Puno and Candelaria

Puno and Candelaria
Puno and Candelaria

For most of the year Puno is southern Peruvian city best known as the gateway to Lake Titicaca. But in February of every year (2nd of February is the main celebration day), Puno becomes the city to visit for Candelaria, the feast of the Virgin of the Candle, Puno’s patron saint. This city devoted to being at the service of tourists who come to visit Lake Titicaca and the floating islands turn itself inside out for this holy Peruvian celebration.

We visited Puno for our holiday in 2013, not knowing quite what to expect and were overwhelmed by the exuberance of the festival. For three days the city is filled with dancers and musicians from all over South America celebrating the Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary with a colourful and wonderful combination of native, modern and fantastic costumes parading and dancing through the streets. From 6 am well into the night the dancers and musicians parade the streets following no discernible route, performing intricate routines or just marching to the music, stopping now and then to have a photo taken by an interested bystander.

Imagine men in highland garb marching to the sound of highland pipes followed by a band of horns and at least 8 bass drums with drummers whaling away with all their strength providing music for scantily dressed beautiful bespangled women in high, high heeled boots, followed by a group of gorillas and African chieftains not to be outdone by men in high boots covered with bells in bright satin costumes.

Tickets can be purchased for performances in the stadium, but we didn’t bother, the street scene being quite enough. We followed the music, stopping every now and then to sample the street food, take photos with the marchers, buy a bottle of beer when thirsty and purchase flower petals to throw at the dancers at night.

On the second day various streets were decorated with sand drawing and at night the statue of the Virgin was taken from the main church and marched down the street in a solemn and glorious procession.

If you go be aware of several things: Puno in is cold and rainy and you need to dress accordingly; the 2nd of February is the best; be prepared to get up early and go to bed late although the choice is yours and you won’t be disturbed if you choose to get up late or go to bed early, and there is no published schedule of events; be prepared to “go with the flow”, drinking, singing and dancing wherever the opportunity presents itself.

Combine this with a visit to the Uros Islands and you will truly have a unique experience.