Virgin of Carmen : Travel Guide
Enjoy one of the largest festivity in Cusco
Cusco - Perú
Nicole Maxdeo
April 26, 2024

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This festival marks a break in the routine of life, a break that allows the faithful to feel they can start anew, be reborn, or begin everything again, obtaining forgiveness from the Virgin through the expression of their faith: dances, serving others, and other values ​​typical of religious customs, establishing relationships with the divine.

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Significance of the Virgin of Carmen Festival

The Virgin of Carmen is a religious festival in which the faithful follow the tradition of celebrating the Virgin of Carmen and expressing their faith through services and dances.

These celebrations take place on key dates that mark the end of certain periods, whether it's the harvest or the beginning of the agricultural year. More specifically, the festival, held in July, indicates, according to Andean traditions, the end of the agricultural year.

This festival was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by the National Institute of Culture on April 11, 2006. This image was also recognized as the "Patroness of the mestizos" and is located in the district of Paucartambo at 3,017 meters above sea level in Cusco - Perú. To reach the town, you must travel two hours by bus from Cusco, heading south.

History of the Virgin of Carmen

According to popular stories, it is believed that the origins of the Virgin of Carmen date back to the 17th century when residents from the highland area arrived in the province of Paucartambo with their llamas to trade with the local people. Thus, the inhabitants were able to see the face of a virgin in one of the clay pots. Since that appearance, the inhabitants sculpted an image and built a temple to venerate her.

Food during the Virgin of Carmen Festival

During this festival, delicious dishes that are characteristic of the area are eaten. Although there are many local restaurants where you can eat even Pizza, the representative food will also be present:

Merienda, which is a typical dish of the festival that represents Paucartambo syncretism. This delicacy contains roasted guinea pig, lamb stew, kapchi of beans, stuffed rocoto, noodles, rice, fried egg, among others. It is served in the Cargowasis (houses of the carguyoq) and some typical restaurants in Paucartambo.

Roast suckling pig, Pork baked with condiments, served with moras (Andean potatoes), stuffed rocoto, and tamales.

How to get to Paucartambo?

Paucartambo is located in the southern part of Cusco. It borders Madre de Dios and the provinces of Calca and Quispicanchi. To reach this area, you can take buses that depart from the district of San Jerónimo for two and a half hours until reaching the town.

Central Schedule of the Festivity


  • Greeting to the Virgin of Carmen by the host and visit to past roles by the host and Carguyoc of the various dances.
  • Start of the Festivity by the Host with the lighting of 12 rockets from the cargo house and the greeting of the albazos with camaretazos and ringing of bells.
  • Entrance of maqtas officially opening the entrance of the 18 dances.
  • Dances and general public at the cargo house (municipal shelter) to begin the cera apaycuy.
  • Cera apaycuy (transfer of candles, flyers, and flowers) to the sanctuary of Mamacha Carmen.
  • Eve mass in devotion to the Host
  • Traditional and customary Q’onoy in the Plaza de Armas.
  • Burning of fireworks.
  • Start of the dawn or greeting to the Virgin in the temple courtyard and visit to the albazos
  • Traditional Punchayniquipi and retreat by the chief host at the door of the parish church.


  • Dawn Mass by the devotees.
  • Feast mass in honor of the Blessed Virgin of Carmen with attendance of all dances and general parishioners.
  • Traditional forest performed in the Plaza de Armas of Paucartambo.
  • Distribution of the Elevenses at the cargo house or host's house (municipal shelter).
  • Lunch offered by the Host (municipal shelter)
  • Solemn procession of the Blessed Virgin of Carmen through the main streets of Paucartambo presided over by the host, authorities, dances, and parishioners.
  • Retreat and popular party in the Plaza de Armas with the participation of the host, dances, and general public.


  • Celebration of masses in honor of the Blessed Virgin of Carmen in devotion of the Carguyoc and members of the different dances.
  • Traditional pilgrimage to the cemetery by the different dances.
  • Solemn procession of the Blessed Virgin of Carmen to the Carlos III bridge, blessing to the four cardinal points and delivery of the demand to the new Carguyoc.
  • Traditional guerrilla in the Plaza de Armas
  • Popular party in the Plaza de Armas with the participation of all dances and the general population.

Highlights of the Celebration:

Mass to the Virgin of Carmen

The Priest is responsible for conducting the central mass, serving as the "captain" or main conductor of the festivity. He represents the highest authority, as he is the custodian of the Virgin of Carmen throughout the year. During this mass, the public participates in the festivity, demonstrating their devotion to the Virgin through their annual attendance and offerings, such as flowers or candles in the temple. Some of them hang dolls or ornaments on the Virgin's litter with main intentions to be blessed during the procession.

At the end of this mass, the dancers perform an exhibition of each dance at the temple gate to demonstrate their complete adoration for the Virgin and their devotion through music. Some of them chant prayers of suffering seeking forgiveness. Some of the lyrics include: "We, the greatest sinners, have come to visit you, We are repentant, now being your faithful slaves."

