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.
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.
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).
Get to the lakeshore 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.
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.
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.
To finish planning your trip to see the Virgin of Candelaria festival, check out our post about where to sleep and eat in Copacabana.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia