Photo Essay: The Virgin of Candelaria Festival in Copacabana, Bolivia

The Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria (which is another name for the Virgin of Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia), is so important that they celebrate it twice in Copacabana, Bolivia every year: Once on February 2 and again on August 5. But the festivities in this small city on Lake Titikaka extend well beyond those two days. Here’s what this Bolivian festival looks like, and don’t miss our Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria travel tips at the end of this photo essay.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Cholas, the collective name for Latin women with Amerindian blood, wearing their best traditional finery and dancing up a storm in front of the church in Copacabana, Bolivia. We’re not sure what the albino bear with red hands is all about…

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

It was somewhat rainy during the festial, so plastic bags were used to protect the distinctive felt bowler hats that most cholas wear.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

More dancing cholas and more rain during the Virgin of Candelaria festival in Copacabana, Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

These cholas were wearing dresses with uncommon patterned panels in them.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Men take part in the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria celebrations as dancers and as members of tuba-heavy bands.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Waka Tokori dancers dressed as toros parade around the church in Copacabana, Bolivia during the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

More costumed men in Copacabana.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Celebrating the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Heavily fringed shawls like these make up a vital part of the traditional dress of most cholas in Bolivia.

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more colorful…

dancers Virgin de la Candelaria festival Copacabana, Bolivia

Celebrating the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia.

See the sights and sounds of the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Copacabana, Bolivia in our video, below.

Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria travel tips

Should you go to the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in February or in August? Festival events are essentially the same so the big difference is the weather. In August (winter in South America) the climate is dry, but very cold. In February (summer in South America), temperatures are milder (though still quite cold) and the chance of rain is pretty good.

Concerts Festival virgin de la Candelaria Copacabana, Bolivia

One of many bands on many stages in Copacabana, Bolivia during the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria.

We were at the festival in February. Though February 2 is the biggest day, this festival sprawls over a few days. We arrived in Copacabana on February 1 and the party was already raging with plenty of parading dance troops and bands in elaborate costumes and four different stages set up. By evening, those stages were all raging with separate bands. Poor sound mixing and close proximity means that the music does not sound very good, but the partying cholas (the collective name for Latin women with Amerindian blood) and men in front of each stage don’t seem to mind. They drink and dance into the wee hours (unless heavy rain shuts the bands down early).

Blessing the crops Virgen de la Candelaria festival

An early morning offering on the shore of Lake Titikaka to help ensure a good harvest.

Get to the lakes shore by 8 am on February 2 and you may get to see an annual ritual including flowers, singers, drummers, and locals performing offerings to ensure good crops in the coming year.

Musicians Blessing the crops Virgen de la Candelaria festival

A talented group of drummers, dancers, and singers took part in the harvest offering on Lake Titikaka.

After the shoreline rituals, the flowers and participants are loaded onto boats which travel onto the lake where more rituals are performed before the flowers are tossed into the water as an offering to the lake.

Andean Musicians Lake Titicaca

Musicians and dancers heading onto Lake Titikaka during a ceremony and offering to ensure a good harvest.

Watch the culmination of the good harvest ceremony as flowers and other offerings are tossed into Lake Titikaka in our video, below.

On February 3 nothing much was going on. No parades. No dancing cholas. No roving bands. Even the stages were all gone except for one.

On February 4 the town holds a bull fight event in their plaza de toros in the afternoon. Our Lonely Planet described this as a running of the bulls in the streets, but locals told us that this event takes place in the ring, not in the streets which was far less interesting to us.

Overall, this festival was much mellower than we expected. There were never huge crowds and town never felt bursting at the seams.

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Border Crossing 101: Desaguadero, Peru to Desaguadero, Bolivia

This South American border crossing is the primary link between Peru and Bolivia, but it’s not the only one. The border crossing at Copacabana, Bolivia, for example is small and relaxed. In contrast, the Desaguadero border is a dirty, busy place. However, if you cross at Desaguadero you get a more direct route to La Paz, passing right by Bolivia’s most famous archaeological site, Tiwanaku, and you don’t need to take the ferry that connects Copacabana to La Paz. Here’s how the border between Peru and Bolivia at Desaguadero goes.

Peru side of the Desaguadero crossing

Desaguadero is not a pretty place.

From: Desaquadero, Peru

To: Desaguadero, Bolivia

Date: January 4, 2018

Lay of the land: On the north end of town, on the edge of Lake Titikaka, is the old bridge which is used by individuals and passenger cars so there is very little vehicular traffic. On the south end of town is a newer crossing for the many, many cargo trucks bringing commercial goods into landlocked Bolivia. Immigration and customs facilities are adjacent to each other on both sides of the border, which is separated by a small bridge that crosses the small Desaguadero River as it enters Lake Titikaka. The facilities are old (the computer system went down while our truck paperwork was being processed on the Bolivia side) and cramped, but they eventually get the job done.

