Without a doubt the most colourful time to be in Ollantaytambo is during the fiestas. There are several of these each year, the biggest taking place in January, around Epiphany (5th January to 9th January) and Pentecost (May or June). Others include Cruz Velakuy, the fiesta celebrating the Southern Cross (early May) and Carnavales (February, date, like Pentecost, dependent on Easter). At these times the town is full of troupes of local dancers in full costume, celebrating, drinking and of course dancing.
Whilst these fiestas can be noisy and sometimes, late at night, get rather drunken, they are an unforgettable experience to be part of. Travellers are very welcome to watch the dances and join in with the celebration.
The fiesta for Pentecost, centred around the icon of El Señor de Choquekillqa, boasts over twenty different dances and has been declared “Patrimonio Cultural de la Nacion”. Each is entertained by a carguyoq, who is in charge of hosting the dancers, which entails finding a venue for the dances own private party and providing food and drink for all four days of the fiesta. It is like dozens of four-day weddings taking place all over town.
Preparation starts several months in advance, with the carguyoqs visiting their friends with pan de hurka, special sweet breads stacked in threes, and a small beer and a shot. The friends know that being visited like this is an invitation to the fiesta, and also requires them to bring meat, other produce or a crate or three of beer to help out with the party. When they arrive with the beer at the casa del carguyoq (the house or marquee where the party is being held) they will be rewarded with a celebratory thank-you riff from the band, which announces their arrival at the party of the year.
My two daughters danced, together with some of their playmates, with the all-female Tusuq Warmi dance group. Tusuq Warmi is Quechua for “Dancing Woman” and it was a pleasure and an honour to participate as a dance-mom in this beautiful tradition. The costumes, which cost hundreds of dollars to buy, are covered in sequins, from the broad flat-top to the jackets to the skirts.
I counted myself very lucky to be able to join the dancers almost everywhere they went without dancing myself and therefore being obliged to attend the early morning masses and late night vigils. More than once I witnessed ladies in tears from dancing all around town in their high heels. Whilst I love to dance, I am very happy to avoid exhibiting my terrible rhythm in the central Plaza, and much prefer to attempt a salsa or a traditional huayno dance in my flat shoes when the casa del carguyoq is quiet, nice and early in the day.
On the final day of the fiesta, the Tuesday following Pentecost, the dancers carry the cross, which is decorated with dozens of sprays of flowers, down to the chapel by the Vilcanota River via the Inka Bridge at the entrance to the town of Ollantaytambo. This is a final chance to watch the dances and observe a traditional competition to race on horses and catch corn from a dangling string, winning chickens as prizes. Each dance troupe takes food, a special meal, a merienda, and of course beer, and the whole town celebrates together both here and back up in the plaza, where the cross is returned as the sun sets. One of the most emotive moments of the fiestas is hearing the Ccapaq Qoya dancers sing their song to El Señor on this last evening.
I highly recommend a trip to Ollantaytambo during one of the fiestas. For exact dates and more information please get in touch with our helpful receptionists at email@example.com