Virgen Del Carmen Festival: A taste of Mardi Gras, Peruvian style!

Apus Peru > Uncategorized > Virgen Del Carmen Festival: A taste of Mardi Gras, Peruvian style!

Want to experience a festival like the locals do here in Peru?

There may not be a finer example than the Virgen Del Carmen, celebrated every year in mid-July. Imagine a festivity that combines, religion, art, dance, drinking and more, all rolled into one!

Apus Peru offers travellers the unique opportunity to be entertained during the main event every 15th and 16th of July, and this year (2017) was no exception! My group and I joined Apus Peru expert guide Arturo for what turned out to be an unforgettable experience.

The streets of Paucartambo, teeming with dancers and festival-goers


Our journey began with a few hours’ drive to Paucartambo, stopping along the way at the Pre-Inka cemetery known as Ninamarka, which in Quechua means the ‘far-away place’.

Ninamarka, the ‘far away place’
Pre-incan cemetery ruins

We rolled into town around lunch time, before the crowds started arrive, which was good news for us: we had time to prepare before the streets were filled to overflowing, as people got ready to watch the first performers. In all, we saw 19 different dance performances! Luckily, Arturo knows all the best routes and viewing posts in town, allowing us to catch some glimpses of the dancers away from the main crowds.

Plotting the perfect spot to view the festivities

Top tip: bring your hard hat! Some of the performers like to throw random items into the crowd: fruit, vegetables, balls and wooden spoons. We decided we best find a better vantage point a little farther afield. Arturo used his local negotiation skills to score us a primo spot on a balcony, right in the main plaza, where the heart of the festivities took place. We also ended up perfectly positioned to take in some amazing firework displays later on!

Amazing fireworks at the Virgen del Carmen festival in Paucartambo, Peru

The next day was the Main Event, what we were all eagerly awaiting – the time when they parade the Virgen Del Carmen through the town, just as they have done for centuries. The classic place to watch the statue of the Virgin being carried is from the Colonial Bridge, a village icon built by King Carlos III of Spain in the 1760s. Our group managed a pose before it got too busy!

Our group, posing on the Colonial Bridge!

Naturally, our itinerary included the customary short drive to the Tres Cruces look-out point in the early morning of the 16th. This is the place where the Andes meets the Amazon. This is not the time to sleep in, as early risers are treated to the most spectacular sunrise and, sometimes, a strange phenomenon that gives the illusion of seeing three suns rising! This is due to the special lighting at this time of year and the rare, changing micro-climate. The story goes that there are just two places in the world where this natural miracle can be observed – here, at Tres Cruces, and in China!

The glorious sunrise at Tres Cruces, just peaking over the cloud forest below.

After two long and eventful days, we were understandably exhausted, but there were no complaints as we had just witnessed something truly unforgettable. As one of the group put it – “it’s like being at Mardi Gras, Easter Sunday mass, and St Patrick’s Day, all at once!” Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

One of the dancers, in full festival regalia.

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