The month of May in Peru is packed with religious events, honoring both pre-Columbian gods and Catholic saints. You’ll find festivals covering everything from miraculous manifestations to mountain gods, most of which mix a degree of solemnity with a healthy dose of revelry.
Corpus Christi is celebrated throughout Peru, but the main festival takes place in Cusco. Images of saints, carried in various processions, make their way to the main cathedral in Cusco, where they are placed for an overnight vigil. The colorful event features various folkloric bands, dance groups and plenty of regional cuisine. Corpus Christi is a movable feast, taking place sometime between May 21 and June 24.
Virgen de Chapi
The Sanctuary of the Virgen de Chapi is located about 38 miles from the city of Arequipa. The sanctuary is home to the image of the Virgen de Chapi, one of the most venerated statues of the Virgin Mary in Peru. Each year on May 1, thousands of pilgrims walk across the desert landscape between Arequipa and the sanctuary, carrying rocks that symbolize the weight of the pilgrim’s sin. The rocks are then placed along the route before reaching the Virgen de Chapi, where a nightlong vigil is held.
Fiesta de Florecer en Cajamarca
An annual celebration of the religious and cultural heritage of Cajamarca, one of Peru's most historic cities (and where Francisco Pizarro captured the Inca Atahualpa) takes place every May 1. It's a colorful event, mixing mysticism with plenty of youthful exuberance.
Fiesta de las Cruces
The Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Crosses) is a festival in honor of the holy cross, traditionally held on May 3. Primarily a Highland tradition, the festivities involve the procession of various crosses from different communities to neighboring churches. Rather than being a solemn affair, the celebrations normally feature traditional music and dance, fireworks and various other events. Regions famous for their Fiesta de las Cruces celebrations include Junín, Pasco, Ayacucho, Huancavelica, and Puno. Cusco also has a similar tradition: a cross-carrying festival known as Cruz Velacuy held in early May.
Fiesta del Espíritu Santo
The Fiesta del Espíritu Santo (Feast of the Holy Spirit) is held each year in May in honor of the patron saint of Huancavelica. Tied in with the Festival of the Crosses, the festivities involve the raising and lowering of the crosses, followed by traditional celebrations. Four different neighborhoods participate, with each community taking part in dances, processions and a running of the bulls.
Fiesta de Alasitas
On May 3, the Fiesta de Alasitas in Puno attracts artisans from across the region (including Bolivia), selling handmade items representing various objects in miniature. These small-scale items, called alasitas, represent the buyer’s hopes and wishes for the future. Stalls line the main streets of Puno and surrounding towns, selling tiny versions of just about anything you could ever want.
Señor de Muruhuay
The Señor de Muruhuay is an image of Christ that appeared on a rock in the district of Acobamba, located about eight miles from the town of Tarma. Credited with healing the sick during a smallpox epidemic, the image of the Señor de Muruhuay has become one of Peru’s most important pilgrimage destinations. This festival, which takes place on or about May 3, attracts thousands of pilgrims, many of whom leave a Carta a Dios, or Letter to God, asking for miracles or giving thanks for miracles previously received. After the main pilgrimage, visitors return to Tarma for days of dancing and feasting.
Anniversary of Cotahuasi
The anniversary of a district wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but Cotahuasi manages to roll a few events into one big celebration. May 4 also marks the foundation of the province of La Unión (located in the north of the Arequipa region), while also falling within Cotahuasi’s tourism week. The result is a traditional festival that includes bullfighting, sporting events, live music, beauty pageants and plenty of dancing.
Homage to the Defenders of Alianza Field
May 26 marks the anniversary of the Battle of Tacna (Batalla del Alto de la Alianza, or Battle of Alliance Heights), a decisive 1880 engagement involving the combined forces of Peru and Bolivia against Chile during the War of the Pacific. The allies lost the battle, with casualties estimated between 3,500 and 5,000 men. Each year, military parades and other civic events are held on Alianza Field in remembrance of the fallen soldiers.
Señor de Torrechayoc
In the mid-1800s, a large cross was erected in the snow in the district of Urubamba. Travelers soon began to report strange dreams and revelations taking place near the cross, which resulted in the crucifix being moved to a prime location in the town of Urubamba itself. The Señor de Torrechayoc festival pays homage to this cross, which is carried through the streets during May. The festivities include traditional music, regional dances, and fireworks, as well as bullfighting and cockfighting competitions.
The Qoyllority (or Qoyllur Rit'i) pilgrimage and festival combine elements of both indigenous Andean and Catholic religions. The mountainous pilgrimage to the Sinakara sanctuary, situated at 15,000 feet above sea level, honors both the traditional apu mountain spirits and the miraculous appearance of an image of Jesus in the rocks. Music, dancing, and fireworks accompany the procession, which takes place in the days before Corpus Christi.