What do you imagine when you say Christmas? Probably a Christmas tree, snow, the cold outside, hanging out with the family by the fireplace, Santa Claus. In Peru, however, things work a little differently.
At the end of December on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, the temperatures here reache 30 °C. So, if you're tired of the cold and dreaming of a day on the beach by the water and a traditional refreshing cocktail, Peru is the perfect Christmas destination for you.
Of course, you can always spend Christmas in a nice restaurant or go see the Peru's top sights (such as Machu Picchu ). However, Peru has something cooler to offer. In this sunny country there are many different traditions of celebrating the holidays.
Without knowing what's what, it's easy to get confused. So, we decided to create a little guide for you on how to celebrate Christmas and New Year's in Peru.
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Christmas is very important in Peru because the majority of the population is Christian. As a result, there are so many fascinating traditions.
To begin, Peruvians observe Christmas from the evening of December 24th until midnight. They call it Noche Buena (=Good Night). On December 25, the city appears empty and quiet. Start partying on the 24th if you want to feel like a true local.
Christmas in Peru is celebrated in a family circle, as it is in most other countries. They prepare turkey using a traditional recipe and serve it with rice; others prefer pasta salad and applesauce.
For Peruvians, preparing the Christmas dish is akin to a ritual. The turkey is first marinated in traditional spices such as Aj Panca. Then it is baked for several hours, under the watchful eyes of the cooks, and brought to the right temp.
The dishes on the Christmas table are largely determined by family customs. And, yes, they also have turkey for their 12 am dinner (or is it better to call it breakfast?).
At midnight, the city is filled with loud fireworks. It's a wonderful sight, especially if you're in a decorated area with a panoramic view.
After the fireworks, the sleepy children go to bed and the parents pretend to be Papá Noel (Peruvian Santa) and put presents under the tree. By the way, it is not customary to buy Christmas gifts for adults in Peru, usually they’re only given to children.
It is customary in some families to have a Christmas cake known as Panetón (dried fruit cake) for breakfast or dessert. The recipe was inspired by Italian culture and slightly adapted. In Peru people usually have Panetón with a traditional hot chocolate.
You might think it's kind of weird to drink hot chocolate when it's summer outside, but Peruvians would argue with you. They believe that the combination of Panetón and hot chocolate creates a Christmas atmosphere like none other.
Peruvians even have special gatherings (Chocolatadas) at Christmas, where they eat Panetón and drink hot chocolate.
Peruvians usually spend morning of December 25th calmly and finish up the leftovers from the holiday table.
First of all, there’s an important phrase to remember. It’s Feliz Navidad, which means Merry Christmas. Say it to all your Peruvian friends.
Now we’re ready to investigate individual places:
Cusco is a unique place to spend your Christmas holiday in. That’s because of its festive atmosphere, as well as the mix of Andean and Christian traditions.
Every year on December 23rd and 24th the main square of the city (Plaza de Armas) is filled with stalls. In the square you can buy a variety of Christmas decorations, gifts, artisan goods and other interesting things. This event is called Santurantikuy.
Whether you want to buy something or not, we recommend visiting this place. At the very least you will have the opportunity to taste the local delicacies and get into the Christmas spirit.
During the whole month of December, you can see nativity scene installations in Cusco. Some of them can be entered and photographed. Sometimes the installations are huge, sometimes smaller.
They are all very different and made in an original way. In the main square you can find a life-size scene. Tourists love this location.
Churches are open to the public. They often display their own figurines of baby Jesus in his cradle.
As expected, hotels will fill up fast for the holidays. To book the best ones, make your bookings way in advance.
One that we can recommend in Cusco is Casa Cartagena Boutique Hotel & Spa. It’s located on the way from the Plaza de Armas to the San Cristobal viewpoint. If you click through our booking.com link to make a reservation at any hotel in world, whether we mention it here or not, we get a small commission. You don’t pay anything extra for that, it’s just between us and booking.com. Thank you if you do!
On the eve of Christmas, it is also possible to organize a trip to Machu Picchu. Local tour operators offer organized tours so that you can celebrate Christmas on-site, most often including an overnight stay in Machu Picchu Pueblo aka Aguas Calientes.
Although these places are touristy, they look very nice and cozy during the Christmas season. So, for example, history buffs can enjoy these tours, because the locations are a legacy of the ancient Incan culture.
To get to Machu Picchu, there are some complicated logistics involved. Renting a car and going there by yourself is only an option as far as Ollantaytambo. After that, train it is! You can read about driving in Peru here.
Tip: Whatever you decide, make sure to book all the tickets beforehand. Peruvians enjoy traveling within their country, especially during holidays, so tickets sell out fast.
Another way to make your holidays in Peru memorable could be to stay in a glass pod attached to a mountain side at the Vertical Sky Luxury Suites. They are located near Ollantaytambo, which you will inevitably be passing through on your way to and from Machu Picchu.
Our top tips for celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in Peru: Santurantikuy is a famous Christmas fair in Cusco. You can buy a lot of interesting things there. Peruvians really like to travel during Christmas holidays, make sure to book all your tickets in advance for places like Machu Picchu. The best parties in Peru are in Cusco on New Year’s Eve.
