South America Travel News

Dance with the devil in South America

Tour Peru or Bolivia come early November, and one is liable to stumble across the devil himself. La Diablada is a one-of-a kind South American festival, blending dance, death masks, party and religion. Throw in a bit of geopolitical conflict, and travelers may just want to strike up a deal with the festival's namesake.

Dancing for joy
For La Diablada, men don elaborate demon costumes, women wear colorful dresses and many wear horns. Parades and dances ensue as all follow the devil, eventually congregating for a musical celebration capped with warm, locally-brewed beverages. The origins of La Diablada are somewhat shaky depending on which natives you talk to, but a commonly accepted version of the tale is that the parade celebrates departing conquistadors in the 19th century. 

For Bolivians - who have an intricate, marathon-style parade of day-long dancing - the event is actually a 10-day pre-lent festival. La Diablada itself is a seven-act dance that represents nothing less than the battle between good and evil, with Lucifer and St. Michael acting as the main contenders of that fight, backed by troupes of supporting dancers. For locals in Puno, Peru, La Diablada is thought to be a more somber nod to the ancient spirits inhabiting the lake. 

Age-old conflict
These differences in celebration have manifested in a conflict of national proportions. Bolivians were up in arms in 2009 after a Peruvian contestant in a Miss Universe pageant donned a Diablada-inspired embroidered headpiece, replete with horns. That, they contested, is Bolivian cultural heritage, which finds its roots in the very particular epicenter of Oruro, Bolivia. 

"The devil has his house and that is in Oruro," said Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca according to the Wall Street Journal. "One has to take care not to run into trouble with the devil."

Despite some people's outrage, many have taken the cultural overlap to be a point of celebration. That's a plus for travelers, who now have multiple locales to choose from. 

Puno or Oruro
?La Diablada is best embraced in either of these two towns. The mining town of Oruro is considered by many to be the capital of La Diablada, and with some 40,000 dancers, 10,000 musicians and hundreds of thousands of spectators, according to the Guardian, they might not be wrong. While the celebration is a grand spectacle, the town itself is thought to be dirty and grungy.

Puno, on the other hand, might not be as grand festival-wise, but its location next to Lake Titicaca makes for an excellent detour when the celebrations die down. 

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