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Cusco and Machu Picchu are very tourist-y attractions when you consider traveling to Peru. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that, but I think in order to experience authentic local life, it’s equally important to find places and events that only locals would attend. A growing friendship with the Physiotherapist I was volunteering with in Cusco allowed me learn more about these experiences as he would recommend new things for me to see and try on a daily basis.
Tienes que ir a Paucartambo para ver las fiestas de la virgen de Carmen. También hay muchas danzas y fuegos artificiales!
Amilcar, the Physiotherapist I worked with in Cusco, exclaimed with delight. “You need to go to Paucartambo to see the Virgin of Carmen Festival. There are many dances and fireworks too.”
As a local experience fanatic, I was equally excited to take part in this experience, despite the two-hour rocky bus ride away from Cusco. Paucartambo is a small town outside of Cusco that is known to have the best Virgin of Carmen festivities in all of Peru. Peruvians from near and far come to take part in the festivities. Like Amilcar mentioned, there is a lot of dancing, singing, music, fireworks, and tons of drinking at night that takes place over a period of three days in mid-July. The festival not only celebrates and honors the Virgin Carmen, but it also celebrates the rich Peruvian history with each dance representing something different. The townspeople take part in the dances and dress up in a variety of traditional outfits and masks.
Paucartambo also has a free museum focused on the history of the town and this particular festival. You can see the different outfits and masks on display with a short description of what each represents. One such mask that stood out to me was a black mask painted with exaggerated eyes and dark pupils. These masks represent the plight of the slaves that were brought over from Africa to parts of the Peruvian countryside by the Spaniards.
The town is vivacious during this festival and it’s difficult to find room to walk past the performers and the spectators! Across the old colonial bridge in the town, which is also well-known for its historical significance, there is a short step of stairs that leads to a statue. At the top of the stairs near the statue, there is a perfect view of the fireworks that occur on the second day of the festival. You don’t have to deal with crowds and can enjoy the beautiful view from afar. The fireworks are done on these built wire structures with spectacular colors that explode into magnificent star-like shapes. It really is quite a show and one that I am glad I didn’t miss!
The Virgin of Carmen Festival is recommended to all those that enjoy celebrating history, dancing, and like offbeat experiences to celebrate with locals!
Want to attend the festival in Paucartambo? Here’s how!
Transportation: You can take a bus from Cusco to Paucartambo for about 20 soles ($7 USD). Once you get there, you can walk around and watch the festivities!
Where to stay: It’s difficult to find lodging in Paucartambo unless you know someone from there. I recommend bringing a sleeping bag and roughing it or coming for a day trip so you don’t have to worry about the overnight stay.
What to see: So many dances and fireworks that occur over 3 days from July 15-17 every year.
Have you been to an interesting festival? Comment below and share your experiences!