The Virgin Carmen Festival in Perú is one of the most important and colorful cultural and religious expressions in the Andes. Moved by faith and tradition, in the month of July, devotees and dancers from all over Peru and the world come to Paucartambo to be part of this extraordinary festival, which has continued for four centuries.
The province of Paucartambo is the scene of the Festival in honor of the Virgin Carmen in Perú. It is one of the thirteen provinces that make up the Cusco region, its capital is located at an altitude of 2900 meters above sea level, on the right bank of the Mapacho river, on the way to the Inca Antisuyu. With the arrival of the Spanish to Paucartambo, the colonial culture also arrived, and later the republican, which is reflected mainly in the beautiful architecture of the town, with its colonial bridge, narrow streets and beautiful balconies, which together with the beauty of the environment and Its generous population, are building their own identity, marked by the cult of the Virgen del Carmen.
During the day the troupes dance around the narrow cobbled streets of the town, preceded by their bands and orchestras. Everything is transformed into colorful outfits and musical chords. The pilgrims mingle with the dancers, mixing one up with the other in a magical celebration.
For five days, troupes or groups of dancers are presented, on the central day the Virgin is led in a procession to bless the audience and ward off demons. The dancers “Sajras” perform gymnastic and risky tests on the roofs of the houses, showing their costumes of Inca and colonial styles. At the end of the procession there is a war against demons, from which the faithful emerge triumphant.
Finally everything concludes in the “kacharpari”, or farewell party.
This festival takes place every year in the colonial town of Paucartambo, at an altitude of 3,017 meters above sea level and 110 km from the city of Cusco approximately 3 hours.
Origin of the Virgin Carmen Festival in Perú
A variety of myths can be found about the beginning of the cult of the Virgin. One indicates that her image was destined for the highlands of Puno and by mistake reached Paucartambo; hence the important presence of the Qhapaq Qolla dance in the festival, who dispute their possession with the Qhapaq Ch’unchu, from the Paucartambina jungle. Another version says that the Ch’unchus attacked the estates in the area and when they found the image of the Virgin in one of them, they shot it and threw it into the river. However, in dreams, the Virgin would have appeared to the chief of the Ch’unchus and lovingly asked him to search for her. They did so and became its custodians. Hence, the Qhapaq Ch’unchu dance is one of the main ones in the festival, being the guardians of the Mamacha.
Between July 15 and 18 of every year, thousands of devotees and visitors congregate to celebrate the Virgin Carmen Festival in Perú.
Dances in the Virgin Carmen Festival in Perú
At present there are 19 dances that pay homage to the Virgin in her day; 18 dance different choreographies and one of them, the Maqt’as, do not perform choreographies but intervene throughout the party as jester companions of the dances, and as a link between them and the spectators.
“Danzaq or” Tusuq “, dance where those who are attributed seductive capacities on the teenage girls, conqueror of married couples and comforter of widows, constitute one of the best dressed groups due to their color and elegance when dancing. They cover their heads with chucos, they wear short ponchos interwoven with ornaments and blue pants divided into stripes with the colors of the rainbow, it is undoubtedly one of the most representative of the province of Paucartambo.
This dance represents the women of the Kosñipata jungle, but it has a clear mestizo influence due to the clothing it wears and the music that accompanies it. Her wardrobe consists of an Amazon crown, with her hair, a breastplate that represents the Virgin, two “ch’uspas” that serve to wear her wayruros, a suitable dress in which she wears a chonta and the sinehon.
This dance, which in Spanish means “Rich Negro”, recalls the servile and slave days of the black population, for which they wear chains as a sign of submission. At present the Negros de Paucartambo, consider themselves the slaves of the Virgen del Carmen, to whom they offer their beautiful and wonderful dance and their sentimental songs.
It is a representative dance of the inhabitants of Qollasuyu, its origin dates from colonial times when the Qollavin merchants arrived in Paucartambo. The dance has its essence in faith to the “Mamacha del Carmen”, and it is to whom during the party they sing, dance and cheer in the guerrillas. The dancers wear beautiful and ornate monteras, the waq’ollo and lliclla made of vicuña, the q’epi contains a stuffed vicuña.
This dance represents the warriors of the Qósñipata jungle (district of the province of Paucartambo). In their clothing they use multicolored feathers called “ch’ucu”, long hair, mesh mask, unku as a skirt, wire mesh mask, they carry a “chonta” spear. The Band is typical (two whistles, drum and bass drum).
The festival begins on July 15 with the “Entry”. At noon, mounted on the fire engine, the Maqt’as make their triumphal entry. One by one, the other dances go to the atrium of the temple to prostrate themselves before the Mamacha and express their reverence.
The Qhapaq Ch’unchu enter from the north, the direction that leads into the jungle. The Qhapaq Qolla make their entrance through the bridge, which marks the region of Qollao from which they come. From another angle, the Majeños arrive on horses and the Chukchus make their entry by truck. The other dances enter one by one, with graceful steps and formidably uniformed, setting the pace on foot.
After the wax procession, called the “Cera Apaykuy”, the “Qonoy” begins. The small square of Paucartambo fills with people; In the corners bonfires are lit over which the Qhapaq Qolla, the Saqras and Ch’unchos jump, playing dangerously with the flames that illuminate the place. Then “castles” are being prepared, structures that will be launched into the sky in the form of fireworks, brightening up the night.
