Cusco is ranked one of the top 10 places in the world to spend New Years. It’s definitely a popular choice if you plan on spending the holiday in South America. But New years is celebrated all over the world, so what makes Cusco so special?

No matter what country you’re in, New Years is a significant holiday. It marks not only the passing of another calendar year but also a fresh start, and an opportunity to imagine what you want for the year to come.

Every culture has their own unique traditions. In China, families decorate their homes with lanterns, gather together for a traditional meal, watch fireworks displays, and give their loved ones red envelopes filled with money.

In Cusco, a similar familial sentiment is felt; people get together with their families to enjoy food, friendship, and fireworks. The only main difference is that instead of money, everyone exchanges yellow underwear.

Not exactly that gift you’ve wanted all year, but it sure makes for a unique custom and memorable night. The color is supposed to bring luck, and wearing yellow underwear, especially outside of your pants, supposedly means a good year of love and sex. Never thought I’d spice up my love life with yellow underwear, that’s for sure.

But where do you buy yellow panties? It’s not exactly the most sought after lingerie color after all. As it does, supply always rises to meet demand. About three days before the festivities begin, stalls pop up all over the city selling festive yellow party paraphernalia. The usual markets overflow with extra stalls, spilling out a block farther than usual and creating a surreal, golden epicenter from which the other stands radiate out. In this little buttercup bubble, there is everything you can imagine: hats, confetti, flowers, glasses, and any style of underpants you can imagine.

We were in Cusco for New Years on accident; we had meant to be moving on, but, as tends to happen, we got stuck in the city. It’s a good problem to have, meeting wonderful people and falling in love with a new place, but it meant that we nearly ended up on the streets that night. About three or four days before the big night, people start flocking to Cusco. Peruvians taking advantage of their vacation time, backpackers rushing in to watch the ball drop, Cusco style. It was chaos.

Hotels and hostels are fully booked, usually raising the price for that week. If you plan on passing the holiday in Cusco, I can’t recommend having a reservation more. Since we hadn’t booked in, about four days before the 31st, we were scrambling to find a place to stay. In the end, we were lucky enough to stay with a friend, but it was looking like it was going to be a long, sleepless night.

When the big day came, we were prepared with champagne, snacks, and yellow underpants, eagerly awaiting the festivities.

Just before midnight, people flock the central square, Plaza de Armas. Even though the Plaza is massive, there are so many people everyone has to stand shoulder to shoulder. When the clock strikes twelve, all chaos lets loose. People start running in circles around the square, many towing suitcasing behind them for good luck in their travels in the new year, fireworks exploding, above, behind, and even within the crowd, people dodging sudden bursts, and covering their ears from the deafening racket.

We chose a vantage point above the discord; Cusco is built in a bowl shaped, so we watched the festivities half way up the side of the hill from our friend’s house.

Back home, I always look forward to the elaborately choreographed displays every new years and July 4th. But, I’ve never seen a display like the one in Cusco. It wasn’t choreographed or planned. Unlike the States, fireworks are legal so anyone can buy them and set them off. And everyone did. The sheer amount of colorful explosions was breathtaking. There were fireworks everywhere: above us, behind us, in front of us. Small lights flared over the whole cityscape and a magical haze settled over the buildings.

After the fireworks had died down, we descended towards the square. Even at 1:00 am we still had to dodge firecrackers and small explosives. After a few minutes of fearing for our feet, we decided we needed to take cover somewhere, preferably with music and drinks.

Becuase of the holiday, our favorite clubs–which you normally enter for free–were charging pricey entrance tickets, so we wandered off the main square. About a block away, the party continued when a convenience store brought their loudspeakers onto the street. Over two hundred people started dancing to the lively beat, and we spent the next two hours goofing off with our friends.

It was one of my most memorable New Years and something I recommend experiencing at least once in your life. I mean, when else can you wear yellow underwear in public while nearly getting blown up?

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