Tens of thousands of domestic and international travelers are expected to visit Puno this year during its annual and legendary Virgin of Candelaria Festival the first two weeks of February. Even more will be participating, however, as more than 40,000 dancers and 5,000 musicians will take part in the competitions and parades. Some have been preparing for the event for half a year, along with the mask and boot makers and embroiderers. Even the Chulluni community on the Floating Islands of Uros is preparing, as locals have been remodeling their totora reed houses in anticipation of a grand influx of visitors.
The Virgin of Candelaria Festival, in honor of Puno’s patron saint, is one of South America’s most spectacular festivals- no surprise, considering that Puno is considered the folkloric capital of Peru thanks to its astonishing wealth of dances. The festival was nominated to UNESCO last year for recognition as an Intangible World Heritage, although the decision won’t be known until the end of this year.
Each neighborhood of the city and rural community will be represented, as will much of Puno’s history. Pre-Columbian dances rooted in the Aymara and Quechua cultures include the Los Maris or Cahuiris, honoring the gods of thunder and lightning, the Llullmitha with its long dragging dresses and representation of the sown fields, the alternating male and female circles of the Markheta, and the Inca Huallatha. Ancient dances like the Llamerada and Llameritos were some of the oldest, danced by the shepherds and llama drivers of the Andean altiplano.
Continuing on to the colonial era, dances like the Phusa Morenos or Siku Morenos emerged from the black slave community of Puno after the conquest. They are danced in costumes of the devil, angel and Afro-Peruvian. These dances led to the famous Morenada (Black Dance) and Diablada (Devil’s Dance). Other dances, like the happy mestizo dance known as the Pandilla Puneña date back to the post-colonial Republican era. With the women clad in braids, bowler hats, many-petticoated skirts, shawls, and little boots they represent the typical Andean women.
Candelaria Festival 2016: The Schedule
On Sunday, January 31st, thousands of spectators will gather at the Enrique Torres Belon Stadium to watch the Native Dance Contest, which will take place from 7am through 5pm. Exuberantly costumed groups from the small towns and villages surrounding Puno will dance to the music of the panpipes and other instruments, concluding with a parade through the main streets of the city.
On Tuesday, February 2nd, there’ll be a mass at the city cathedral, followed by a procession of the Virgin through the city center. The day’s activities are wholly religious, although there will be some music and dance by devotees in the procession, and colorful flower tapestries will add color to the streets. Upon nightfall, the Virgin will enter her original sanctuary, San Juan Bautista. You’ll notice plenty of steel structures with moving pieces known as castles which shoot off fireworks and firecrackers.
On Sunday, February 7th, the Mestizo Dance Contest will be held at the Enrique Torres Belon Stadium, from 7am through 4pm, followed by a folkloric parade through the main streets of the city. These are dances from the colonial and republican period, and the participants are the different neighborhoods (barrios) of Puno city proper. Metal instruments are prevalent, and the costumes are mainly heavily embroidered and bedazzled trajes de luces, based on bullfighters’ dress. The most famous dance within this category is undoubtedly the Diablada, the Devil’s Dance
On Monday, February 8th, the Great Parade and Veneration will begin at 8am and continue through to the following morning. This is the most important day of the festival. The mestizo dance groups from the previous day and dancers from the countryside communities will dance through the streets up to the Virgin, where they perform for her, give floral offerings, and drop to their knees in veneration. The night will end with fireworks and an open-air party. Hopefully it won’t rain!
For the slow ones among you, we’re sorry to inform you that most Peruvians make reservations for the first week of February in Puno months in advance. Our own hostel in Puno is completely booked except for one room: the 8-bed shared dormitory with private bath, which is still empty. This means there’s still a chance for you to find lodging with us or in other hostels, but don’t wait too long- if you can reserve ahead of time, do so. Also, feel free to contact the experienced travel specialists of Pirwa Travel Service if you’re wondering how to arrange transport to Puno, or hoping to squeeze some excursions into your time there, such as the Floating Islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca or the Island of Amantani.