While traveling in Peru, the highlights often noted are the Amazonian rain forests of Iquitos, the gastronomy of Lima and of course Machu Pichu. With so many highlights spread over a vast region, it’s no wonder most travelers overlook the small town of Puno, sitting at 13,000 feet on the western edge of Lake Titicaca. On the whole, there isn’t terribly much to see aside from the natural beauty of surrounding Lake Titicaca, with the exception of the annual Fiesta de la Candelaria. Rivaling the world renowned Carnaval as one of the largest celebrations of music, dance and culture in all of South America, Candelaria blankets the city of Puno in a spectacular sight of vibrant colors no traveler would want to miss.
The first curious thing to note about this festival was that it doesn’t have a definitive beginning or ending date. It seems as if one day, a few groups start dancing through the streets during the day, then continue on into the night and then continue again the next morning, proving this festival isn’t for the faint of heart. What one would call, the first “real” day of the celebration would be the massive centralized choreographed dance routines parsed out amongst several groups. The sun beats down strong in this no-frills stadium and the sand colored dirt floor creates the perfect neutral background to showcase the spectrum of colors twirling in front of your eyes. This kaleidoscope of colors will then morph into a parade and continue gliding through the streets of Puno.
Where to begin in describing the eclectic mix of colorful costumes? Pictures really do the best job of recreating the one-of-a-kind experience of the Candelaria costumes. The men dress in garb that vary from rural farmers in ponchos and straw hats to elaborate and sparkly Spanish matadors. It’s also worth mentioning, that while they seem to be dancing in sync with each other, their coordination should be somewhat impaired due to the large quantities of alcohol you may see them passing around. This is especially the case during the evening hours of dance. The women also come with their charms, dressing in outfits that I like to describe as cowgirls going to a quinceañera.
Even after what may felt like two weeks of parades and dancing, it still seems that the participants have a difficult time letting it go. Even three days after the official end of the fiesta, there are still dancers and marching bands periodically roaming the streets, marching through the hangover so to speak. Whether it’s simply practicing for next year or a stubborn denial that the fiesta has ended, these parade-goers are definitely the most dedicated I’ve seen to date.