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

2019-02-13T10:35:06+00:00February 15, 2018   ||   Posted in: Bolivia - , , ||   4 Comments

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 festival, 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 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.

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.

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

 

4 Comments

  1. Jason February 16, 2018 at 7:48 am - Reply

    Many interesting points to the parade and custom. We could all use more parades in our lives.
    A small detail which caught my eye is the fringed gloves the men were wearing- obviously the same gloves used during the US opening ceremony in Pyeong Chang.
    Happy Travels!

  2. Raby Dong March 27, 2018 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Wow Wow Wow

    Very Very interesting place on the earth and the traditions of Bolivia remind me about a festival in my own country, Nepal, called the Tiji Festival in Mustang. Thank you very much.

    • Hi Raby – Thanks for your comment! We spent a lot of time traveling and trekking in Nepal in the 1990s. Mustang was just opening up then and, unfortunately, we never made it there. It’s a place we’d still like to see. Someday!

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