Virgin of Candelaria Festival in Puno Peru

For some reason educated guesses seem to be used way too often in our travels.  The use of educated guesses has led on on a few really great adventures, though it also never hurts to have low expectations.

On a recent trip to Peru, visiting Lake Titicaca was a must do.  While searching for a place to stay, many Peruvian options were available and also Copacabana Bolivia was a choice.  The $160 visa for a couple nights in Bolivia nixed Bolivia all together so we took to searching for festivals and happenings around the time of our visit.  The Virgin of Candelaria Festival in Puno Peru kept popping up.  We searched everywhere to find the official dates just to find only seven different websites which had presented us with 7 different dates for the festival.  Not one of them matched, we obviously had to make an educated guess.

If we turned our entire trip plans upside down and started it with Lake Titicaca instead of ending with it, there was a small chance at least according to three of the websites that we could be there for the final day of the festivities. We took the chance.

Puno Peru

In the morning we arrived in town after a long taxi ride from the Juliaca Airport and checked into our hotel along with two other couples that we had made the journey with. At the hotel we were asked where we came from then offered oxygen for our room.  Puno Peru is at 12,500 ft and we had just come from Lima Peru which is just about at sea level. Elevation sickness was an issue.  Everything we did took twice the effort as usual including walking and breathing.

Our original plan had been to walk to town, but after the hard walk just to get to our rooms we all opted for a cab.  As we got to the main part of town there wasn’t one thing that looked anything like the colorfully dressed people dancing all about town like the pictures we saw.  The town was battling with a small amount of drizzel here and there, but nothing that in our opinions would cancel a festival.  We stopped at a local eatery for some lunch and did our best to ask about the festival as none of us are fluent in Spanish.  A head nod yes was the only answer we got.  We were wondering the where, when’s and how’s and we got a head nod.

After lunch we wondered around town perusing the shops and occasionally stopping in a pub.  We were ready to hang it up, we must have been wrong. As we walked out of our last pub for the day and headed towards the local taxi stand someone in our group thought they heard drums.

Virgin of Candelaria Festival

We all looked at each other, turned the opposite direction and headed towards the drums.  As we worked our way towards the drums we started to see people putting on festive hats & crazy colored ribbons.  We we’re pretty sure we had finally found the festival.  Moving along, more and more people were congregating, the music was getting louder and you could just feel there was something in the air.  As we slowly made our way up a steep cobble stone road, people were waving to us and we could see a big congregation of people atop the hill.  It had to be the festival!

And finally atop the hill there is was in it’s full glory.  A giant band dancing in sync left to right and up and down, locals in fancy dresses dancing and spinning all over the place, smiles everywhere you look.  Yet, as we worked our way into the crowd you could just feel something was wrong.

Virgin of Candelaria Festival

After taking a few pictures of the dancing and band I finally knew what was wrong. I saw a bunch of people doing shots of some sort of clear alchohol and drinking 40’s of beer in no way festival like for dancers and band members.  As I leaned to my friend to say “this isn’t the festival, this must be the staging area for the band and dancers….”  an elderly gentleman grabbed Kim & Beth by the hand and dragged them into the dance.   Other people started putting ribbons on our friends from Minnesota.  They offered shots of what seemed to be homemade Pisco and swigs from their 40’s.  Instead of kicking us out, the people of Puno had invited into their group.

Virgin of Candelaria Festival

I don’t know how long we danced and drank, but it was light out when we started and was getting dark by the time the band started heading down the steep hill to the actual festival.  Once again we were grabbed and brought along with the group.

Virgin of Candelaria Festival

Later in town as the band played one of the band member who we hung out with at the staging gave Kim a hug and asked for a picture.

Virgin of Candelaria Festival

If you are ever going to Peru for Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca or any other reason, I would highly recommend stopping in Puno for one of their many festivals.  Not only was the festival a lot of fun, but the friendliness of the people is something that I will always remember.

We still don’t have a clue what the dates of the festival are or if it was the first, last or one of the middle days.

This is how WE did it:

  1. Got a round trip flight from mainland USA to Lima Peru using points
  2. Flew from Lima to Juliaca airport on Lan Airlines
  3. Taxi from Juliaca to Puno on Lake Titicaca. (long ride but inexpensive)
  4. Taxi back to Juliaca was booked at our Hotel
  5. Flight back to Lima back to mainland USA

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