Many regional holidays and fiestas are celebrated for several days before and after the actual day. Most festivals also feature traditional music and dancing, as well as merry mayhem of all sorts.

Fiestas & Folklore around Lake Titicaca

The folkloric capital of Peru, Puno boasts as many as 300 traditional dances and celebrates numerous fiestas throughout the year. Although dances often occur during celebrations of Catholic feast days, many have their roots in precolonial celebrations, usually tied in with the agricultural calendar. The dazzlingly ornate and imaginative costumes worn on these occasions are often worth more than an entire household’s everyday clothes. Styles range from strikingly grotesque masks and animal costumes to glittering sequined uniforms.

Accompanying music uses a host of instruments, from Spanish-influenced brass and string instruments to percussion and wind instruments that have changed little since Inca times. These traditional instruments include tinyas (wooden hand drums) and wankaras (larger drums formerly used in battle), plus a chorus of zampoñas (panpipes), which range from tiny, high-pitched instruments to huge bass panpipes almost as tall as the musician. Keep an eye out for flautas (flutes): from simple bamboo pennywhistles called quenas to large blocks of hollowed out wood. The most esoteric is the piruru, which is traditionally carved from the wing bone of an Andean condor.

Seeing street fiestas can be planned, but it’s often simply a matter of luck. Some celebrations are localized to one town, but with others the whole region lets loose. Ask at the tourist office in Puno about any fiestas in the surrounding area while you’re in town. The festivals we list are particularly important in the Lake Titicaca region, but many countrywide fiestas are celebrated here, too.

If you plan to visit during a festival, either make reservations in advance or show up a few days early, and expect to pay premium rates for lodgings.