When thinking about Carnival in South America most people immediately envision this with Brazilian Samba dancers in Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless there are more Carnivals with an even higher historic value in South America. Around the same time as the Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Barranquilla reach their critical points; in the South American highlands Carnivals with other significance can be found. In Bolivia one can find the Carnival or Oruro and in Peru the Carnival of La Virgen de La Candelaria taking place in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The last two, together with the Rio Carnival are seen as the largest yearly festivities on the continent.
During the year Puno is known as the pass through city when visiting Lake Titicaca, located at 3811 meters above sea level, it is the highest navigable lake on the planet. The lake is dotted with beautiful islands still inhabited by people holding firm to their Inca heritance. The lake is surrounded by snowcapped mountains reflecting in the dark blue waters making for some of the most beautiful vacation pictures.
Nevertheless in February, the lake and its islands are no longer the main reason to come to Puno. In the first weeks of February, Puno reclaims its fame for being the folkloric capital of Peru and the widely popular Fiesta de la Virgin de La Candelaria is celebrated. Also known as the Carnival of Puno, this yearly festival this year starts on February 2 and lasts for a whole week with the final day February 7 as the highlight of the week. The Virgen de La Candelaria is Puno’s Patron Saint and is celebrated typically in this region. The Peruvian Andes after being conquered by the Spanish in the 16th Century made it one of their strengths to combine the (imposed) religion brought by the Spanish with their local Aymara and Quechua traditions and celebrations. The Puno carnival is in Peru the most recognized form of this celebration.
The festival is centered on the worshipping of the Virgin who is carried from the main church on the shoulders of dozens of strong men all around the city in a large parade. This central celebration goes hand in hand with tens of other parades going on around the city honoring the Virgin in more traditional ways. The secondary parades are made up out of local dancing groups and groups from other parts of the country invited by the local groups. They all have several themes and characters that come from century old traditions and represent several figures out of the Inca and Colonization times. The most famous is “La Diablada”, a dance that represents the evil that is chased away by the Virgin. The dance is centered on La Diabla, a female form of the Devil. The dancers are dressed up in original and highly detailed costumes that represent Saints, Puma’s, Bears and Condors.
The exact origin of the dance is not completely clear and highly disputed. It is clear that the tradition comes from the Aymara as there are known writings about the Carnival dating back to 1556 by the hand of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, one of the most famous chroniclers of Inca times.
This all makes La Fiesta de la Candelaria an unforgettable spectacle that will keep people for days in Puno, enjoying the dances and the enthusiastic rhythms, which will stay with you even long after you have left Puno.
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