The fair of Copacabana is a week long celebration for Bolivian Independence Day. It occurs during the first week of August and lasts about ten days. During this time, thousands of Peruvians come to town to visit the Virgin of Copacabana in the basilica and get their cars blessed in front of the church. The entire city fills with people and stalls selling random junk appear in every main street and both plazas. Each night, tons of fireworks were shot off and lots of love music was played through the night.
It’s generally a crazy time, considering how quiet the town generally is during the rest of the year. There was street food everywhere, as well as miniature ponies and baby alpacas for people to take photos with in the plazas. It’s almost impossible to drive anywhere at this time due to the large number of cars parked along the streets and on the beach. Many restaurants in town close for the week because of how insane the whole thing is. You can buy almost anything you want in the city during that week, including knock off coats, ceramics, kitchen supplies, Bolivian textiles, and dried llama fetuses.
The most impressive part of the fair is probably the large firework displays which are attached to giant bamboo structures. The fireworks would shoot in every direction or spin around on a wheel attached to the bamboo thing, often right next to the crowds watching. I personally kept a safe distance as the things were terrifying, but fascinating to watch. Regular giant fireworks were also shot up in the air from the same location and would explode right over our heads.
It’s a great time to visit the city, but it’s a completely different vibe than the usual quaint lakeside town. If visiting during this time, be aware that most prices in town are much higher due to the crowds, and paying in Peruvian Soles gets you terrible rates for everything. Also, avoid the street food in the main plaza, only eat at the stalls in front of the local market, as they don’t reuse oil or cook old/questionable meat.
Every year in La Paz there is a large dance festival put together by the local university, called the Entrada Universitaria. This festival includes dances from across Bolivia which are predominately performed by university students. The dances begin near the bus station and continue downtown along El Prado and Camacho streets, and they last the entire day.
Kirsten and I took the bus to La Paz early in the morning to make it there with enough time to see most of the dances. We got dropped off near the cemetery and had to walk through the cemetery (which was really cool) to get to the teleferico station which went toward the bus station downtown. We made it to the dance around 11 AM and rented a ground level seat in order to get some good pictures of the dancers. The dances are very diverse and come from both the lowland and highland regions of Bolivia. We both much preferred this festival to the Chacaltaya festival we attended a few weeks earlier due to the greater diversity of dances and costumes. The dancers at this festival also seemed to be much more happy to be performimg compared to the other festival. My favorite dance was the Tobas, which comes from the Amazonian part of Bolivia. The dancers carry spears and bows and the costumes feature lots of colorful feathers and skulls. We stayed for a few hours before catching the bus back to Copacabana.
The following day, we were invited to another dance festival in the village of Siripaca, about 30 minutes from Copacabana. This festival was put together by a number of small villages for the school kids to perform various dances for the communities. We arrived just after noon and were treated to a lunch of potatoes, oca, sweet potatoes, and chicken, before the dances began. The kids started dancing about 40 minutes later. One of the first dances involved small children dressed as birds dancing around a large paper egg, out of which an even smaller child popped out of after a few minutes, which was adorable. The dancers got progressively older as the performances went on, and because of that the quality got better. Many of the dances had live bands from their respective villages playing along with the children, though a few just used a CD for the dance track. The dances lasted for about an hour and a half, after which Kirsten and I walked down to the lake to take photos of the mountains and sit in the shade, since the sun was pounding down on us during the dances. We stayed about 2 hours after the dances ended, which was completely unnecessary, but the day was still enjoyable as the children dancing was very entertaining. Overall it was great two days of dance festivals, both urban and rural.