How to dance with the devils in Peru at the carnival that will score you more kudos than Rio

 
Scarlet Winterberg

Everybody has heard of Rio’s Carnaval; score extra points at your next dinner party by shaking your thing at Peru’s Virgin of Candelaria festival. Taking place in the mountainous city of Puno – 12,770ft above sea level – in the two weeks beginning 31 January, this Catholic celebration involves lots of traditional Peruvian masks, huge firework displays and lots of dancing.

The celebrations begin with a pre-dawn pilgrimage up a hill to pay homage to the Virgin Mary – the patron saint of Puno (pop. 140,000) – and after that it’s all about loud bangs, live music and throwing funky shapes. People come from all over the region – many arriving on horseback – to take part in a big folk-dancing competition, with each troupe numbering around 100 people, all kitted out in brightly-coloured traditional dress. At night the devils and demons emerge for night-time shenanigans.

Puno, located in the south of Peru, close to the Bolivian border, is an otherwise rather nondescript city, but is surrounded by places of natural beauty such as Lake Titicaca and the wistfully beautiful Altiplano, a vast, mountain-rimmed plain, dotted with grazing llama and tiny Catholic burial grounds.

If you don’t fancy venturing that far from civilisation, the Virgin of Candelaria festival has been gradually introduced to the capital city Lima by workers migrating from the regions.

While you’re in Lima, you can enjoy a thriving city with excellent restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Central, where chef Virgilio Martinez “celebrates the biodiversity” of Peru with a selection of ingredients that are unknown even to many native Peruvians. If you book now, you’ll have plenty of time to get your costume ready for the celebrations.

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