The Roman Catholic tradition brought by Spanish conquistadors to Latin America has been a boon for tourism in the region, particularly after the New Year and before Lent season, for this is when some of the most colorful carnivals in the world take place.
Everyone is familiar with the spectacular Rio de Janeiro carnival, which is the Brazilian equivalent to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The premise is the same: this is an opportunity for the Catholic faithful to let loose before Ash Wednesday, which signals a 40-day period of abstinence until Easter Sunday. Abstaining from meat, alcohol, tobacco, and festive celebrations during Lent is not something that everyone observes these days; however, the carnival tradition is as strong as ever.
In Peru, the Fiesta de La Candelaria is a celebration on the scale of Rio’s carnival in terms of tourism. This festival is held in honor of the Virgin of the Candelaria, holy protector of the southeast Puno region, right on the shores of the magnificent Lake Titicaca. In this mountainous region, the Candelaria festival is a celebration that goes beyond the religious; it is a colorful exhibition of the various cultures represented in Puno: the native Quechua and Aymara people as well as the mestizo people. The dancing parades are exuberant as thousands of musicians and dancers put on carefully choreographed sets that have been prepared and rehearsed for months.
As can be imagined, Peruvian food is one of the highlights of La Candelaria. Getting a seat at a local Peruvian restaurant can be challenging on certain days of the festival; for this reason, hundreds of Peruvian food stall operators set up shop across the various municipal districts of Puno. Some of the delicacies that can be enjoyed during the festival include beef kabobs, corn pastries, grilled potatoes brushed with elaborate hot pepper sauce, and many others. Tourists who are impacted by the high altitude often drink a cup of coca leaf tea on their first night to reduce anxiety as they get acclimatized.
If you are not able to make to La Candelaria this year, you can still drop by La Costanera Restaurant in Half Moon Bay to taste some of the dishes served at the festival; we suggest the anticuchos, which are skewered beef kabobs delicately marinated before they are grilled.