Carnaval Around Ollantaytambo

By Allegra Bundy, Marketing and Communications Intern

“What do you do for fun?” is a question we get quite often living in the remote community of Ollantaytambo, Peru. As those of you who have been keeping up with us on our social media accounts already know, there is never a dull moment in and around our town. For example, we recently danced the night away in celebration of Día de los compadres during Carnaval! The fun we had during the Día de los compadres was a great reminder of how amazing it is to live in a place with such a rich culture.

All over the world, you will find people celebrating Carnaval in a variety of ways, that’s what makes it so special! No matter where you’re celebrating, Carnaval is the perfect excuse to dance, celebrate, eat and, maybe most importantly, drink. For this very reason February marks one of the most exciting months of the year throughout all of South America. It is filled with daily celebrations, and unlike other parts of the world, Carnaval in South America is not limited to the beginning of March but rather extends over the weeks leading up to Lent. In Peruvian culture, the first two weeks of Carnaval are dedicated to the “compadres” and the “comadres.” It’s hard to give an exact translation in English but the concept of compadres and comadres is best explained as co-fathers and co-mothers, otherwise known in the catholic religion as godfathers and godmothers. Both of these holidays are celebrated in honor of all the people who help raise the children – because as we all know, it takes a village – as well as to appreciate relationships in general.

Día de los compadres is an especially important day as it marks the only day of the year that the famous church, Marcacocha, opens its doors for hundreds of colorful, dancing locals. “It’s a very customary celebration,” explains Martha, Coordinator of our women’s knitting cooperatives here at Awamaki, “every year they add another dance and every year the celebration and the number of people who attend grows.” The air is filled with the scent of chicha, a homemade corn beer, and local beer (you have two choices: Pilsen and Cusqueña, both Peruvian staples) and the people of Peru are dressed more vibrantly than ever. An otherwise tranquil and empty plot of land is turned lively and energetic for a day by the people who come from across the Cusco region to join the festivities and create long-lasting relationships. Dressed in traditional clothing, people perform dances to traditional Andean music performed by a local band. Everyone forms a circle around the dancers to cheer them on, while enjoying the costumes and the celebration. The road leading to this colorful party is lined with family-owned stands selling toys, food, beverages, and more.

The pathway resembles a battlefield, albeit a fun one, as people try to escape the wrath of Peruvian children armed with shaving cream and water balloons, until they realize there is no escape and turn around, laughing, to accept their fates. As the dancers finish up their performances people are ushered out of the center space to leave room for the piece de resistance: the bull fight. Two bulls are led to the enclosed “arena” where they are prompted to fight each other. You might be wondering if letting two bulls loose in a crowd full of people would be a dangerous thing, but that thought doesn’t seem to cross locals minds. Rain or shine, the celebration will go on and this year the rain wasn’t the biggest surprise of the festival. As the bulls came running down the path, one of them ducked out of the main line and charged right through the crowd. As it always seems to work out, everyone was okay.

If you ever happen to be around Ollantaytambo during this time of year and are looking for an authentic Peruvian experience, Día de los Compadres is not one to miss.