Paucartambo is a small town a few hours from Cusco. It’s not well traveled except for one time a year when people come from all over Peru and abroad for the festival of the Virgen del Carmen, held each July from the 15th to the 17th.
lthough the festival is ostensibly for the Virgen del Carmen, this was a later alteration imposed by the Spanish clergy. To Andean people the festival originally celebrated Pachamama, Mother Earth.
For three days, the entire town puts aside daily life and celebrates as they have done since pre-colonial times. There are colorful costumes, a variety of masks and a great deal of traditional music and dances. The dancers rehearse for many long hours, just as their ancestors did before them. These dances represent the many stories of the country and its people. There are around 20 dance groups and they need to rehearse together for many weeks. One of these, the Cápaq Negro, represents African enslavement in the plantations and mines of Peru. The Cápaq Q’olla is a religious dance symbolizing merchants who brought their wares to Paucartambo. The Cápaq Chuncho are warriors who form the honor guard of the Virgin.
Then there are the Maqtas which are like mischievous tricksters are running around everywhere. They make sure that hats are taken off when the Virgin is present and that the drinking stops for a brief moment. The dance is meant to symbolize the treatment of the indigenous peoples by the Spanish landowners.
The list goes on and it’s impossible to not be impressed by the dedication, effort and artistic display of the participants. There is something to catch the eye everywhere you look and one can be thankful that the day of the digital camera is here. It would be impossible to capture it all on rolls of film. Speaking of photo opportunities, a side trip that many people make while they’re here is to go to see a spectacular sunrise at nearby Tres Cruces.
To get here you have some more options than you would normally because it’s festival time. In addition to hiring your own private transport from Cusco which was around 200-250 soles this year, there are also many buses and mini-vans that wait to collect passengers. Buses cost about 20 soles to get there and 10 soles to get back. Mini-vans will cost a bit more. Bear in mind that accommodation here is very basic so you may want to bring a sleeping bag.