Ramadan in Cusco, Peru

This is my 5th consecutive Ramadan away from South Africa. On the whole, it’s not a bad place to spend 30 days.

My Ramadan 2018 was spent in Kuala Lumpur, an amazing city for the auspicious month. 2019 found me in Uruguay, starting the fast in Montevideo and ending in Salto, with around 5 other cities covered in those 30 days. Then came Covid. Ramadan 2020 was spent in Buenos Aires, and was awful. The lockdown had only eased up very slightly, and the highlight of every day was walking 2 blocks to the supermarket. By the end of the month things had eased to the point where I would head to a verduleria (fruit and veggie shop) about 3-4 blocks away to buy as few bananas as a could so I would have an excuse to head out the next day as well. And 2021 was spent in Bariloche, Argentina, the most beautiful city in the country in my opinion. There was a 8pm curfew, but life was mostly back to normal by then. I prayed (literally prayed) that 2022 would find me anywhere but Argentina for Ramadan and …

I’m in Cusco, Peru. The Peru-Bolivia land border opened only a few weeks earlier, and I waited in La Paz until my Bolivian visa had almost expired before crossing Desaguadero (the town at the Peru-Bolivia border) and headed to Puno (small but nice), then Arequipa (big and nice), and finally to Cusco.

I arrived about 10 days before Ramadan started. I wanted to get a Machu Picchu trip in before fasting began, and the original plan was to spend only the first week of Ramadan here before moving on (that would be around 16 days in total). But I will be spending almost 6 weeks here, mostly for the reasons below.

Cusco is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. Of course I’m referring to Plaza de Armas and the surrounding few blocks; perhaps a radius of 5 blocks, with Plaza de Armas at the centre. That’s the main tourist area and once you move beyond that, Cusco feels like most other South American cities, albeit with the occasional jewel scattered in some corner, usually in the form of a stunning view.

Views and beauty aside, the city has a lot going for it, from the point of view of someone looking to spend Ramadan here. Perhaps the biggest plus is the weather. Ramadan 2022 started in early April, smack in the middle of Autumn. The day temperature ranges from around 16 degrees Celsius at the low end, to 21 degrees on the high side. The colder nights are around 5 degrees, and the warmer nights around 12 degrees. There’s no uncomfortable gusts of Autumn wind, and humidity is not a problem. In short, just about the perfect weather for me. Had I moved on to Lima as originally planned, I would be facing 31 degree days with high humidity – far less appealing. I’m too lazy to do a Fahrenheit conversion, so Google for a converter if necessary.

Being a tourist town, restaurants stay open late, and much later than ifthaar. I often found myself breaking fast in a restaurant before rushing home for Maghrib. My pattern later changed to breaking fast at home with just water, reading Maghrib, then heading out to a restaurant for a more relaxed meal. There are tons of restaurants with vegetarian and fish options so food was never a problem. And on the days I stayed home and cooked, finding groceries was never an issue. I also learned recently that at least one of the large supermarkets about 2km from where I live sells Halal chicken, complete with Halal certification. I have not verified this yet, but the information came from a very reliable source. Unfortunately, there are no halal restaurants in the city or nearby, and it appears there are no other halal meat options.

One unexpected bonus of being the in city is there is a Musallah not too far out of town, around 2.5km from Plaza de Armas, and accessible by taxi for around 6-8 Sols. You can find it on Google Maps by searching for either “Mosque” or “Musallah”, on Avenida Peru, close to Barrio Miraflores. Unfortunately I have a location only, not a street address. If it did, I doubt it would help much since there is no indication whatsoever that the building houses a Musallah. It looks like every other house on the street, and the entrance is a generic black metal door that I walked passed the first time I was there. The facilities are very basic, but they serve the needs of the local Muslim community. The people who run things are sincere, and welcome everyone, locals and foreigners alike, with open arms. Should you be interested in visiting, Jummah salaah is typically held at 13:30 sharp, so get there around 13:15. The Musallah closes after salaah, and everyone heads back to work, so don’t be discouraged if you arrive and find the place closed; just wait a while. One Friday everyone was running late and the Musallah only opened around 13:35. The people who run the place have jobs and other life commitments, and keep the Musallah going as well. They are hoping to expand their facilities if possible (maybe even turn it into a proper Mosque) since they have very little. Should you wish to help, contact me and I can perhaps put you in touch with someone in charge. I am not in any way officially associated with the organization. I have, however, experienced their hospitality for the last few weeks and overall, they seem like excellent folk, trying to do the best they can with what they have (including things like arranging Zakaat food parcels for anyone who wants it).

I am writing this with one week of Ramadan 2022 remaining. As someone who travels regularly, I am not fond of staying in one place, especially for 6 weeks in a tourist town like Cusco. But the combination of the city, the food, the weather, and the friends I’ve made these last few weeks, have made this one of the experiences I will remember in a very positive light, perhaps even fondly. It certainly beats the previous 2 years.

To Muslims looking to visit Cusco, Peru, I highly recommend it.