Adventure Hiking Peru South America Travel

Qoyllur Rit’i Festival: An Annual Pilgrimage You Won’t Want To Miss

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As the sun sets on an ordinary night, why not take a hike to a 16,000-foot-glacier? This annual pilgrimage for the Lord of Qoyllur Rit’i is an intriguing blend of Catholicism and paying homage to nature deities. 

Qoyllur Rit’i (Snow Star Festival) is a multi-day event recognized on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List. The festival is a truly unique experience with intricate costumes synchronized to traditional music that echoes off glacial mountains.

The festival begins 58 days after Easter and lasts for a few days around the full moon in June. It consists of dancing, costumes, traditional food, rituals for blessing things you have and things you want, and trying to keep warm at the base of the Sinakara glacier, near the Cusco region of Peru.

Festival Background:

There are two versions of the origins of the festival one from pre-columbian times, and the other is the Catholic version.

The first entails a celebration of the Pleiades star constellation that temporarily disappears and reappears every year around the time of the festival representing the disappearance and reappearance of chaos and order.

The second involves the son of a sheepherder and a boy with mysteriously fancy clothes who turns into a bush with the body of christ on it.

Either way, the locals regard the ice from the glacier to be holy, and lug heavy chunks down each year to ensure a blessed life.

Getting there:

You should leave Cusco around 10pm to get on a bus that will take you to the base of the trek.  A few hours later you’ll arive to a camp filled with food tents, and people selling flashlights, toilet paper, sweaters and gloves. From there you just follow the massive crowd and start walking. Don’t forget to bundle up in several layers.

The experience:

You’ll embark alongside thousands of locals that will make even the most unreligious soul spiritual. Along the way you’ll pass several stations with crosses and candles where people stop to pay their respects and pray.

Try to take in the unique experience as you hike beside a river glistening in moonlight and infinite stars.

If you time it just right, you should approach the top just in time to witness the sun peak out over the tips of the snow covered peaks and capture a truly epic sunrise.

The final cross on the way to the Señor Quyllur Rit’i’s shrine

The next few hours you’ll most likely want to walk around and watch the dancers in their traditional costumes representing characters from mythical stories.

Maybe have a parrot choose your fortune, or buy a good luck charm for love, health, and other fortunes.

The lack of sleep might begin to overwhelm you on the hike back down, but the musical processions and view of the Andes, will keep your legs moving.

As you embark on the journey back to Cusco, you can bask in the memory of colored skirts and icy slopes that will be imprinted on you.

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Anna French

Anna is an optimist with pessimistic tendencies who enjoys making a short story long, her coffee black, and watching Friends re-runs. These days you can catch her in her natural habitats wandering through forest roads in her van or hiking to a waterfall or glacial lake.

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3 Comments

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    After a lot of research we decided on http://rainbowmountainperutrek.com/. We booked through emails from Australia and possibly paid a small premium (compared to bartering for a better price once in Peru), however, we had the peace of mind that the walk was organized before arriving in Cusco and we could leave when we want

    They were great (English guides, amazing food, tents and quality equipment, general and all-inclusive experience, apart from advice, weird beers and soft drinks) and we had no problem.

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    Madeleine Kerr says:

    Hello Anna!
    I just read your blog entry about your travel to Qoyllur Rit’i. I am a nominee for an international fellowship called the Watson where I plan on studying the global conceptualizations of clowns, particularly ritual clowns, and in my research, I learned that the Ukuku at the Qoyllur Rit’i Festival are ritual clowns who I am very interested in watching over the course of the festival to expand my conception of clowning and trickster-like characters in religious rituals. I am very interested in attending this festival (the one in 2021), and I was curious if you still had contacts with people in Peru who might be able to help me navigate the Qoyllur Rit’i fesitval. Must I have a guide or do some tourists go independently? Is that appropriate? Do you know someone who I could contact to get more information? Sorry for the barrage of questions. Your experience seemed so positive, and I am very excited to participate and celebrate this festival in the most appropriate way that I can. Thank you for your time!

    1. Avatar

      Hey Madeleine, I unfortunately don’t still have contacts there, but I went in a group of white expats without a guide, and were told by locals that was fine. We didn’t camp there though, so I’m not sure if different cultural rules would apply in that circumstance. We simply began the hike around midnight, got there at sunrise, stayed till midday and hiked back down. It was exhausting though.

      That being said, if you can find a local tour guide, I recommend that since I think it’s always good to stimulate the economy through locally run eco/ cultural tours.

      Sorry I don’t have more helpful information.

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