Up in the Sky: The Peruvian Snow Star Festival

Up in the Sky: The Peruvian Snow Star Festival

Peruvian celebrating the Snow Star Festival - Qoyllur Rit’i. - Pilgrims holding a banner

There are always two ways to approach travel and exploration:  on one hand, you can go to the expected places, the places every guidebook suggests.  There’s nothing wrong with that approach because there is almost always a good reason for the inclusion of that destination or event in the guidebooks.  Yes, you’ll find those locations a bit more crowded and a bit more eager to take advantage of the tourists streaming in, but on the other hand, they’ve been vetted and are dependably interesting.

The other approach, of course, is to do your own digging, research, and asking around, and come up with something that’s a bit off the beaten path. (A good tour operator can also give you some enticing ideas or incorporate yours into an exciting itinerary.) When considering a trip to Peru, one of the best choices for off-the-beaten-path tourism – albeit for the hardier adventurer (high altitude hiking) — is the Snow Star Festival in the Sinakara Valley in southern Peru.

Quyllur Rit’i

Known as “QuyllurRit’i” to Peruvians, which translates to “Lord of the Star Snow,” the festival began in 1780 with a tale of a mysterious boy who assisted a struggling herdsman and helped his flock to prosper.  The herdsman tried to reward the boy with some cloth to make clothes but he discovered that the boy’s clothing was only worn by the Archbishop.  When the church investigated, the boy transformed into a bush and the man died of shock; the image of Jesus painted on the stone over his grave is the nominal “Lord of the Star Snow.” Today the festival occurs with the Church’s blessing.  It takes place in late May or early June, to coincide with the full moon, one week before the Christian feast of Corpus Christi.

The festival is quite religious in nature.  People walk from great distances to climb into the thin air of the mountains in order to kneel at dawn on the first day and greet the rising sun, and people penetrate deep into the glacier-packed valleys to retrieve crosses and ice that are said to be medicinal.  The original occupants of the area also worshiped and held rituals on the spot, long before the Church laid claim to Peru, and so the festival continues an ancient tradition.

Worship through Dance

Despite the religious nature of the festival, one reason it is worth attending is the spectacular native dancing that goes on almost continuously.  Colorfully dressed, the sight of hundreds of people dancing joyously on glacier ice is something that can only be seen with the naked eye, in real time.  Photos and essays will simply never capture the power of the sight.  If you’re seeking something few have ever seen, and have the fitness level to hike at high altitudes, the Snow Star Festival should be high on your list.

NEI tours offer interactive cultural experiences, not just passive visits to must-see sights. If you need assistance in planning a cultural, adventure or wildlife viewing trip to Peru or want to learn what this country has to offer, please call us at 800-869-0639 or visit naturexp.com for more information. Although this particular adventure is somewhat challenging, we normally offer “soft” adventures as part of our luxury Peru tours.