Held alongside Lake Titicaca, in the port city of Puno, the Candelaria Festival (La Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria) is celebrated annually during the first two weeks of February. Featuring parades, colorful costumes, live traditional music, choreographed dancing, and fireworks, the lengthy and extravagant celebration is in honor of Puno’s patron saint. Visit Lake Titicaca, Puno during the Candelaria celebration, considered a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, to witness why this southern city is referred to as the Folklore Capital of Peru.
It’s worth timing your personalized Peru family trip to coincide with this exciting and traditional Peruvian festival. Read on to discover all you need to know about the Virgen de la Candelaria celebration as well as other things to do in Puno upon your visit to this culturally rich corner of Peru.
– History of Virgen de la Candelaria
The festival dates back to the late 18th century and celebrates the Virgin of Candelaria, Puno’s patron saint. There are a few theories as to the origin and identity of the Virgin of Candelaria herself, with some believing that she was an actual young woman who once protected the inhabitants of the Puno region from an attack by Bolivia; others believe she emerged from the high altitude lake, Lago Titicaca. She is also seen as a symbol of the Pachamama, Mother Earth, and other times as a representation of Christianity’s Virgin Mary.
Appropriately, the Candelaria Festival draws upon Catholic traditions and Andean symbolism. Many of the participants are inhabitants or descendants of Aymara and Quechua communities. Even emigrants from Puno return to their native city to participate in the authentic celebration, signifying the generational importance and vitality of the Virgin de la Candelaria celebration.
– Lake Titicaca and Puno
Puno is located in southern Peru and sits on the northern shore of Lake Titicaca (the southern shores belong to Bolivia). While Cusco is often noted for its impressive display of Inca ruins, Puno may in fact be the birthplace of the Inca Empire. Popular legend tells that Mama Ocllo and Manco Capac emerged from the high-altitude lake to begin the powerful dynasty. No matter if the story is a myth, Puno certainly has a mystique drawn from its proximity to the impressive Lake Titicaca as well as its cultural bounty.
Lake Titicaca is known as the world’s highest navigable lake, situated at 3,812 meters (12,507 feet). The lake is dotted with numerous islands including Taquille, Amantani, and Uros. The latter is fashioned out of reeds, as are the fantastical hand-crafted boats used by islanders. Upon a visit to Puno, be sure to take a day trip to the floating islands or even consider staying overnight with one of the local families of Lake Titicaca.
Known as the Folklore Capital of Peru, Puno, including Lake Titicaca, is home to three UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage practices. These include the Virgin de la Candelaria festival, the textile work of Island of Taquile (of Lake Titicaca), and the original scissor dance known as Danza de las Tijeras.
– The Celebration
The Candelaria Festival has flourished over the years to become Puno’s party of the year and one of the largest in South America. In fact, the celebration can draw up to 50,000 dancers and 15,000 musicians! Nearly every day of the celebration offers a performance, be it religious or cultural.
One of the most important occurrences during the two-week festival is on February 2 when a representation of the Virgin is paraded through the streets. On this day, after morning mass, the city is taken over by a procession of dancers and musicians dressed in elaborate costumes. These costumes can cost more than a month’s salary and take many months to create.
The following day is reserved for the principal dance competitions. One of the main dances of the festival is the Diablada (Dance of the Demons), which combines elements of Andean indigenous beliefs with the Catholicism introduced by the Spanish. Dancers wear masks decorated with gold and silver jewelry, colorful gemstones, coin, and glass mirrors. These outfits can sometimes weigh up to 60 pounds (27 kilograms)! Performed throughout Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, this dance represents the struggle between the forces of good and evil.
On February 10, dancers’ stamina is tested during the Gran Concurso de Trajes de Luces (Great competition for costumes of light) that begins at 7 am and continues until 5 pm. Finally, upon the last day of the festival, awards are presented to the best dance troupes.
– Other Activities to Explore in Puno
Puno is an enchanting city to explore, be it in search of cultural, architectural, or even gastronomical pleasures. Begin with a walking tour of the city to visit the Cathedral, a baroque colonial structure completed in 1757. The two bell towers and carved exterior will surely remain imprinted in your travel memories. Directly across from Puno’s cathedral is La Casa del Corregidor. This charming 17th-century is now a cafe bar, but it still exudes its old-school charm and is a landmark in the Plaza de Armas.
Uros and Taquile Islands
As previously mentioned, the Uros Islands make for a unique destination in that the collection of 40 islands were man-made using totora (a local reed). Visiting Uros provides a glimpse into the traditional and humble life of the inhabitants, and it can be an opportunity to support them through purchasing souvenirs. While the Uros Islands lay just a few miles from Puno’s center, another island worth visiting, Taquile, is further away but worth the trip.
A 2.5-hour boat ride from Puno’s shoreline, Taquile Island is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stone paths lead to stunning views of the lake, though it will be hard to take your eyes off of the beautiful handwoven textiles made by locals.
On a private visit to Puno, we can organize a trip to the historic Sillustani Cemetery, located some 20 miles outside of the city. Funerary towers referred to as chullpas were built on a hilltop in the 15th century and belonged to the pre-Inca Qolla culture. Nobles and their treasured personal belongings were buried in these 40-foot towers to continue on to the afterlife. While here, you will be able to capture some impressive views of Lake Titicaca.
Taste Local Gastronomy
Using wood-burning ovens and clay pots, the traditional dishes of Puno highlight native ingredients such as quinoa, chuño (dried potato), herbs, grains, and salty cheese. Because Puno is at a high altitude, be sure to eat light on the first day or two of your visit. Trout caught fresh from Lake Titicaca can be served fried or made into an incredible ceviche. Temperatures drop in the evening, so you’ll want to warm up with a soup such as pesque (a creamy quinoa porridge) or chairo (a hearty stew of potatoes, lamb and lima beans).
– Explore Cultural Peru with Kuoda
Consider planning your Peru travel experience in February so you can attend the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno, Peru. Private tours of this enthralling event will dazzle you with some of the most spectacular dancing and musical performances you’ve ever seen.
Ready to experience one of South America’s liveliest celebrations? A trip to see the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria can be included in any of our luxury tours to Peru. Contact Us today and one of our travel designers will assist you personally in taking care of all the arrangements.