February in Peru is full of festivals, romance, and a touch of chaos as Carnival season rolls in. It's customary for Peruvians to throw water at each other during this festive and colorful time of year, so be sure you carry an umbrella with you.
For couples, Valentine’s Day is a good excuse for a candlelit meal—some music, a few pisco sours, a freshly roasted guinea pig... what could be better? Día del Amor y la Amistad, as it's called in Spanish, is, in fact, a national holiday (as of 2011), so feel free to celebrate publicly with the standard fare: cards, sweets, stuffed animals, and the like.
Visitors should be sure to swing by Puno for the Virgen de la Candelaria festival, one of the most colorful events of the year.
The 18-day Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria is one of the largest and most colorful celebrations in Peru. The main events take place in and around Puno (Peru’s “Folkloric Capital”), although smaller processions are held all over Peru. The festivities begin in early February, when the small statue of the Virgin begins its procession through the streets of the lakeside city, with the main parade taking place a week later. A massive crowd—including hundreds of musicians and dancers—follows the statue as it passes through the decorated and petal-strewn streets. Dance competitions, fireworks, and plenty of drinking continue throughout the following two weeks, so prepare for a lengthy party.
Carnival Season (Carnaval)
February is Carnival season throughout much of the Catholic world, and a colorful time to be in South America. Brazil is certainly the world’s Carnival hotspot, but Peru has its fair share of parades, feasting, and fantastical floats. One central tradition involves dancing around the yunsa (known as the umisha in the jungle and cortamonte on the coast), a symbolic tree laden with gifts. Couples later take turns chopping down the tree, with the final blow releasing gifts to the eager crowd.
Then, of course, there are the water fights. Throughout February, Peruvians love to throw water at each other—buckets, not just balloons—so keep your car window closed and your camera in a watertight bag. Crime also tends to rise during the main carnival dates, so keep an extra eye on your gear and watch out for pickpockets. Be particularly cautious in Lima. Carnival hotspots in Peru include Cajamarca, Puno, and Ayacucho.
Luchas de Toqto
The Toqto is a ritual battle fought between the primarily Quechua-speaking communities in the provinces of Canas and Chumbivilcas. The three-day event features one-on-one fights followed by group battles. Like the Chiaraje battles in January, Toqto fights are not for the faint-hearted—the use of weapons and cavalry leads to an unsurprisingly high injury count. Despite the bumps and bruises, the event always ends with a party in honor of both winners and losers.
In 2004, the Peruvian government introduced a resolution that declared the first Saturday of February to be El Día del Pisco Sour (Pisco Sour Day—yes, really). Expect various promotions, tastings, and other pisco-related happenings throughout the country.
Día del Amor y la Amistad (Valentine’s Day)
February 14 is Valentine’s Day, known in Peru as Día de San Valentín or Día del Amor y la Amistad (Day of Love and Friendship). It’s a fairly standard affair, with the exchange of cards, chocolates, teddy bears, and other expressions of affection. Rather than roses, though, orchids are the flower of romance in this South American country and people celebrate their friendships about as much as they do their romantic relationships on this day.
Festival del Verano Negro
The Festival del Verano Negro, also known as the Afro-Peruvian Summer Festival, is the nation’s largest celebration of Afro-Peruvian culture and one of the most important events in the Ica region. Chincha is Peru’s cultural capital when it comes to African heritage, and this two-week festival—held in mid-February—is a joyous celebration of Afro-Peruvian customs. Expect plenty of dancing, poetry competitions, street parades, costumes, craft fairs, and more.