At this moment “El Alba” happens, where all the dances surrounded by a sea of spectators, come to the door of the church to dance to the Virgin.
The 16th is the central day, it begins with the Solemn Feast Mass, the main mass. The temple and the adjacent streets are filled with parishioners who are fervently praying to the Virgin. It is said that her face can announce omens of well-being or sorrow to her faithful, depending on the impression they obtain. If it looks rosy, it will be a sign of vitality; if she looks pale, it would indicate sorrow and sadness to come.
In the afternoon the procession begins. On the balconies and windows the rose petals that are thrown in their path are ready. The Qhapaq Ch’unchu always next to the Virgin, as faithful guardians, giving gentle jumps will accompany the procession. The Qhapaq Negro and the Qhapaq Qolla in Quechua and Spanish sing beautiful songs. The other groups are located according to the order of arrival. The Saqras from the rooftops and balconies; Faced with the proximity of the Virgin, they cover their faces with their hands and arms, and at times they play at tempting her by moving their doodle. Thus, in a procession that is followed by a sea of faithful who contemplate her with their faces flooded with tears, the Mamacha advances through the main streets of the town, in a journey that wraps it in a protective circle.
On the 17th the celebration continues with a visit to the cemetery, in an act of deep emotion and meaning they will visit the graves of the ex-carguyoq and ex-dancers. Around them people sing, dance and toast.
Later, the “Guerrilla” will begin, one of the most important representations of the festival, where the legend about the arrival of the Mamacha to Paucartambo is staged. The Qhapaq Qolla and the Qhapaq Ch’unchu face each other over the Imilla, a character that represents the Virgin, who remains in the custody of the Ch’unchos who will win the battle. The Qollas dead, the Sagras will take them to hell in the nina car (the fire car).
July 18 arrives, the day when most of the visitors return to their places of origin.
The Virgin goes out to the door of the temple. There, hundreds of devotees approach her to touch or be covered by her cloak.
Meanwhile, in front of the Virgin, an immense line of dancers and devotees accompany children to present them to the Virgin, this is called the Oqaricuy, the parish priest of the church pours holy water on each faithful that reaches the feet of the image.
For the last time, the dancers see their Mamacha del Carmen, in front of the atrium they, and he at the door of his temple.
The Forest and the Guerrilla
The “forest” is an act in which the Qollas throw toys from the balconies or the square for the assistants; it is usually aimed at the little ones. They can also throw, during the party, fruits, flour, beer, foam or burnt chili.
On the other hand, there is also the traditional “guerrilla”, near the last day of the celebration, which embodies the dispute between the Qollas and the Chunchus for the image of the Virgin. This “fight” takes place because both are considered the guardians of the Mamacha Carmen.
Delicious regional food
During the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen you can enjoy the traditional rice with eggs, the saltado preparations, the qapchi, the rabbit, the suckling pig, the cream of corn and many other local dishes that are a delight.
The beautiful sunrise
You cannot miss the Tres Cruces viewpoint. Near Paucartambo, towards the Manú National Park, at 3800 above sea level, is this viewpoint, also known as the “Balcón de Oriente”. From there you can see the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets during the winter solstice (June and July).
In this place the so-called white ray occurs, a phenomenon that occurs when the sun rises on the horizon and the clouds begin to move, while they are mixed with the humidity, the light is distorted as if it were passing through a prism and shows us an effect of three suns, one of which jumps from side to side. This natural phenomenon is observed between the months of June and July.
The departures to the viewpoint are at 1:00 in the morning and the travel time is approximately 2 hours. The show starts at 4:30 am until 6:00 am.
How to participate in the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen?
To attend the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen you must arrive in Paucartambo. It is advisable to first arrive and acclimatize in Cusco.
Once in Cusco, you can take a collective or private tour that in 2 and a half hours, will leave you in this colonial town. The ideal is to attend from July 15 to see the burning of castles and, on July 16, attend the opening of the party. This begins with the mass of Aurora, very early, and continues with the mass of celebration in the morning.
Touring Cusco is discovering endless mysterious places, with hidden stories in corners that you may have never seen before stepping on this country. We recommend you to visit another impressive destinations in Cusco like the tour to rainbow mountain peru or the humantay lake tour from cusco, which only takes one day. But if you are gonna to stay more days in Perú, other archaeological places you can know will be the choquequirao trek peru, the salkantay trek to machu picchu, and the classic inca trail 4 days 3 nights.
Other celebrations in honor of the Virgen del Carmen
In Lima it is also celebrated and the Barrios Altos area, in the Historic Center, falls surrendered before the mantle of the Virgin who is considered by the Creoles as the ‘Patron of Criollismo’.
And it is not for less, because on the eve of the central day (July 16) a real party is set up in the front of the Carmen church where to the rhythm of guitar and cajon, everyone sings and dances in her honor.
The next morning, the narrow streets of Barrios Altos receive the Virgen del Carmen who showers blessings among her faithful.
One detail, most of the old sites in the area have an image of the Virgin to whom they pray and ask to take care of them. A custom dating from colonial times.
The sailors are also devoted to her, for something she is considered the Patron Saint of the Navigators and every July 16 she is taken in procession from her sanctuary in Callao to the Main Church of the First Port.