Sunday is usually a quiet day in Puno on the banks of Lake Titicaca in Peru. For one Sunday in January Puno erupts into life with the arrival of the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria. Originally a Christian festival brought by the Spanish, the annual parade now offers a cross section of everything Peruvian.
Starting at midday hundreds of groups begin the parade through the streets of Puno adorned is an eclectic mix of outfits. Some in the traditional dress of the “Cholita”, skirts wide and long with hair tied back into two long plaits topped with something close to a bowler hat. Some high kicking in a colourful hybrid of a cowboy boot and a tambourine. Others taking inspiration from the Incan Pacha Mamma or mother earth paying tribute with animal motifs.
The sound of the parade is overwhelming with each separate band keeping in time with each other giving the whole event a rhythm of its own. Brass bands pump out a sound I can only describe as like the Star Wars movie theme played while on cocaine. Marchers carry a unique percussion instrument which is spun to make a loud clacking sound. Some are made from objects such as bottles or the preserved bodies of local animals, others are decorated to look like a huge range of objects from guns to gorillas. Peruvian pan pipers play along making an incredible mix of cultures and sounds fill the streets.
The parade continues to midnight exhausting the brass bands as they blow and the dancers as they strut their stuff. All this exertion would be tough anywhere but Puno sits at 3600m above sea level where even a simple walk can leave you out of breath. To really top things off the local cerveza flows continually with street vendors selling luke warm cans throughout the route. By the time the performers reach the main square they are mostly exhausted, drunk and filled with euphoria.
Words by Wade Ranson
Photography by Wade Ranson and Michelle Ranson
By nights end the streets are filled with a crazy mix of people in a crazy mix of outfits partying into the morning. To experience the festival really gives the traveller everything in one night, a cultural experience uniquely Peruvian and one hell of a party.
The Candelaria Festival happens once a year around late January to early February in Puno, Peru.
Getting There: Fly from Lima to Juliaca which is a 45 minute bus ride from Puno. The flight takes around 3 hours 45 minutes and there are daily flights with Avianca or Lan airlines.
Get Around: While in Puno take a visit to the Uros floating islands or cross the border to Bolivia and the Isla Del Sol. It is a seven hour bus trip to Cusco and the sacred valley of the Inca at Machu Picchu which is a must see for any visitor to Peru.