Desaguadero Bolivia border crossing

Crossing from Peru into Bolivia.

Elapsed time: 11:45 am to 2:10 pm (2 hours and 35 minutes)

Number of days given: Though you and your vehicle can stay in Bolivia for up to 90 days in any calendar year, they dole out those days in 30 day blocks which means every 30 days you have to visit an immigration office to renew your entry permit and an aduana (customs) office to renew the temporary importation permit for your vehicle. Though sometimes you get lucky. When we crossed the border at Copacabana the customs official there asked us how long we’d like and gave us 90 days on the spot.

Fees: There were no border fees, though there was a 5 soles (US$1.50) fee to drive over the short bridge that connects the Peru side to the Bolivia side. Note that citizens of some countries (including the US) must get a complicated and costly visa.

Desaguadero River entering Lake Titikaka

The Desagaudero River entering Lake Titikaka at the border.

Vehicle insurance needed: Bolivia requires that all drivers have SOAT insurance, though it’s often not sold at borders (including this one) which requires a visit to a SOAT office after entry.

Where to fill up: Fuel in Bolivia is cheap for locals but expensive for foreign drivers unless you can find a station worker willing to sell you fuel “sin factura” at a price somewhere between the two. If you don’t want to pay the high foreigner price for fuel or play the haggling game with station attendants, then fill up in Peru. On the Peru side, fuel prices are higher than the Peruvian average until you get east of Puno, about 100 miles (160 km) away, or until you get down near the coast at least 240 miles (385 km) south of the border.

Chola condom protection PSA Bolivia

A public health announcement in the immigration office on the Bolivia side of the border.

Need to know: This border crossing is at 12,556 feet (3,827 meters) so be prepared for the high altitude. If you’re coming from Cusco or Puno you will probably already be acclimatized. However, if you are coming from Lima or the coast, beware. In a mere 100 miles (160 km) the highway takes you from sea level to well over 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) and then slightly down to this border. The towns of Desaguadero on both sides of the border are dirty and unappealing so don’t plan to stay there unless you absolutely have to. Cargo trucks cross at their own facilities, so this border is only for buses and individuals which makes it a bit less hectic and jammed up. When leaving Peru you must show the receipt you got when you entered, so don’t lose that. There are obvious money changers on the Peru side of the border, but on the Bolivian side you will have to ask for money changers in the many shops. Also during certain times of the year you lose an hour going from Peru to Bolivia (or gain an hour in the other direction), so check the time. Another interesting note: no one ever cross-checked the VIN # on our truck to make sure it matched our documents nor did anyone ever inspect the truck. That’s a first. Also, look for our Trans-Americas Journey sticker on both sides of this border.

Flags of Bolivia

Flags of Bolivia: The one on the left represent La Paz Department,  the one in the middle is the Wiphala flag which represents the native people of the Andes, and the one on the right is the Bolivian national flag.

Duty free: Nope

Overall border rating: Dirty, but efficient

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Where We’ve Been: January 2018 Road Trip Driving Route in Peru & Bolivia

We spent a grand total of three days in the truck in January 2018, but those days were intense as our South American road trip made a 932 mile (1,500 km) straight shot from Lima, Peru to La Paz, Bolivia. Here’s what it looked like.

PanAmerican Highway Peru

The Pan-American Highway in Peru.

January 2018 South American road trip in Peru & Bolivia

We began the new year in Lima, Peru and on January 2 we departed for La Paz, Bolivia. We know heading south down the Pan-American Highway is a long and tedious drive because this is the third time we’ve done it. Though the highway is mostly in good shape, the endless barren desert, curvy coastline, and too many slow trucks makes the coastal stretch hard work.

On the first day, we left Lima early and thanks to the new year holiday truck traffic was lighter than usual. After passing the towns of Pisco, Ica, and Nazca we arrived in the coast town of Chala. The next day continued south across the barren coastal desert landscape to Monquegua, stopping midway to give our hard-working truck a wash and an oil change.

Desaguadero border crossing Peru - Bolivia

Crossing the border from Desagaudero, Peru to Desagauadero, Bolivia.

The third day had us leaving the Pan-American Highway and driving back across the Andes to an elevation of nearly 16,000 feet (4,875 meters) before dropping down to the Altiplano and Lake Titikaka at a mere 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). Here the town of Desaguadero, which has the same name on both the Peru and Bolivia side of the border, straddles a small river as it enters Lake Titikaka. This is where we crossed from Peru into Bolivia.

La Paz, Bolivia

The city of La Paz, Bolivia occupies almost every inch of a deep and complicated canyon which drops down dramatically from the city of El Alto on a very high plateau.

The last leg of the journey took us into the sprawling and insanely congested high altitude city of El Alto which sits above a giant chasm in the earth which holds our final destination for the month: the world’s highest capital city, La Paz, Bolivia.

