Chacaltaya – El Alto’s impressive dance festival 

Chacaltaya is a giant multi-day dance festival which occurs in El Alto, Bolivia, the sprawling expanse of city just outside of La Paz. Thousands of Bolivians participate in the dances, which are sponsored by a series of wealthy locals each year. The dancers practice the dances for weeks before the official day, and the bands play new songs written especially for that year’s festival.  
We arrived at the festival around 10 AM and rented some top row seats for a good view of the dances. A majority of the dances performed were Morenada, which is a Bolivian dance which imitates the African slaves in chain-gang which were brought by the Spanish during the colonial period. Each group of performers were huge, many with a couple hundred dancers and a large band which marched in between two large groups of dancers so they could all hear the music. Most of the musicians weren’t especially great, and had serious problems keeping a steady beat/tempo. There were occasionally non-Morenada dances, but they were few and far between. The crowds got progressively larger as the day went on, and the bench seating (similar to bleachers at a sporting event) got more crowded and uncomfortable as the day went on. If we weren’t there with other people I would have left soon after the bleachers filled due to the crowding, but we stayed for a few more hours.  
The festival is absolutely worth seeing if you’re in La Paz at the time, but probably not for an entire day like we were since a majority of the dances are the same. We saw very few other tourists visiting the festival, which is a shame since it’s a true Bolivian experience in a very accessible location for visitors to La Paz. I’d recommend staying for at least 1-2 hours if you want to see the gist of what’s happening, but no more than half a day is really necessary. 



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David Hansen

Bioarchaeologist in training with an incurable travel bug. I write about my travel experiences and archaeological sites/research from around the globe.

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