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Colorful costumes fill the streets during the Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria in Puno, Peru. (Photograph by Miguel Carrillo/AP Images)

Dancing in the Streets: Peru’s Candelaria Festival

The sun, the earth, the bounty.

During the pre-Hispanic period of the place we now call Peru, February was harvest time. Couple that with a desire to celebrate the city of Puno‘s patron, the Virgin of Candelaria, and it’s time to dance in the streets—literally.

Every February in Puno, the country’s folklore capital, about 200 teams of dancers and musicians—totaling 50,000 dancers and 15,000 musicians—compete at the 18-day Fiesta de la Virgen de la Candelaria.

Each team chooses one of seven traditional dances, from the devilishly playful diablada to the waka wakawaka waka, a bullfighting dance.

Backed by brass horns and drum lines, the vibrantly costumed competitors dance for miles in a seemingly never-ending parade through Puno’s streets—the sidewalks lined with spectators packed onto temporary bleachers or folding chairs.

It’s a mashup of holy procession, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Rio’s Carnival—all in a city that sits more than 12,500 feet (3,830 m) above sea level, a place where just walking uphill leaves some out-of-towners moving ever so slowly.

Long after the last dancers have gone home, visitors may find themselves humming the folklore tunes, anxious to return for more of the beautiful madness.

> For Foodies: Peruvian Street Snacks

You’ll never go hungry on the streets of Puno.

While watching Candelaria’s dancers prance by on the street, small, easy-to-eat treats are a must. Put your hand up to summon vendors with trays hanging from straps around their necks.

For a few nuevos soles (Peru’s currency), they offer up everything from choclo (ears of corn served with small slabs of cheese) to sliced roast pork sandwiches.

Buy several cellophane sleeves of salty fried fava beans and crunchy corn kernels. You will get thirsty, but not to worry—another vendor will be along soon with ice-cold Coca-Colas for sale.

This article originally appeared in the National Geographic book Four Seasons of Travel.