Peruvian History Comes Alive In Colorful Festival Costumes

The annual Fiesta de la Candelaria mixes Peru’s Catholic traditions with local ritual.

The line between reality and the imaginary blurs during Peru's Fiesta de la Candelaria. Beginning on February 2, the town of Puno, Peru, which sits at the edge of Lake Titicaca, is flooded with revelers during this two-week celebration. The typically quiet town can see as many forty thousand people dancing and playing music along the streets.

The festival is layered in tradition, mixing the Spanish Catholicism brought to Peru with indigenous rituals. The eve of the festival pays a spiritual homage to the patron saint of Puno: the Virgin of Candelaria, known locally as the Mamacha. Masses are held throughout the town, and altars are set up in the streets to honor her.

Depicted similarly to the Virgin Mary, the Mamacha holds a comparable level of reverence during the festival. Residents and tourists alike offers thanks in the form of prayers and flowers, hoping for miracles in the coming year.

Candelaria is perhaps as known for its religious ceremonies as its revelry. In the days that follow, festival goers of all ages display their elaborate costumes. Clothing is influenced by a mix of Peruvian and Bolivian styles and clearly showcases the rich cultures of both countries.

Photographer Juan Manuel Castro Prieto first began to photograph Peruvian folklife in the early 90s. His photos capture brief moments of serenity during an often frenetic festival.