A Guide to the Culture and Traditions of the Andean Communities of Peru
Fiestas & Festivals > Virgen de Carmen (Paucartambo)
Paucartambo (115 km from Cusco), 16 July.
Paucartambo is a picturesque but quiet place situated in a valley above the eastern jungles, 115 km from Cusco. It is best known for its yearly festival of the Virgen del Carmen, a very colourful local fiesta with the best traditional dances, and the most varied and exotic masks and costumes to be seen anywhere in the Cusco region.
The dancers represent semi-mythical characters, some of them derived from Peruvian history, such as the Auca Chilenos - representing the Chilean soldiers who occupied Peru in the 19th century - or the Capac Negros, the freed slaves. Other characters include malaria victims, ugly gringos, Ukukus (half man half bear), condor-men and warlike jungle Indians.
The centre of all this festivity is the figure of the Virgin of Carmen, who is honoured with songs, dances and masses inside the church, and paraded around the town. Her final act of divinity is to drive away the demons - represented by the Saqra dancers - who perform daring acrobats on the rooftops of the town, dressed in Inca colours and costumes from the Vice-regency days. Once the procession is over, a symbolic battle is staged amongst the devote dancers and the demons with the traditional victory of the faithful.
With nothing happening in this town for 362 days of the year, there is little in the way of tourist facilities. Hardy visitors usually end up sleeping in heaps on the floors of old buildings, many of which lack any sort of basic amenity.
One of the traditional activities of the Paucartambo festival is a pre-dawn visit to the heights of Tres Cruces, some 3 hours by car from the town. At this unique spot one can look down from the final peaks of the Andes onto the vast expanse of the Amazon basin. The view is unforgettable. The Incas held this place sacred for the uncanny optical effects that appear during sunrise at certain times of the year (notably May, June & July). Owing to atmospheric distortion observers can sometimes see multiple suns, haloes, or a brilliant rosy glow covering land and sky.
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