February in Peru is a month of fun, festivals, romance, and just a little chaos. It’s carnival time, so prepare to get wet as you stroll around the streets. For travelers of a romantic inclination, 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? And if you’re heading to Puno, don’t miss the Virgen de la Candelaria festival, one of the most colorful events on the Peruvian calendar.
First half of February, Puno region
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 take place in many parts of Peru, Puno is the place to be. The festivities begin on February 2, 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—which includes 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.
Peru Carnival Season (Carnaval)
Throughout February (main Carnival dates vary), nationwide
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 tree (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 the gifts to the eagerly waiting 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
February 2, provinces of Canas and Chumbivilcas, Cusco
The Toqto is a ritual battle fought between 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.
First Saturday of February, nationwide
In 2004, the Peruvian government introduced “Resolución Ministerial 161-2004-PRODUCE”. This slightly scary-sounding resolution was actually quite the opposite—it declared that the first Saturday of February would be El Día del Pisco Sour (Pisco Sour Day). Expect various promotions, tastings, and other pisco-related happenings.
Día del Amor y la Amistad (Valentine’s Day)
February 14, nationwide
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. At the end of December 2011, the Peruvian government announced that February 14, 2012, would be a national holiday for the first time in its history.
Festival Turístico del Caballito de Totora
February 20, Pimentel, Chiclayo
The beach town of Pimentel pays tribute to the caballito de totora, the traditional reed boat of the Peruvian coast. Locals also take part in a whole range of outdoor activities, including kayaking, cycling, surfboarding, swimming, beach volleyball, food fairs, and a beauty contest.
Festival del Verano Negro
Mid-February, Chincha Province, Ica
The Festival del Verano Negro 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 the two-week festival is a joyous celebration of Afro-Peruvian customs. Expect plenty of dancing, poetry competitions, street parades, costumes, craft fairs, and more.