Puno & Lake Titicaca Festivals

Official travel literature rarely tires of labeling Puno the folkloric capital of Peru. Its festivals, celebrated with spectacularly vibrant pre-Columbian dances and costumes, certainly rank among the most spectacular in the country. Festivals in Puno are not just colorful; they're usually wild affairs. (Excessive imbibing seems to be as important a ritual as singing or dancing.) Locals zealously guard their ancestral traditions and cultural expressions, which are known for their unusual variety, singular choreography, and lilting altiplano music. The local cultures are responsible for registering more than 360 dances in the National Institute of Culture.

Foremost among local festivals is the Festival de la Virgen de la Candelaria (Candlemas), held during the first 2 weeks of February. The celebration of Puno's patron saint brings bands and more than 200 groups of dancers from villages and towns all over the region. The festival owes its origins to ancient rituals linked to agricultural cycles and harvests. Festivities blend traits associated with the dominant native local groups: the sobriety of the Quechua people and the joie de vivre of the Aymara. The principal Candlemas dance is the diablada, or devil dance. Dancers wearing spectacular costumes and grotesque masks play panpipes and make offerings to Pachamama, or "Mother Earth." You'll see terrifying devil masks with twisted horns and angelic, sequined "suits of lights." Official functions are held in the stadium, while more popular exercises are on the streets of Puno. The more informal events are a real highlight for most observers. Festival dances are divided clearly between two historical epochs: pre-Columbian dances, celebrated on Saturday, and the post-Columbian dances, which take place on Sunday. On Monday is a grand 12-hour Folkloric Parade throughout Puno. Street dancing is observed every day of the week, so even if you miss the first couple of days, you're sure to get a healthy dose of the Virgen de la Candelaria.

Puno Week, celebrated during the first week of November, remembers Manco Cápac, who, according to legend, rose from the waters of Lake Titicaca to found the Inca Empire. A major procession leads from the shores of the lake to the town stadium. Dances and music pervade the city, and things sometimes get pretty wild, with plenty of people staggering and falling down drunk by the end of the evening.

Puno is also well known for its pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations (late Feb to early Mar). Not quite the same as Brazil's hedonistic party, Carnaval here is celebrated with native dances, lots of drinking, and water bombs.

Other lively festivals in and around Puno and Lake Titicaca, worthy of planning your trip around, include San Juan de Dios (St. John; Mar 7-8); Fiesta de las Cruces Alasitas (May 8); San Juan, San Pedro, and San Pablo (St. John, St. Peter, and St. Paul; June 24-29); and Apóstol Santiago (St. James; July 25), which is the most enthusiastically celebrated day on Isla Taquile.

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