Carnival in Cuzco, Celebration and Play

Carnival is a feast filled with color and tradition.  People perform typical dances of the region around the yunza tree, with traditional costumes from their various locales that are filled with symbols and colors.  There joy and love come together through the dialogue of colored, rolled up streamers opened around the necks and shoulders of dancers like a sharing of happiness.

Carnival in Peru has two connotations.  The first is a “folkloric feast” and the other is “play with water and paint.”  In the majority of cases both are joined in one single celebration.

Each year Carnival is celebrated in Cuzco with the same joy and excitement.  The city’s neighborhoods fill with confetti, streamers, and balloons bringing much color to the streets.

Even though this time of year is the rainy season, people anxiously await this celebration since it is an enjoyable feast for everyone. Children, youth, and adult all join in the play.  Neither their gender nor age matters.  The most important thing is to have fun in the company of your friends.

Playing with Foam
Playing with Foam

The celebration begins with the day of the compadres, which this year was the second Thursday of the month of February.  On this day compadres visit each other to bring a warm greeting.  They get together to share a lunch and celebrate their ties.  The join in toast with corn chichawhich is never lacking in this celebration.

Allegorical Floats in Cuzco Carnival
Allegorical Floats in Cuzco Carnival

Following tradition, from early in the morning, you can see rag dolls hanging on light posts.  These dolls represent the compadres.  The same custom is celebrated on the day of comadres, the following Thursday.

These rag dolls remind people that this day one celebrates godparents (compadres and comadres).  The dolls stay up until the feast is over.

After these two days of feasts comes the main day of Carnival.  This feast takes place the first Sunday after Comadres Day.   It is the main day of celebration.  Cuzco’s streets fill with people from early in the morning.  They leave their homes with buckets of water and lots of water balloons ready to soak anyone who crosses their path.

Young men and women go out in organized groups to enter battle, men against women.  The winner is the person who is the least soaked.  But in the end all this just lifts the spirit of competition because in this feast everyone gets soaked.  The feast is held amidst laughter, water, colored talcum powder, foams, and of course a lot of noise and pleasure.

Midday, the different restaurants of the city offer the delicious boiled meal called puchero or thimpu.  In the main plazas of some districts gastronomic feasts are organized, where the main dish of course is the puchero.  People also gather together as families on this day since most people prepare pucheroin their homes.  It hits the spot after all the play with water and flour.

Traditional Puchero To Celebrate the Carvinal
Traditional Puchero To Celebrate the Carvinal

Many times, on the day of Carnival, Cuzco awakes under cloudy skies.  But this never stops the celebration since even if it rains the celebration of carnival goes on.  On this day of the year the weather is not important.  The joy of celebration is all that matters.

When the person celebrating the feast has a cargo, an obligation to sponsor the feast, then people gather at their house to then accompany them to the neighborhoods plaza where a yunza tree is raised around which people dance.  They drink and at noon eat a traditional adobo, a pork and chicha soup, and at night they consume the puchero.  They enjoy drinks such as frutilladas(strawberry chicha), chicha, beer, and cocktails.  All of this is organized by the cargo holder.  They are called mayordomos de carga.   They are responsible for receiving all the guests with courtesy, food and drink.

Comadre Celebrating the Carnval
Comadre Celebrating the Carnval

The main moment of the feast is when all the guests dance as couples around the yunza, a tree with presents that has been planted there.  The guests take turns chopping at the tree with a hatchet.  Whoever has the luck of toppling the tree gets the honor of sponsoring the feast the following year.

On Sunday, the central day of the feast, all the children of the neighborhood get together early in  the morning to fill water balloons.  Once they have done that they run through the streets wetting all women, no matter their age, since carnival is a feast for all ages.  It is fun to throw the balloons and hear the women scream. But just like the boys, all the girls gather to fill balloons and run through the streets wetting any boy that crosses their path.

During the day this play with water is permitted but at night things change.  Then everyone runs out with buckets and balloons but now of paint and Sprite, or any kind of makeup with which to paint their adversaries of the opposite sex.  Of course everyone wins the challenge.  We all have a great time.



– 1/2 kg. Beef

– 1/2 Kg  lamb

– 1/2 Kg. pork

– 1/2 kg. carrots

– 1 medium onion

– 3 ears of corn

– 1/2 Kg. turnips

– 1/2 Kg. white potatoes

– 1 medium cabbage

– 1/4 kg chuño

– garlic

– salt

– pepper to taste

– oil



In a pot place 3 liters of salted water.  Add the meat cut into chunks, onion in wedges, and minced garlic.  Boil for 1/2 hour and then add peeled potatoes whole, with the peeled carrots and cut into long pieces.  Add the corn also cut in chunks.  Cover the soup with separated cabbage leaves.

Once the vegetable are cooked, remove them carefully and add the soaked chuño to the pot.  Boil until the chuño is cooked.

Serve per bowl a mixture of meats, potatoes, corn, carrots and chuño.  Place cabbage on top.  Accompany the dish with aji de huacatay (a huacatay based hot sauce).

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