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How to plan the best trip for the Virgen de la Candelaria Festival?

Written by:
Claire Dean

Published: 30-12-2022

The Virgin of Candelaria is an annual celebration of Puno's Candelaria festival, among five other UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage practices unique to Peru. The first two weeks of February are filled with colors, music, and dancing as people flock to Puno, a city in the Altiplano on Lake Titicaca, to celebrate Puno's patron saint during La Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria. The Candelaria Festival is one of Peru's top festivals and is recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The Candelaria Festival is often compared to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia, because of the event's sheer size, the number of participants, and the mix of Catholicism with beliefs and traditions of native cultures. Every year the celebrations in Puno include hundreds of thousands of dancers in amazingly detailed and colorful costumes, along with tens of thousands of musicians who re-enact hundreds of traditional dances in a stadium, as well as more informally each day in the street. Preparations for the Virgen de la Candelaria festival are extensive and start almost a year in advance. Thousands of directors, sponsors, embroiderers, and artisans work throughout the year, creating masks, boots and shoes, bells, and other items to adorn the dancers and musicians. These skills are passed on to younger generations through rehearsals and artisan workshops.


Virgen de la Candelaria


What Happens at the Festival?

The festival starts with a pilgrimage at daybreak to the top of a hill where the homage to the Virgen de la Candelaria is placed. The pilgrims then descend the mountain amid fireworks and songs of praise to the San Juan church. A folkloric dance competition then follows this ceremony. Over 7000 people usually participate in the competition, and the event occurs in the city's stadium. A winner is chosen at the end of the competition, but that's more for show than anything else. The real purpose of the dances is to please the Virgen de la Candelaria. The rest of the festival sees parades of people dancing in the streets for days, and feasts pop up all over the city. If you aren't eating at any point during the festival, then the chances are that you are drinking instead. The people of Puno are no strangers to making merry, especially on special occasions such as this one. If you're looking for something slightly different to do on your trip to Peru, the Fiesta de la Candelaria should be on your to-do list with its live music performed on zampoña panpipes, outlandish masks and costumes, dancing, singing, eating, performances, fireworks and more.


Incredible Masks




When considering a trip to Puno in early February, consider that the hotels will be booked well in advance. Make sure you book all your accommodation and travel arrangements well in advance, as the city will be jam-packed during this sacred time of year. 

Bear in mind that when choosing a hotel for the festival, that one slightly out of the center is a good idea so that you can get some sleep at night. The festival is 24 hours a day, so a hotel in the center of Puno may not be the best idea.

You will also need to purchase tickets in advance for some of the events.


Dance Competition

Safety at The Festival


So many people are in the streets to watch the parade, and there is always a greater risk of being mugged or pickpocketed anywhere in the world during these kinds of festivals. Most local people and visitors are drunk during the festival, and the crowd makes it easier for thieves to operate. So keep a closer eye on your valuables or, better still, leave valuable items in your hotel safe. 

February is the rainy season in the Altiplano, and temperatures are around the two °C mark. Make sure you wrap up well and take a rain poncho or waterproof jacket to this party! 


Dance Troup


We recommend booking a trip to the Virgen de la Candelaria festival at least six months in advance to secure the best accommodation options and bus or flight to Puno. One of our travel Advisors will be happy to help you plan which festival events you would like to participate in! Happy Travels.


Brass Band