Some of the most important festivals of the department of Cusco are celebrated in June. The best known is perhaps the Inti Raymi or Festival of the Sun, but the one with the greatest devotion and attendance is the Qoyllor Riti, considered to be one of the largest pilgrimages in America. On this festival around 100 thousand people gather at the footof the snow covered Sinakara mountain to honor the Lord of the Star of Snow. For several days, Comuneros throughout the Andes come organized in Nations and sing and dance during whole nights until the big day. On this day, which is celebrated at the end of May or beggining of June, the Nations walk to the snow covered mountain, at 6300 meters above sea level, to lower the cross of Christ, the Star of the Snow. The festival is a tribute to Jesus Christ but also an integration of the Andean men with nature and snow covered muntains, a source of water and life all year round, and a worship to the Apus or protecting Lords represented by the tallest and most emblematic mountains.
Location: the festival is celebrated in the Ocongate area, in the community of Mahuayani, some 110 kilometers from Cusco.
Dates: May vary between late May and early June. The festival is primarily andean and very few foreigners participate.
Duration: to live the experience fully it is recommended that you sleep in the Pampas of the Shrine of Lord of Qoyllur Riti, about 4600 meters above sea level. The next day you can walk with the Nations to the snow covered mountain and later, attend the Mass which is celebrated at the Shrine.
Access: some agencies can provide travel arrangements. You can also do it on your own. A taxi may charge around 200 soles for the round trip. There are bus companies that provide transportation to Mahuayani for 10 soles.
Recommendations: attend accompanied by any nation or locals. The altitude makes this experience very challenging because of the cold weather. It is necessary to carry proper equipment.
Text & Photos by: Iñigo Maneiro