve, it is a custom to eat twelve grapes, one for each month to come, while making a secret wish. You get one wish per grape so (one wish per grape!).
The color of clothes that you wear New Year’s eve are important in Peru. Traditionally, red underwear is worn to attract love; yellow for luck; green for money and white for good health.
Other traditions can include different colored candles, or bathe with special flowers which are said to represent desires for the coming year.
Some families buy or make their own amulets in celebration of the holiday. It is also very common to eat lentils for prosperity on New Year’s day or to run around the street with a big suitcase in the first minutes of the New Year. This tradition says that you will travel well in the new year.
Some customs involve dressing up a doll with old clothes and then burning the doll. It symbolises the transition of old to new. In that same spirit, it is common to wear new clothes for the event.
One special tradition makes you place three potatoes under your chair. One is skinned, one is partially skinned and one still has the skin on it. You have to choose a potato without looking and the one you pick predicts how much you will have. If you pick the one with the skin still on it, you’re very lucky and will have a LOT of money in the coming year!
Where to spend New Year’s Eve in Peru?
New Year’s Eve at the beach
Because it is summer in Peru during the holidays, people flock to the beaches. The most popular beaches are south of Lima; Punta Hermosa, Asia, Pulpos, Punta Negra, San Bartolo & El Silencio. These beach towns are quite safe and some hot spots like Asia are really fancy and turn into a mini city on their own for just four months of the year.
Paracas and Ica are great places to spend New Year if you want to escape from Lima without traveling too far.
If you prefer to spend the New Year night out of Lima, you could travel to Máncora and it’s beautiful beaches or to Punta Sal, both in the North of Perú. If you aren’t interested in the beach then a completely different option is Cusco, the home of the Inca. Keep reading to discover all the City of the Inca has to offer.
New Year’s Eve in Cusco
Cusco is by far the craziest party city in Peru and New Year’s Eve isn’t an exception. People from all over the region gather at Plaza de Armas for the countdown to the New Year. Thousands flock to the Plaza to witness the huge fireworks display that occurs every year and after the many bars, night clubs and discotheques are packed long until the early hours of the next day.
New Year’s Eve in the Sacred Valley
If you find yourself in the Sacred Valley on the first of January, You can join the “Sinkuy” celebration that is held in the beautiful central plaza of Ollantaytambo on which a bowling like game is played. Traditionally the mayor and his wife get to throw the first ball. People from all around the region gather in costume, bringing Chicha, meats and animal shaped bread.
This time of year is always special but if you’re lucky enough to be in Peru, this holiday might become your most memorable yet. Peru is the perfect mix of Andean and Christian tradition when it comes to Christmas and if you get the chance to spend it with a Peruvian, we are sure you’ll have a jolly old time.