Held each year during the full moon before Corpus Christi (May / June), the Qoyllur Rit'i is the largest pilgrimage in the Andean region taking tens of thousands of worshippers to the sanctuary of the Señor de Qoyllur Rit’i (Lord of the Snow Star), the highest sanctuary of the world located 4,800 m (nearly 16,000 ft) above sea level at the foot of the Qollqepunku glacier in the Andean Sinakara Valley in the Cusco region.
As so many festivals in Peru, the Qoyllur Rit'i celebrations are a combination of ancient indigenous traditions and ceremonies and Christian beliefs and festivities brought to Peru by the Spaniards.
Local Andean people celebrated the stars and here especially the reappearance of the Pleiades constellation which was associated with the upcoming harvest in the southern hemisphere and the New Year around the time of today’s festivities. Other natives paid homage to the spiritual and sacred mountains and the glacier whose melting water was believed to have healing powers. And the Christians worshipped the sighting of Christ at the place where the sanctuary stands.
The fusion of these different beliefs resulted in today’s 3-day Qoyllur Rit'I pilgrimage and week-long celebrations which include traditional dances and local Andean music played mainly on flutes and drums, colorful costumes, a religious procession, native ceremonies and a small “alasitas fair” where dreams and things people want in their lives, such as homes, cars, money, marriage, and much more, are sold in a miniature version.
Only few foreigners take part in the festivities and the demanding pilgrimage high in the southern Andean mountains. It’s an incomparable experience, adventure and insight into a Peruvian culture that shouldn’t be missed, even if you cover most of the way by car and just walk the last few miles up to the sanctuary.
By the way, the festival and the pilgrimage are an UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2011.