As I sat down to write this post, I was torn between using the English word, “Carnival,” and its Spanish translation, “Carnaval.” Little did I know that, even in English, the word “Carnival” doesn’t just refer to an amusement show or fair. It also (and originally) refers to the annual period of festivities (think: music, dancing, shows, parades, street parties, feasts, costumes) before Lent in Catholic countries around the world, which is what “Carnaval” in Peru is all about too. The idea behind Carnival is essentially full indulgence (in everything mentioned above) before the solemnity and sacrifice of Lent, a time associated with prayer, penance, fasting, and donating to those in need.
So here we are now in February, one of the most festive and colorful months in Peru and arguably one of the best months to visit Peru (and Machu Picchu). In fact, there are many regions throughout the country that compete to be the “Capital of the Peru Carnaval” involving months of preparation to showcase the best of its artistic and cultural heritage through parades overflowing with flamboyant traditional costumes, music and dance. The numerous groups participating in these celebrations parade down the city’s main street to the rhythm of the music specific to each region.
Carnival in Cusco, Peru specifically is also known for being celebrated with water or water balloons, flour or baby powder, and body paint. That means – watch out in the streets! 🤣 I’ve seen people being randomly water balloon bombed. But this is also why, when you attend a typical Peruvian parade, the dancers portraying the traditional Carnival dance often have baby powder on their faces (and may have powder in their pockets ready to throw at you!) 😅
Here’s a video of one of the first place winners depicting the typical Peru Carnival dance of Umupata in the Lares region of Cusco: