Peruvian Carnival: Culture and Celebrations

Peruvian Carnival: Culture and Celebrations

Every year for a week, Peru is taken over by music, dance, and joyful crowds.

Meant to celebrate the beginning of Lent, the Peruvian Carnival is one of the best cultural celebrations in Latin America.

While laying eyes on Machu Picchu or embarking on an Andean trek is what most people come to Peru for, celebrating Carnival here is bound to be an unforgettable experience that deserves a spot on your bucket list.

Let’s walk through everything you need to know about Carnival in Peru, including the best places to enjoy the colorful festivities.

Table of contents:

What is Carnival?

Carnival is a Catholic festive season that occurs before the start of Lent (historically known as Shrovetide). The festival is known as a time of indulgence before Lent (a period when many Christians commit to fasting).

This annual celebration takes place all over South America throughout the months of January, February, and March.

During the festivities, people take part in spectacular parades and street parties, enjoy local food, and wear elaborate costumes and masks.


How is Carnival celebrated in Peru?

Local women in costume turn around

Traditions and cultural heritage are at the heart and soul of Peru, and it comes as no surprise that Carnival is among the most colorful and energetic celebrations held throughout the year.

Peru celebrates Carnival in two different ways: folklore celebrations and games with water and paint. In most parts of the country, these merge into a single celebration that lasts anywhere between three days and a week.


A brief history of Carnivals in Peru

different carnival masks

Carnival originates from the Roman Catholic tradition of Pre-Lent when people would have a final feast and gather strength before fasting for 40 days. It was brought to Peru by Spanish invaders in the 1600s who celebrated with masquerade dances and ballroom parties.

In Spanish-colonial times, Carnival was used for satire and parody, allowing people to set the hustle and bustle of everyday life aside and experience a heightened sense of social unity.

Today, the Carnival in Peru has become a playful party and one of the most anticipated festivals of the year, with festivities being planned for months in advance.


When is Carnival celebrated in Peru?

The official dates of the Carnival in Peru vary from year to year, though, the main events always begin 40 days before Easter, usually in February.


What are the traditions?

locals are dressed in typical costume

Peruvian Carnival is a blend of traditional Andean folklore and Spanish Catholic culture. You can see this in the range of incredible outfits, masks, and dances, but also in the many different and unique traditions carried out during the festivals.

Let’s take a look.


Water balloon fights

Water balloon fights during Carnival are a big part of the festivities. Anything is fair game during the celebrations and both adults and children take part in these good-natured street fights. Balloons are thrown over tourists and locals, so be sure to leave your laptop back at your accommodation before joining in the fun.


Yunza traditions

Another very common tradition during Carnival is yunza, also known as cortamonte and unsha in some Peruvian regions.

The yunza ritual refers to planting a tree and decorating it with presents, ornaments, ribbons, balloons, and toys. Everyone gathers to dance around the tree. Then, couples would take turns and try to cut down the tree with a machete or ax in three strikes. When the tree is brought down, everyone rushes to get a present.


Carnival Queen and King

During the carnival season, many local communities choose a royal couple. Throughout the week of the Carnival, the Queen gets her own day (typically on Thursday) where she and the women from the community take charge. The King joins in on Saturday to ‘rule over’ the carnival parades.

Where is Carnival celebrated in Peru?

Celebrations are held all over the country, and each region has its own way of celebrating.

Let’s take a look at four of the most popular Carnival destinations in Peru.


Cajamarca (Carnaval de Cajamarca)

locals dressed in white top and lacy red hats

With over 60,000 visitors, Cajamarca hosts some of the biggest and most eye-catching Carnival celebrations in Peru. This mountain town has a spacious Plaza de Armas, making it a fantastic place for hosting big parties.

During the Carnaval de Cajamarca, the city’s streets come alive with intricate costumes, decorations, and Peruvian rhythms.

You’ll also be able to witness some of Peru’s best Carnival traditions – yunza and Ño Carnavalón (a doll symbolically burnt to chase away negative energy), as well as enjoy events such as Corso de Carnaval (a parade of beautifully decorated cars) and Concurso de Coplas (an exciting music competition).



If you’re looking for an authentic, traditional Carnival experience, head to Ayacucho. The festivities here begin with the arrival of the Ño Carnavalón and there are two main celebration days – Sunday and Monday – both marked with a big parade full of dancers, musicians, and people wearing traditional costumes.

Ayacucho is also known as the meeting point between art and cultural diversity. In 2019, its altarpieces (retablo) became part of Peru’s National Cultural Heritage.


Puno (Festival de Candelaria)

Puno is often referred to as the folklore capital of Peru. During Carnival, the streets and buildings of Puno are decorated to match the colorful performers and the city boasts a huge variety of activities.

Along with hosting some of the largest cultural festivities around, Puno offers music and dance performances representing traditional Andean culture and folklore.



locals dressed in golden costumes

Once the capital of the Incas, Cusco has become best known for being the gateway to sites such as Machu Picchu. This cobble-stoned town, however, is also a wonderful place to celebrate Carnival in Peru and is a great representation of the culture and history of the local communities.

The carnival in Cusco is a unique blend of century-old traditions and modern-day fiestas. One of the popular activities during the Cusco Carnival is indulging in a gastronomic experience including traditional drinks and dishes such as thimpu and puchero.

The most known festival in Cusco is the Inti Raymi, the famous celebration of the Inca sun god.


Ready for the Peruvian Carnival?

different masks with big nose

A mix of culture, history, and tradition, Carnival is a must-see. Unforgettable memories are guaranteed!

If you can’t wait to visit, hop on one of our tours of Peru and explore the country’s pristine nature.

  • 25 August, 2022 at 7:32 am

    Wow I love to celebrate! I have been at the carnival in Brasil and it was just outstanding… definitely have to visit Peru during this time. 🙂

    • 27 August, 2022 at 5:08 am

      Hello Jay,
      great to hear from you. Oh yes! Brasil is just amazing and the place to be for carnival. However, the Peruvian carnival is unique in it’s on way and we are excited for your feedback. Let us know if you have any additional questions.


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