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Carnival in South America: Get Soaked in Peru

You’re in Peru, it’s February and the Inca Trail’s closed for annual maintenance… what’s an adventure traveler to do?! Don’t despair! Luckily, it’s Carnival Season, so you should have your weekends filled with parades, masks, dancing, falling trees and buckets of water. Intrigued? Let’s begin the fun!

Cajarca is considered the Peruvian Carnival capital. Expect parades, parties and lots of water. A tradition since the 1700s, the Peruvians love to celebrate the whole month with water games, of sorts. Water balloons, buckets, hoses – anything that can soak an unsuspecting passerby is used. Nobody is off limits and you don’t have to ask to join in the fun. They’ll probably make that decision for you, so wrap up any electronics and pack a few water balloons to really celebrate the occasion. Wear some clothes you hope to ruin, however, as paint is now part of the water fun. You’ll be as colorful as the parade by the end of the day. This particular city’s carnival focus is the royal court – Carnival Queen and King Momo. While the Queen presides over the music festival, the king, must simply act as a college freshmen. His role is the God of “craziness and fun.” At the end of the festival, a doll bearing the likeness of King Momo is buried, so as to cleanse the festival of any unwanted elements, such as futility or general college boy behavior.


Throughout Peru, you’ll find what is called a Yunsa tree ( or umisha in the jungle and cortamonte on the coast. At the end of the festival, participants dance around it, then brandish a machete. Couples can take turns hitting the trunk three times until it finally falls, spilling out candy or toys for the kids and maybe even some liquor bottles for the adults. The lucky person that struck down the tree claims the victorious title as the next year’s governor of the feast, putting them in charge of the coveted Yunsa tree.

If you’re planning on incorporating Carnival into your South America tour, definitely keep Peru in mind as a top choice. The costumes are incredible, the people fun and the memories – they’ll last a lifetime.

Here’s a comprehensive schedule of the Peru Carnivals. Good luck trying to pick just one!