In the week leading up to Easter, Latinos around the world celebrate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection with special religious ceremonies, parades, vigils, and meals. While all Semana Santa festivities share a common root in traditions from the Catholic Church, different countries have put their own spin on the various events of Holy Week over the years.
Reading about several Holy week celebrations amongst Latinos, I realized Semana Santa in Peru seems especially rich, vibrant, and mystical compared to your typical Holy Week amongst Latinos in the US.
What Makes Semana Santa in Peru Special
As in many Latin American countries, Catholic celebrations in Peru feel infused with indigenous beliefs, imagery, food, and traditions.
I frequently amuse myself with the idea of celebrating in Semana Santa in Peru, simply because as a family we could experience these fascinating differences. And because Peru makes the entire week of Semana Santa a national holiday, you’ll have plenty of company during the festivities.
Best Places to Celebrate Holy Week in Peru
What caught my attention is how several cities in the same tiny country can certainly celebrate Holy Week pretty differently when it comes to parades, foods and rituals.
The whole country of Peru basically shuts down to celebrate Holy Week. While you can find interesting celebrations in any city, unique events and traditions in the following spots typically draw the most visitors.
Iquitos: Holy Week always involves some kind of fasting because the Catholic Church forbids meat on Good Friday.
If In Iquitos, try the meat-free dish, which consists of yucca, a typical staple of the Amazonian region of Peru.
The main attraction of celebrating Holy Week in Iquitos must be viewing the city’s unique take on the custom of scourging penitents on the Thursday of Holy Week.
Many communities have scourgings or whippings to symbolize repentance for sins and help the faithful experience a bit of what Jesus felt before the crucifixion, but only in rural communities like Iquitos will your mother-in-law dish out these whippings!
Porcón: Many Holy Week celebrations involve the carrying of effigies of Jesus and Mary through the streets in elaborate processions. In Porcón, another interesting parade takes place featuring over 50 huge crosses, which locals carry to the chapel with great devotion and piety.
One of the most enriching experiences in the town is to enjoy hearing the traditional liturgies in Quechua instead of Spanish in this small rural community.
Ayacucho: High in the Andes city of Ayacucho, you can experience some of the most beautiful and devout Holy Week celebrations in Peru.
On Wednesday, locals carpet the streets with flower petals in advance of parades featuring images of the Virgin Mary and Saint John, but the real highlight takes place on Friday evening. At this time the image of Christ is borne on a huge litter covered in candles and white roses.
The sight of thousands of white candles moving slowly and solemnly through the streets from the Monastery of Santa Clara to the cathedral, followed by men and women dressed in mourning, serves as a very moving symbol of faith.
Cusco: If you are aiming for enjoying a rich traditional experience of Holy Week in a comfortable environment then Holy Week in Cusco, Peru, has some very interesting traditions. The bonus is the advantage of better tourist infrastructure and lodgings than those of other cities in Peru.
The procession of the Señor de los Temblores (Lord of the Earthquakes) is especially famous. During this parade a holy statue of Christ, said to have saved the city from an earthquake, tours the city’s churches to bless them while people climb up trees and hang off balconies to drop special red flowers on the statue.
For many, the most compelling reason to choose Cusco to celebrate Semana Santa in Peru is the Good Friday Feast. In Cusco, people only fast until noon on Good Friday and then enjoy a banquet of 12 traditional dishes.
Who says Holy Week is not a family trip? The idea of spending Spring Break on the beach sounds very enticing however, never as culturally rich as traveling to Peru to enjoy La Semana Santa.