431 Years of Parties — Celebrating Lake Titicaca’s Virgin

For the past 431 years, devotees have celebrated the “Dark Virgin of the Lake” alongside the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Each year, Puno, Peru, and Copacabana, Bolivia, host one of South America’s largest festivals: the Festividad en Honor a la Virgen de la Candelaria.

This epic fiesta features parades, tradition, culture, music, rituals, dancing, prayer, ceremonies, booze … and some of the most ornate costumes in the world.

 

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Spreading flowers in Copacabana

 

Incredible masks on display
Incredible masks on display

 

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Dancing in the streets

 

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Local bands come from all around the region to participate in the celebration

 

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The celebration honors the region’s pre-Columbian mining culture

 

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The fiesta lasts well into the night

Attending the Fiesta in Puno, Peru

After settling into our hotel, my wife, Carrie, and I ventured out and joined the crowd.

By then, the parades had ended and the well-dressed locals were busy getting completely drunk. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many beer bottles stacked in one place.

It didn’t take long before a group of friendly Peruvians invited us to join them in dancing and drinking. Carrie and I politely declined their libations, but had a blast holding hands in a circle and swaying around to the music coming from a nearby stage.

 

Locals enjoying beer during the festival
Locals enjoying beer during the festival

 

A local man carries 24 bottles of beer
A local man carries 24 bottles of beer

 

A pre-Colombian mining overlord
A pre-Colombian mining overlord

Bye Bye Camera

Sadly, the fun-filled experience ended in theft. On the way back to our guesthouse, Carrie and I found ourselves in a particularly crowded corner. Drunken people were jostling and falling over each other, and one such man found his way up against me.

When we finally pushed passed the man, I immediately knew that something was wrong. Reaching into my now unzipped jacket pocket, I felt emptiness where my camera had once been. Dread filled my body, as all color left my face. With my heart racing and panic growing, I stopped in my tracks, told Carrie, “my camera is gone.”

At that point, there was nothing left to do except go back to our holiday rental and see if he stole anything else. Fortunately, all the thief got was my new point and shoot camera … not my Nikon D800. Still, this was the first time in my life that something had been something stolen off my person …and hopefully the last.

 

Large crowds are everywhere during the fiesta
With large crowds everywhere, it’s easy to see how a camera could be stolen

 

With so many distractions, its easy to see how a camera could be stolen
Noise and smoke were a regular part of the festival

 

Music was a central part of the fiesta
A local musician

431st Annual Festividad en Honor a la Virgen de la Candelaria

Celebrated in Puno, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia, the Festividad en Honor a la Virgen de la Candelaria is centered around Lake Titicaca. In Bolivia, the Virgen is also known as the Dark Virgin of the Lake, and the Patroness Of Bolivia, and is revered for a series of miracles. ¹

The festival has two main phases. The first occurs on February 2, and involves a procession carrying the statue of the Virgin around the city while dancers in lavish costumes join the parade. The dancers, who come from communities near and far, pause in front of the town cathedral to be blessed with holy water.

The second phase occurs on the Sunday after February second, called the Octava. On this day, El Segundo Gran Día : La Octava, costumed groups from the neighborhoods of Puno dance day and night in religious fervor and competitive spirit.

Throughout the celebration, new vehicles are brought in from all over Bolivia to be blessed with beer. People gather for days ahead to pray and to celebrate in a mixture of Catholic and native religions. ²

 

la Virgen de la Candelaria
la Virgen de la Candelaria

 

Praying outside the main church in Copacabana, Bolivia
Praying outside the main church in Copacabana, Bolivia

 

This car has just been blessed
This car has just been blessed

A Holiday Rental in Copacabana, Bolivia

Carrie and I followed the festival across the international lines — via a harrowing experience at the Bolivian border — and checked into Hotel la Cúpula: a beautiful holiday rental in Copacabana, Bolivia.

As backpackers, it’s not often that we treat ourselves to a luxury holiday rental. When we do, we usually research it online first using site like HouseTrip. This time, we just showed up and hoped for the best.

After arriving at la Cúpula, we knew that this was one of those special times. For $50/night, our suite featured a king bed, hot tub, kitchenette, fireplace, couch and wall-to-wall order nasonex spray.

For nearly a fortnight, we relaxed, roamed the streets, ate delicious food, participated in the celebration and enjoyed a vacation from our holiday.

 

Inside our luxary holiday suite at the Hotel la Cúpula
Inside our luxary holiday suite at the Hotel la Cúpula

 

The view from Hotel la Cúpula
The view from Hotel la Cúpula

An Epic Celebration in Copacabana

As thousands of people filled the town, we watched the sleepy hamlet transform itself into a bustling party-central.

Parade routes were cordoned off,
streets were covered in flowers,
locals came dressed in their Sunday best.

Newly-erected stages filled the town square,
food vendors from all over Bolivia set up shop,
crates of beer lined the walkways.

It was time to celebrate!

 

Fireworks above Copacabana
Fireworks above Copacabana

 

Festive feet
Festive feet

 

Celebrating the Virgen in Copacabana
Celebrating the Virgen in Copacabana

 

A local musician
A local musician

 

The dresses ... oh, the dresses ... how they twirled
The dresses … oh, the dresses … how they twirled

 

Drums of Bolivia Unite
Drums of Bolivia Unite

 

It must get hot under these masks
It must get hot under these masks

Beautiful Clothes on Parade

I probably spent more time at this parade that I have at any other parade in my life.

For nearly 5 hours, Carrie and I watched a procession of traditional dance, provincial marching bands and a collection of costumes that rivals that of Carnival.

According to one local, “some individual pieces of clothing are worth more than their family’s entire wardrobe combined.”

These ornate outfits aren’t light either; each one weighs roughly 40 pounds. Try dancing through the streets for hours in that.

 

Somehow, this guy still has to put a mask on
Somehow, this guy still has to put a mask on

 

Colonial overlords in the street
Colonial overlords in the street

 

Frilly dresses were everywhere
Frilly dresses were everywhere

 

These characters walked around like senior citizens ... but the men inside were mostly in their 20s and 30s
These characters walked around like senior citizens … but the men inside were mostly in their 20s and 30s

 

The men's feet were just as decorated as the women's
The men’s feet were just as decorated as the women’s

What is your favorite celebration in the world?

  • What did you think?

  • Looks like a great celebration. Sucks on the camera being stolen but fortunately as you said, not your Nikon. You captured some awesome images that opened my eyes to more than just the “bleak” Bolivia experience I read about in other posts. It is a celebration after all.

    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks so much for your incredible comment. I’m so glad that this post was able to introduce you to another side of Bolivia. It really was a magical country and one of the highlights of my 6 months in South America.

  • India Tour Packages are the most famous Peru Photography of different destinations.

  • Anna

    Wow, thanks so much for sharing, Greg! Incredible photos. We can’t wait to visit the area in a few months.
    http://www.takeeachday.com