Peru has many things to offer. The scope of activities is really diverse and depends on your preferences. We suggest starting with a trip to Lima, because there is a beautiful district called Miraflores. It is always decorated in December, so that you can enjoy the Christmas atmosphere in Peruvian style.
For those who want to have an exotic Christmas celebration, there’s a chance to spend the holiday on the beach. With traditional Peruvian drinks the celebration’s going to be very fun.
There’s also an option of visiting the real jungle, like from Iquitos (another town not served by a road)! You’ll definitely remember a Christmas at one of the jungle lodges in the area.
There are many things to do during the Christmas holidays in Peru. But what about New Year’s? How’s it celebrated? Is it worth visiting?
New Year's Eve is probably the biggest party in Peru. By this time, young Peruvians have spent a fair amount of time with their families and are ready to hang out in the streets.
Сusco gets crazy on the night of December 31st to January 1st. All the clubs, bars, pubs and cafes are open! On this day, they often hold special events. On New Year's Eve, clubs earn huge fees, because people just don't want to sit at home.
Peruvians love to walk around Plaza de Armas. Many of them even set off fireworks from early evening to morning. There are also a lot of beach-inspired parties in the city.
The first cool tradition we would like to share with you is the 12 grapes tradition. When the clock strikes twelve (a.m.), you have to eat 12 grapes and make a wish for each of them. It is believed that this is a magical time and wishes are sure to come true.
Another interesting tradition is to take a floral bath (baño de florecimiento). Peruvians believe that the presence of each flower symbolizes something positive: the flower mix will bring not only the pleasure of the process, but also love, prosperity and happiness in life.
During December, special flower mixes are on sale in stores, so if you're an aroma bath enthusiast, it's worth a try. A similar Peruvian tradition involves lighting candles of different colors on New Year's Eve, as each has a different meaning.
In the first minutes of the new year, you can see many people with suitcases on the streets of Peru's cities. What kind of craziness is this and where is everyone going, we thought.
But it turns out that this ritual is also a New Year's tradition. It is believed that if you go out in the street with an empty suitcase in the first minutes of the year, the coming year will be filled with interesting travels.
There is another funny tradition in Peru. It involves taking three potatoes and putting them under a chair. One should be completely peeled, one is partially peeled, and one is left with the skin. Then, without looking, you take one potato out.
If you take out a potato with skin—CONGRATULATIONS, the upcoming year will bring a lot of money!
When you are in Peru for the New Year, you can say to the locals ¡Feliz Año Nuevo! which means Happy New Year.
The choice of clothing on New Year's Eve also has special significance for Peruvians. For example, the color of clothing is important.
People in Peru believe that red will bring love, yellow will attract good luck, white will ensure health, and green will make you rich in the upcoming year.
Peruvians enjoy wearing new clothes on the celebration day as well. They represent openness to new experiences. This ritual is also associated with various costumes and the burning of dolls on New Year's Eve. All of this represents the transition from the old to the new.
Now you know some of the interesting Peruvian traditions and understand the whole vibe of the holiday. Next we’d like to give you some advice on where it’s best to have a New Year’s celebration in Peru.
Peru has many beautiful places by the water. The most popular beaches are located in the south of Lima, for example Punta Hermosa, Asia, Punta Negra, Pulpos and El Silencio. These places are generally safe and definitely fun. Asia Beach is considered the most fashionable and fancy.
Tip: The hotels we stayed at in Lima were both fantastic. The younger crowd will enjoy the funky Radisson Red Miraflores, and everyone will feel like royalty at the rooftop pools of Hilton Lima Miraflores.
Another option for celebrations outside of Lima is Máncora and Punta Sal. The beaches there are very beautiful, while the parties are really fancy and cool. They are about 1,200 km (745 miles) from Lima in northern Peru.
Basically, Cusco is the most party town in Peru and New Year's Eve is no exception. Go to the town center at Plaza de Armas, as the locals like to do. Here you can party in clubs, bars, and discos, as well as watch the fireworks.
The next day after the party is usually more relaxed. People need to regain their strength before the workday.
After a fun night out, many Peruvians prefer to just stay home and rest. But for those who don't want to cook at home and still have the energy, there is the option to dine at a restaurant with traditional food.
A typical dish for this day is Lechon. This is roast pork, which is usually served with tamales (cornmeal flatbread with stuffing) and potatoes. It is a delicious dish, just try it!
Tip: We have a whole article on the food and drinks we like in Peru. Check it out.
There are bowling-like games in the central square. They are called Sinkuy. Even the mayor and his wife take part in the games.
If you don't mind a little trip on January 1, you can visit magical Sacred Valley. Or, you can end up with an altitude sickness hangover just like we did after our Rainbow Mountain trip on the last day of 2021.
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If you only have 3 days for Sacred Valley and Cusco, you’ll be missing out on some good places. But, I’ll try to be a silver-lining kind of guy this time and smash as much as possible into those 3 days in Cusco.
Peruvians are some of the kindest, most helpful and courteous people I’ve met during my travels. Until you put them in the driver’s seat. Then they turn into aggressive, angry, idiotic monsters. Especially in Lima.