Our complete road trip driving route in Peru and Bolivia in January 2018 is below:

See what we saw out there on the road in Peru and Bolivia in January of 2018 in our drive-lapse video, below. It was, as always, shot by our Brinno camera which is attached to our dashboard.

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Glimpsing Two Cultures – Ingapirca Archaeological Site, Ecuador

Ecuador has less than a dozen major archaeological sites. Ingapirca, near Cuenca, is the biggest archaeological site in Ecuador and because it was created by the Cañari people before being expanded by the Incas, Ingapirca a great place to get a glimpse of two cultures.

Ingapirca ruins Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

Exploring Ecuador’s Ingapirca archaeological site

The Ingapirca archaeological site (US$2 per person including a 45 minute guided tour of the site in English or Spanish, guides are mandatory) is sometimes called Inka Pirka. It’s at nearly 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) and the name means Incan Stone Walls in Quechua and there are certainly plenty of walls, but they’re not all Incan.

Ingapirca Incan ruins Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

The first structures at Ingapirca were built by the Cañari people as their capital in the north. By the 15th century, the Incas were on the rise and they ultimately took over Ingapirca which they used as a ceremonial site and a defensive installation. 

Visitors can still see circular holes in the ground which were probably used to store crops. There’s a House of the Virgins where young women were sequestered, and there were neighborhoods where people lived.

Ingapirca archaeology site Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

The Cañari constructed a Temple of the Moon and when the Incas moved in they built a Temple of the Sun, also called The Castle. This oblong building is on a small rise and features the Incas signature precisely cut stonework. However, the odd shape of the temple, dictated by the piece of land that’s it’s on, meant that mortar had to be used in some places even through the Incas almost never used mortar.

Incan walls - Ingapirca Ecuador

Amazing Incan stonework in the curved walls of the Temple of the Sun.

There’s also a museum at the site with displays described in English and Spanish. We recommend that you start there. The 20 minutes it takes to see the museum will give you a little context for the site itself.

Get an overview of the Ingapirca archaeological site in our drone video, below.

There are a handful of small shops and basic restaurants near the entrance to the Ingapirca site. A nearby trail leads to a huge rock called the Incan Face (for reasons you can imagine). As we walked toward the view point over that rock (which does actually look like a classic Incan profile) we passed an old woman selling things out of her home including carved stone amulets, a star-shaped carved stone weapon, and some amazing pottery.

Ingapirca Ecuador

The Temple of the Sun at the Ingapirca archaeological site in Ecuador.

To our untrained eyes it seemed like she had real artifacts from the site. It’s well-known that before the site was protected stones were taken from Ingapirca and used to build other structures in the area, first by the Spanish conquistadors, who arrived before the Incas were done expanding the site, and then by locals. It’s not inconceivable that a few artifacts were spirited out along the way.

Alpaca Ingapirca Ecuador

An alpaca, one of the best things that come with high altitude locations.

Adventures around Ingapirca

The Ingapirca site is only about an hour and a half from Cuenca and you’ll be tempted to simply take one of the many day trips offered from the city. However, if you have the time plan to spend at least one night in the area. It’s lovely countryside through which you can ride horses and hike, in part, on sections of the Inca Trail.

Posada Ingapirca Ecuador

Posada Ingapirca hotel and restaurant.

There’s also a wonderful hotel less than a 10 minute walk from the Ingapirca site. Posada Ingapirca is owned and operated by the same family that runs Hotel Victoria in Cuenca. The original building at Posada Ingapirca is more than 200 years old and the family purchased it and the property in the ’90s. After renovating the property and adding modern bathrooms and electricity to a wide range of rooms it opened as a quaint and comfortable country hotel. 

Posada Ingapirca Ecuador

The dining room is in a 200-year-old building at Posada Ingapirca.

Rooms have thick adobe walls, exposed beams in the ceilings, hand painted head boards and no TVs. Some rooms have fireplaces and hot water bottles are provided at night. Alpacas roam the property and there’s a small cuy (guinea pig) farm. The floor of the main building and restaurant creaks and the whole structure moves when anyone enters or exits.

lake Culebrillas Inca trail hike Ingapirca

Lake Culebrillas in Sangay National Park in Ecuador.

Even if you’re not spending the night at Posada Ingapirca, stop by for a meal (US$10 lunch or dinner). The menu is full of gourmet takes on Ecuadorean classics. We particularly remember the succulent lamb and, of course, the soups.

lake Culebrillas hike Inca trail to Ingapirca Ecuador

Hiking through the paramo.

While we were at Posada Ingapirca we took a fantastic guided hike. After driving about an hour to Lake Culebrillas in the vast Sangay National Park, we started the 8 mile (12 km) route around the lake, along part of the Inca Trail, then across high altitude paramo landscapes at more than 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). The route also passes a rarely visited Inca tambo (roadside or trail-side guest house). Allow about five hours and in wet weather you may want rubber boots.

Tambo Incan Ruins Culebrillas hike Ecuador

Exploring the remains of a remote Incan tambo.


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