Puno´s festivities calendar is varied and surprising, every tourist that arrives here will be able to share unforgetable experiences with the locals.
The apotheosis of all of these folklore manifestations are the holydays of Virgin Candelaria.
The festivities of Virgin Candelaria are considered Peru´s most important religious event. It is why Puno is considered as Peru´s folklore capital city..
During February first 15 days of every year, Puno becomes a party city, every street gets packed with musicians, dancers and people expressing their joy and devotion for virgin Candelaria.
It is about 150 folkloric groups, wearing typical and/or shining sparkled costumes, being around 30.000 dancers and, 8.000 musicians, besides thousands of national and foreing viewers, turning this small lacustrine city into an unique scenery in the world.
Before, during and after the festivities, many religious and cultural events take place, now we will have an idea of what are they all about so you can have a kind of guide if you decide to come some day.
The most important dates when the folkloric groups shows can be seen are: during the first week, typical dances and costumes are shown and during the second week, a great costumes and dance extravaganza is performed, these dates can vary from year to year, so it is better to check out the calendar before comming.
Before February 2nd, the main day of the festivities to honor Virgin Candelaria, three masses are celebrated everyday, for nine days before the main day, at Saint John the baptist temple, the people go to the masses carrying flowers and candles.
Early in the morning , the locals wake up the city, dancing, and fireworks from every coin of the city, headed to the church to hear the mass with their guests and albeds.
During the afternoon, the albed go from the Deustua Arch way to the virgin sanctuary bringing flowers and candles for the eve mass
Later that day , all the devotees from the surrounding communities arriving wearing their best typical costumes and "k'aperos" are the ones that bring firewood, they are headed to the sanctuary too, where they are going to pile big wood fires in front of the church to honor virgin Mary. once again we can see the syncretism developed here as the virgin mary is known as the virgin of the fire, everything is ready for the eve mass..
A seranade takes place after the mass with fireworks, dancers and music are performed to the viewers in a big parade along the city streets.
The day begins whith a mass to honor the virgin, she, wearing her new dress made of silver and gold threads is taken in a massive procession along the streets of Puno. The virgin is carried on a decorated platform by the devotees for hours along the city, people and institutions offer her flower arrangements to honor the sacred image.
All the local and regional institutions precede the procession carrying candles, behind the image a crowd of devotees, musicians and dancers go through the streets with their so called "Nuestra Mamita Candelaria".
A real show, a mix of devotion and Andean believings with tireless dancers and music rythym, turn the city into a magical place.
Generally it is celebrated the nearest sunday to February 2nd.
Around 80 dance groups perform that day in this contest through the streets and the local stadium.
These groups come from different communities, districts and provinces of the Region.
The rehearsals begin since the firts days of January, so they can master the choreographies and the music they are going to perform during the contests that year, it is very important for the contestants because they spend long rehearsal hours to achieve their best, so if they win the contest or win the first places it is a great honor for their communities to be remembered.
The contest takes place at "Monumental Estadio Torres Belón" in Puno, with a capacity of 20.000 viewers, the competitor groups have only six minutes to perform in from of the audience, then they have to leave the stadium and go to the sanctuary to recieve the virgin´s blessings.
After that, the groups still playing music and dancing until late night along the streets of Puno and finally leaving to their communities until next year celebration.
All of the light costume groups come from the urban areas, each neighborhood is represented with up to six different dances, each of them have their own official activity programs created by their directing committee and their presidents, it takes the whole year to preapare the festivities.
They program some activities to earn some money in order to pay all the preparation costs.
Their first task is to contract and to create the clothing, every single dress is handmade and originally created by specialized professionals, the music bands are hired in advance as well.
Most of the folkloric groups start their rehearsals by visiting the virgin Candelaria sanctuary to assist the mass and then to go back to the rehearsal place to make a toast before starting their rehearsal, they will do the same along January and the first days of February..
Two days before the octava sunday, on that friday afternoon, the music bands and the folkloric groups, each of them with 80 up to 200 individuals, are officially receptioned by the albeds and presidents, a party that is celebrated with fireworks, music and dancers.
Saturday, the activities begin with the sunrise mass at the sanctuary, after this people are headed to the place where the celebration will take place along the morning.
In the afternoon that day, all the dancers wearing formal clothes, get prepared for the octava´s eve. A big parade on the streets with dancers and musicians get all the locals and visitors to enjoy this event, until late in the night, during these days Puno vibrates with the sound of music and party everywhere.
Early in the morning that sunday, The great costume and dance contest begins, at the monumental stadium "Torres Belón", around 70 groups, classified in different categories,with colorful costumes, masks and choreographies, show their best performances, it is remarkable to see 300 to 800 dancers, dancing at the same time..
In the afternoon, the virgin image is taken one more time in a big procession around the city, she is dressed with new garments and the platform shows a new decoration, once again people offers flowers to the sacred image and the dance and music never stops, in the night the image is back again to its sanctuary.
The next day the image of virgin Candelaria is taken out to the temple´s atrium to recieve the veneration of all of the folkloric groups, from 8:00 am the dancers groups get around the corner of El Sol avenue and Lampa street following an arranged route towards the temple of virgrin Candelaria in Pino park. It is the place where thei are going to recieve the virgin´s blessings while they dance in front of the temple, it is an emotional moment for this people beacuse it is the moment they meet their beloved protecting mother, and it is the place where they express their devotion and to promise to keep on dancing to her honor, after this, the groups go to the main square way to Laykakota cemetery, where they give tribute to the former group members that passed way.
This big parade is a very good example of devotion and folklore, an unique event only seen in this lacustrine city. people spend nights on the sidewalks so they can get the best locations to see the parade and not to miss any detail of it. All of the visitors that arrive to Puno during those days are invited to take part of this celebration too, they enjoy the party atmosphere and become part of it.
But the party never stops, people continue celebrating in their own neighborhoods around the city.
All the folkloric groups continue celebrating for one more week until cacharpari or farewell party, time to say good bye until the next year.
They honor the sacred image of virgin Candelaria and show their gratefulness for all the blessings they recived that year, after that, a big banquet is offered and finally, they still dancing until the next day sunrise.
The celebration takes many days even after the main festivity day, it is common that the festivities of Virgin Candelaria join the carnival times giving the city almost a whole month of party and celebrations, but that is another story.