15-17 July, main day 16 July
The Virgen del Carmen is the patron saint of the mestizo population and is known to locals as Mamacha Carmen. Once a year, the otherwise sleepy town of Paucartambo, about four hours east of Cusco on the way to Manu National Park, is home to a massive festival in the Virgin’s honor.
This multiday festival consists of thousands of people in traditional costumes performing traditional dances which represent events in Peruvian history. On the main day of July 16th, the image of the Virgen del Carmen is carried through town in an elaborate procession to bless the participants and scare off the saqras, the hellish demon dancers who station themselves on balconies and rooftops.
The dancing becomes more intense throughout the festival days, with the dancers performing gymnastic feats in their bright Inca and colonial clothing. Each costume represents either a good mestizo (indigenous) person or evil Spanish one: the bakers and townspeople are good, while the colonial town officials and lawyers are corrupt and evil. As the parade ends, the faithful engage the demonic saqras in battle, ultimately emerging triumphant. Participants end up in the cemetery to pay tribute to the souls of the departed.
Tres Cruces – Three Crosses
This is a viewpoint at the very edge of the Andes, about 40km north of Paucartambo and at 3,900m elevation. This edge gives way to an endless view of Manu National Park and the section of Amazon rainforest contained within. People come here for the optical illusions created in the months of June and July: the humid jungle air reflects and refracts light in strange ways, giving the appearance of a triple sunrise, with three rising crosses instead of the sun.