Carguyocs - Festival Organizers

They play the role of "party owner" as they are the organizers of all activities within the festivity. The dancers also dance for them. The term "cargo" refers to the responsibility of the central steward to carry out the festival with the support of designated individuals through a request (HURCADOS) in Quechua, meaning "assistant." This "cargo" is carried out through the festival, in this case, the Virgin of Carmen Festival, which is characterized by hosting a large lunch for all attendees, including dancers, family, friends, and the general public. This lunch includes dishes such as roast suckling pig, seasoned pork, accompanied by tamales (humitas) and morayas, a snack consisting of a stew of beans, roasted guinea pig, rice, and baked noodles. 


End of the celebration, its objective is to conclude the celebrations in honor of the Virgin of Carmen through a celebration around the Plaza de Armas and a representation of fights between the dances: waka waka and Qollas, who compete for the "passage to heaven" by running and demonstrating skills around a bonfire.

Most Representative Dances:

Performance of the dancers to express, through their choreographies, devotion to the Virgin.


The maqtas are characters representing the local peasant. They are considered the jesters of the festival and are responsible for entertaining the visitors. Their attire consists of colorful chullos, plaster masks with exaggerated expressions, vests, colorful pants, shirts, and a whip called Huaracca.


This dance refers to the Chilean inhabitants, known in Spanish as "enemy Chilean." Its origin dates back to the republic era and humorously represents events from the War of the Pacific. They wear Mestizo-style hats, plaster masks, shirts, vests, and horse riding pants with leggings.


A group composed exclusively of women. This dance is characterized because its group only consists of young girls and their attire represents the jungle part of the area. Their costume includes an Amazon crown with their hair, a breastplate representing the Virgin, and two chuspas used to carry their wayruros.


This dance satirically portrays the disease called Chukchu, which was yellow fever. Their attire consists of yellow masks, jackets, shirts, and yellow or green pants.


A calmer dance, danced only by adult men. It represents the salon dances during colonial times and depicts the experiences of a historical social world, where the dominant leader is the male caporal. The caporal wears a multicolored costume with an elongated nose mask and an artistically decorated mace, while the "soldiers" wear armor-like chullo masks.


This dance represents the ancient Inca warriors. They wear mesh masks, chullos, sneakers, and wool ropes.


As the name suggests, this dance represents those who make bread in the area. The dancers carry spatulas, troughs, and other equipment used for bread making. They all wear white caps, white aprons, and plaster masks with satirical expressions.


This dance originated in the republic era and is danced by unmarried young men. Their attire is colorful, including ribbons and rhinestones, always with the characteristic mask.


Saqra, translated from Quechua, means "devil." This dance, as its name indicates, represents the devils found between hell and purgatory. The characters include the devil caporal, soldiers, and the "china saqra". They wear multicolored wigs, tight jackets, and short silk pants.


A dance symbolizing lawyers and members of the judiciary who engage in litigation. The costume includes an elegant red suit, gloves, a whip, and the book called qaracho.


Perhaps the liveliest dance of the region, symbolizing the bullfighting festivities in Spain. The dance includes bullfighters, the bull, lance bearers, and swordsmen.


Dancers from the Majes Valley, Arequipa, dressed in leather jackets, boots with spurs, a mask with a prominent nose, and checkered shirts, characteristic of colonial landowners. They dance to the rhythm of huayno and marinera, played by a band of trumpets and drums accompanying their procession on horses around the Virgin. However, during the procession, they take on a supporting role, being their main role.

Qhapaq Negro

A dance representing black slavery, showing how blacks were punished and chained, the latter being part of their attire. They wear long colorful pants, a black mask, a white shirt, and a wooden hand that they carry during their dance. This represents the oppression they suffered. In addition to dancing, these dancers sing songs of worship to the Virgin. Some of the lyrics include: "We, the greatest sinners, have come to visit you, We are repentant, now being your faithful slaves". Like the Majeños, during the procession, they have the main role of repentant devout parishioners seeking forgiveness from the Virgin.

Qhapaq Chuncho

A dance of colonial origin, representing native warriors from the jungle of Kosñipata (Cusco). They wear a circular headdress made of multicolored feathers called chucu, long hair, a mesh mask, a loincloth called unku, and carry a chonta lance as a sword. These dancers are the most important in the procession, as they play the role of guardians and protectors of the Virgin.


Qhapaq Qolla

This dance represents the traders from the highlands (Collasuyo region). The dancers wear beautiful and adorned monteras of incalculable value, waqollo and lliclla made of vicuña, the kepi contains a stuffed vicuña, blue pants, wool vest, and a white shirt. Like the Qhapaq Negro, they also act as devout parishioners, albeit somewhat effusive, as they are the "mischievous children" of the Virgin.

The practice of veneration and celebration of the Virgin of Carmen is a way for the faithful to seek forgiveness through their faith, therefore, both democratic and aristocratic values are determined, as mentioned above. This practice has an established schedule that helps to organize it through established guidelines in which the participants accommodate according to their position: whether they are dancers, guests, or carguyocs.

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