Held the week before Easter, this is Peru’s finest religious festival and attracts visitors from all over the country. Each succeeding day sees solemn yet colorful processions and Catholic religious rites. Ayacucho’s Semana Santa celebrations also include art shows, folk-dancing competitions, local music concerts, street events, sporting events (especially equestrian ones), agricultural fairs and the loving preparation of traditional meals.
Each year, iPerú prints a free brochure describing the Semana Santa events with street maps showing the main processions. Celebrations begin on the Friday before Palm Sunday and continue for 10 days until Easter Sunday. The first day is marked by a procession in honor of La Virgen de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows), during which it is customary to inflict ‘sorrows’ on bystanders by firing pebbles out of slingshots. Gringos have been targets, so be warned.
The celebrations culminate on the Saturday before Easter Sunday with a huge all-night party including dawn fireworks to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. If you want to party too, stay on your guard, as proceedings are notoriously wild. Crime in the city escalates dramatically during festivities: robbery and rape are not unheard of.
Rooms in most hotels fill far in advance so book well ahead. The tourist office has lists of local families who provide accommodations for the overflow.